SRI Blog

Enabling Widespread Use of Natural Gas as a Transportation Fuel

U.S. natural gas production has surged in recent years and prices have dropped, reigniting interest in natural gas (NG) as a transportation fuel. Advantages include its domestic availability, low cost, and clean-burning qualities. Factors that have slowed widespread use—especially in light-duty passenger vehicles—include limited public fueling infrastructure, limited range compared to comparable gasoline-powered vehicles, and vehicle designs that sacrifice trunk space to accommodate the large fuel tank. 

With support from the Advanced Research Programs Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), SRI is developing a new NG storage system based on commercially available carbon sorbent from ATMI, Inc. The carbon stores large quantities of NG at low pressure by adsorption, and has enough structural integrity to act as the pressurized container in a system developed by SRI.

Advantages to this new approach, developed under ARPA-E’s MOVE (Methane Opportunities for Vehicle Energy) program, include:

  • Safety and convenience: Reduced NG pressure increases safety and reduces the complexity and cost of fueling at home or in public fueling stations

  • Design flexibility: ATMI’s material can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes, so storage tanks can be seamlessly integrated into the vehicle design without sacrificing passenger or trunk space

SRI showcased this new approach for the first time at the 2013 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, held February 25 to 27 at the Gaylord Convention Center (just outside Washington, D.C.).