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USA: GE Develops At-Home Refueling Station for NG Vehicles

In what could help fuel widespread adoption of NG vehicles in the US 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 re-fueling times from 5-8 hours to less than 1 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 (~$5000) and require long re-fueling times. The 5-8 hours required to refuel an NG vehicle often leaves overnight re-fueling 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 re-fueling 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 re-fueling times to under an hour. By reducing the time and cost of re-fueling, 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 re-fueling 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 re-fueling 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 turns it into CNG, making it faster, easier and less expensive for users to fuel up natural gas vehicles.

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Brent > LNG > WTI > NG

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Jack H. Barnes

Or said differently; When Brent flies, and WTI dies.

The energy industry has the appearance that it is about to undergo a major shift in pricing structures again. We saw it lately with the spread between crude and NG blowing out. We have seen signs of it happening in Brent and WTI before, and I expect we will see new signs of it again.

To be clear, we could see extremely expensive Brent oil, as international supply fears increase with tension in Iran. This would be happening while the price of WTI, a lighter sweeter standard, crashes in US terms do to its own over supply and lack of demand issues.

This would all be happening under a backdrop of world markets bidding for refined products from a US export happy refining complex. This would lead to US gasoline prices hitting all-time highs, while refinery complexes in the US Midwest would have the highest profit margins in their history.

The US Midwest is growing its own domestic sources of oil, while its own capacity to ship the oil out is limited. This causes a bottle neck in exports in the region. This is causing the price locally to crash.

The planned refinery work in the Midwest has lowered the take-off demand for Bakken oil. This is happening inside of a window of time while the Bakken production sets all new production records every month.

This is causing the price of oil in the Midwest to crash in localized markets, as the take-off capacity does not equal the supply of new barrels. The region is buried in supply, all of which is now seeking a path to Houston refining complex.

The price difference of an equivalent grade of oil in Bakken Terminals & Louisiana terminals is now $40. This imbalance in like qualities will generate a short term arbitrage trucking bonanza, as the profit per trip approaches silly levels.

I expect to hear about a fleet of white trucks driving loads of crude oil from the Midwest to the refining complexes with accessible pipelines capacities. You don’t have to drive it all the way there, to deliver it.

I wish I had a fleet of modern fluid haulers right now. There is more oil supply in the Bakken then local demand, and that won’t change much when the refinery’s turn around. The Bakken supply is still growing every month, and will for a while.

The growth in rail take off capacity will not keep up with the growth in new oil production in the near to intermediate term. This will lead to price differentials that will last longer than people expect. There is always a profit to be made when these events happen. It will be interesting to see who ends up owning those fleets of white trucks.

Just like the old gold rush stories of stores making more then people digging for gold. There just might be more money made in shipping the oil by truck, then there is in producing it, or refining it. As they say, this could get interesting in the near term.

Read more: BI

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