Commercial fleet owners have figured out long time ago that fueling trucks with natural gas saves them money and helps the environment. There are 15 million vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) around the world. As much as a fifth of all new buses and garbage trucks are using the fuel. GE, which makes the technology that fills trucks with CNG, estimates that a big fleet can save up to 40 percent at the pump, compared to diesel. Switching from diesel to CNG can also cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent.
If fleets do it, why can’t the average driver? Natural gas pipes run under every street, but the big issue is time and money. Buses and trucks gas up at their large garages. CNG citizen pioneers can purchase refueling stations for their homes, but the equipment is expensive, $5,000 apiece. It also takes between five to eight hours to fill up the tank, not exactly a strong selling point.
Got Gas?: Fleets can save up to 40 percent in fuel costs by switching to natural gas. GE Global Research and ARPA-E are working to help everyday drivers enjoy similar savings.
That’s why GE Global Research (GRC) partnered with the government’s Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) to develop a home refueling station that can do the job in less than 60 minutes and costs less than $500. Ambitious? GRC is a century-old innovator and ARPA-E, which backs high-risk research that may result in spectacular breakthroughs, is modeled after Pentagon’s DARPA, the agency that helped incubate voice recognition software, digital medical imaging, and, of course, the Internet.
“The goal of our project is to design an at-home refueling station that is much simpler in design and more cost effective,” says Anna Lis Laursen, project leader and chemical engineer at GRC. “By reducing the time and cost of re-fueling, we can break down the barriers that are preventing a more widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles. If we can meet our cost targets, the price of a home refueling station would be less than typical appliances in the home such as a dishwasher or stove.”
GE has already started the work. It partnered with the University of Missouri and Chart Industries to design a system that skips the traditional compressor and chills, “densifies”, and transfers CNG more efficiently. The total cost of the 28-month program will be approximately $2.3 million, which will be shared by ARPA-E and GE.