Natural Gas Vehicle Infrastructure

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted July 19, 2012

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded a 28-month project to researchers at General Electric (NYSE: GE), Chart Industries (NASDAQ: GTLS), and the University of Missouri to develop a cost-effective at-home refueling station.

Setting a high target, the project aims to reduce costs to $500 per station from current prices around $5,000 and lower refueling times to no more than an hour (currently, this can take up to 8 hours).

ARPA-E and GE will jointly bear the $2.3 million cost of the project.

The project is bound to have a positive impact on the spread of natural-gas (NG) automobiles and vehicles worldwide.

Natural gas prices, due to a variety of factors including the shale revolution and the fluctuating world economy, are at highly attractive lows right now. But NG vehicle adoption suffers from sparse infrastructure and minuscule driving ranges for the vehicles. The long refueling times and the high cost of home refueling stations also serve to slow down NG vehicle adoption on a mass scale.

In a press release, Anna Lis Larsen, project leader and chemical engineer of GE Global Research, said:

“Since the beginning of the automotive industry, cars and trucks have driven on diesel fuel or unleaded gas. But with new technologies to reduce the cost of NG re-fueling and continued improvements in battery technology, the prospects for vehicles that run on alternative fuels will only grow.”

Of the existing global fleet of perhaps 15 million NG vehicles, the US accounts for more than 250,000. Most of these vehicles are not personal passenger vehicles, since the low number of public NG refueling stations in the U.S. make ownership difficult.

The refueling solution the research team is working toward will aim to chill, densify, and transfer compressed natural gas with far more efficiency and less moving parts than present solutions, which use compressing technologies to compact the gas and deliver it to the vehicle. The new design would avoid mechanical friction and reduce require maintenance.

If they are successful, this new design could remove the issue of limited refueling infrastructure from the spread of natural gas-powered vehicles. If affordable and accessible refueling exists, there’s a good chance demand for the vehicles will jump.

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