New ARPA-E Projects to Boost Natural Gas Vehicle Technologies

July 18, 2012

Photo of large garbage truck parked in a lot.

A refuse truck powered by compressed natural gas in Washington state.
Credit: Western Washington Clean Cities

The Energy Department on July 12 announced $30 million in funding for 13 research projects designed to find new ways of harnessing natural gas supplies for cars and trucks. Researchers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin will work on the initiative. The grants are made through the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). The projects are part of Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy, which aims to engineer lightweight, affordable natural gas tanks for vehicles and develop natural gas compressors that efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home.

Today's natural gas vehicle technologies require tanks that can withstand high pressures. They are often cumbersome, and are either too large or too expensive to be suitable for smaller passenger vehicles. ARPA-E's new projects are focused on removing these barriers, which will help encourage the widespread use of natural gas cars and trucks. For example, REL, Inc. in Calumet, Michigan, will receive $3 million to develop an internal "foam core" for natural gas tanks that allows tanks to be formed into any shape. This will enable higher storage capacity than current carbon fiber tanks at one-third the cost.

The projects will also focus on developing natural gas compressors that make it easier for consumers to re-fuel at home. The Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin will use $4 million to develop an at-home natural gas re-fueling system that compresses gas with a single piston. Unlike current four-piston compressors, these highly integrated single-piston systems will use fewer moving parts, leading to a more reliable, lighter, and cost-effective compressor. See the Energy Department press release and the complete list of projects PDF.