In what could help fuel widespread adoption of NG vehicles in the U.S. and globally, GE researchers, in partnership with Chart Industries and scientists at the University of Missouri, have been awarded a program through Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) to develop an affordable at-home refueling station that would meet ARPA-E’s target of $500 per station and reduce refueling times from five-to-eight hours to less than one hour.
Natural gas prices are at an all-time low and the number of natural gas (NG) vehicles is increasing, but several barriers are preventing greater adoption of this vehicle technology. These include the inconvenience and low availability of refueling stations and limited driving range of NG vehicles.
At-home refueling stations are sold today, but are expensive (~$5,000) and require long refueling times. The five to eight hours required to refuel an NG vehicle often leaves overnight refueling as the only the viable option for vehicle owners. While these barriers can be more easily managed by established fleets, they are not practical for passenger vehicles parked in the driveway or garage at home.
“Since the beginning of the automotive industry, cars and trucks have driven on diesel fuel or unleaded gas,” said Anna Lis Laursen, project leader and chemical engineer at GE Global Research. “But with new technologies to reduce the cost of NG refueling and continued improvements in battery technology, the prospects for vehicles that run on alternative fuels will only grow.”
Laursen added, “The goal of our project is to design an at-home refueling station that is much simpler in design, more cost effective and reduces refueling times to under an hour. By reducing the time and cost of refueling, we can break down the barriers that are preventing more widespread adoption of NG 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.”
Today, the number of NG vehicles globally is estimated at around 15 million, with more than 250,000 in the U.S. Most are fleet vehicles such as buses and delivery trucks, but they include some passenger cars as well. With further improvements in the infrastructure to support NG vehicles, the market penetration could be much higher.
One of the keys to enabling a more robust, cost-effective infrastructure is to provide more affordable and convenient refueling options. The at-home refueling station under development by GE, Chart Industries and the University of Missouri could meet this challenge.
The refueling station design being worked on is fundamentally different from how today’s refueling stations operate. Today’s systems rely on traditional compressor technologies to compress and deliver fuel to a vehicle. The research team from GE, Chart Industries and the University of Missouri will design a system that chills, densifies and transfers compressed natural gas more efficiently. It will be a much simpler design with fewer moving parts, and that will operate quietly and be virtually maintenance free.
The total cost of the 28-month program will be approximately $2.3 million, which will be shared by ARPA-E and GE. As part of the program, GE researchers will focus on overall system design integration. Chart Industries and University of Missouri will address the detailed engineering, cost and manufacturability of the key system components.
The goal of this program is to deliver and demonstrate a fully functioning at-home refueling station unit. To accelerate the adoption of natural gas as a transportation fuel, GE recently introduced the CNG In A Box™ technology which takes natural gas from a pipeline and compresses it on-site at an industrial location or at a traditional automotive refilling station to then turn it into CNG, making it faster, easier and less expensive for users to fuel up natural gas vehicles.
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