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Modular Natural Gas Tank

United Technologies Research Center (UTRC)

Low Cost Hybrid Materials and Manufacturing for Conformable CNG Tanks

Image of UTRC's technology
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$4,299,964
Location: 
East Hartford, CT
Project Term: 
10/01/2012 to 03/31/2016
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Today's natural gas vehicles are fitted with on-board fuel tanks that are too large, difficult to integrate into the vehicle, and expensive to properly facilitate the widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles in the U.S. and globally. Additionally, the low volumetric density of natural gas-roughly 30% less energy by volume than gasoline-limits the driving range of natural gas vehicles and makes cost-effective storage solutions a significant challenge. Dramatic improvements must be made to the capacity, conformability, and cost of on-board storage to accelerate natural gas vehicle adoption.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

UTRC is developing a conformable modular storage tank that could integrate easily into the tight spaces in the undercarriage of natural gas-powered vehicles. Traditional steel and carbon fiber natural gas storage tanks are rigid, bulky, and expensive, which adds to the overall cost of the vehicle and discourages broad use of natural gas vehicles. UTRC is designing modular natural gas storage units that can be assembled to form a wide range of shapes and fit a wide range of undercarriages. UTRC's modular tank could substantially improve upon the conformability level of existing technologies at a cost of approximately $1500, considerably less than today's tanks.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, UTRC's modular natural gas tank would serve as a viable alternative to today's storage tanks, offering a low-cost storage solution without sacrificing driving range.

Security: 

Improving the convenience of natural gas vehicle ownership could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make consumers less vulnerable to sudden oil price shocks.

Environment: 

Natural gas vehicles produce approximately 10% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline-powered vehicles throughout the fuel life cycle.

Economy: 

Compressed natural gas currently costs half as much per gallon of gasoline equivalent. With the average American spending over $2000 per year on gas, enabling the use of natural gas vehicles could save drivers $1000 per year.

Innovation Update: 
(As of March 2017) 
The UTRC team has designed a conformable compressed natural gas (CNG) tank. Under its ARPA-E award, the team advanced integrated design and optimization methods for complex structural components and developed manufacturing strategies for lightweight alloys and carbon fiber composites. UTRC is executing a licensing strategy to commercialize its conformable tank technology. After a detailed cost analysis, the team determined a projected $1,700 volume production cost for its aluminum tank design, well within the current natural gas tank market price range. UTRC is also pursuing parallel paths for licensing its technology for high-pressure (3,600 psi) CNG applications, and continues to work with automotive OEMs to advance the technology for commercialization.
 
UTRC designed its tank through an integrated computational optimization, employing detailed topology optimization and structural analysis. The team’s final design is flat, multi-chambered, and modular. It is adaptable to the wide range of aspect ratios applicable to different vehicle platforms. Composed of two D-shaped chambers on the outer edges and sandwiching a variable number of “stadium”-shaped interior chambers, the conformable UTRC design can provide 30% more gas storage in comparison to cylindrical tanks occupying the same space, at a manufacturing cost that is comparable to cylindrical tanks. Domed end caps complete the chambers, and adjacent chambers can be internally connected so that only one external valve is necessary. UTRC validated its design with scalable prototypes. The team also ensured that the manufacturing processes are viable for volume productions. 
 
For a detailed assessment of the UTRC project and impact, please click here.


Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Jason Rugolo
Project Contact: 
Ms. Alison Gotkin
Partners
Lincoln Composites
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Release Date: 
7/12/2012