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Single-Piston Natural Gas Compressor

The Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin)
Novel Free Piston Linear Motor Compressor for Natural Gas Home Refueling Appliances
Image of UT Austin's technology.
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$4,238,458
Location: 
Austin, TX
Project Term: 
10/01/2012 to 12/31/2015
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
There are fewer than 600 natural gas vehicle refueling stations in the U.S. today, which represents a significant obstacle to the widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles. Developing at-home refueling systems would improve the convenience of owning a natural gas vehicle, but these systems can cost up to $5,000 and take 5-8 hours per vehicle charge. Dramatic improvements must be made to the cost and convenience of at-home refueling systems to accelerate natural gas vehicle adoption.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
UT Austin is developing an at-home natural gas refueling system that compresses natural gas using a single piston. Typically, at-home refueling stations use reciprocating compressor technology, in which an electric motor rotates a crankshaft tied to several pistons in a multi-stage compressor. These compressor systems can be inefficient and their complex components make them expensive to manufacture, difficult to maintain, and short-lived. The UT Austin design uses a single piston compressor driven by a directly coupled linear motor. This would eliminate many of the moving components associated with typical reciprocating compressors, reducing efficiency losses from friction, increasing reliability and durability, and decreasing manufacturing and maintenance costs.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, UT Austin's single-piston natural gas compressor would dramatically reduce the cost to build and maintain a natural gas refueling station, contributing to the widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles.
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.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Jason Rugolo
Project Contact: 
Mr. Michael Lewis
Partners
Argonne National Laboratory
Gas Technology Institute
Release Date: 
7/12/2012