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On-Vehicle Engine-Compressor System

OnBoard Dynamics
ARPA-E Award: 
Bend, OR
Project Term: 
10/01/2012 to 01/14/2018
Project Status: 
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: 

OnBoard Dynamics is modifying a passenger vehicle to allow its internal combustion engine to be used to compress natural gas for storage on board the vehicle. Ordinarily, filling a compressed natural gas vehicle with natural gas would involve driving to a natural gas refueling station or buying an expensive stand-alone station for home use. OnBoard's design would allow natural gas compression to take place in a single cylinder of the engine itself, allowing the actual car to behave like a natural gas refueling station. Ultimately, the engine would then have the ability both to power the vehicle and to compress natural gas so it can be stored efficiently for future use. The design would cost approximately $400 and pay for itself with fuel savings in less than 6 months.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, OnBoard's engine-integrated natural gas compressor would provide a cost-effective and efficient alternative to today's natural gas compression technologies, enabling rapid integration of natural gas vehicles to the market.


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.


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


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 May 2016) 
The Onboard Dynamics team has developed a mechanism that allows internal combustion engines (ICE) to compress natural gas in order to power a vehicle. This eliminates the need for natural gas fueling stations to compress the gas, which is a costly and time-intensive process. Onboard Dynamics was launched as a startup company to further develop and commercialize the compressed natural gas (CNG) technology that originated at Oregon State University. Under its ARPA-E award, Onboard Dynamics designed, fabricated, and installed a prototyped custom cylinder head onto a Ford truck engine and demonstrated its ability to successfully compress air on a test stand. Onboard Dynamics is evaluating its first market and a path to driving down production costs, while continuing to develop the in-vehicle engine compressor. The company expects the first markets for compressor technology to draw on its concept of a self-powered engine that is economical at a small scale. 
The team’s engine compressor takes advantage of the existing compression capability of internal combustion engines. Two of the three compression stages occur in the engine, which is designed to fit in a natural-gas powered vehicle. The Onboard Dynamics team developed a custom cylinder head in which the engine cylinders can be used for both multistage compression and normal combustion. Natural gas compression takes place in one cylinder bank of the engine, with the other cylinder bank providing power. When the tank is filled, the vehicle can revert back to transportation mode, and the ICE will consume the CNG to power the vehicle.
For a detailed assessment of the Onboard Dynamics team's project and impact, please click here.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Christopher Atkinson
Project Contact: 
Ms. Rita Hansen
Colorado State University
Oregon State University
Release Date: