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.
Distrigas of Massachusetts LLC, a subsidiary of GDF SUEZ Energy North America, announced that it is providing LNG (liquefied natural gas) to the first LNG refueling station east of the Mississippi River.
Enviro Express Natural Gas, LLC owns and operates the combination LNG and CNG (compressed natural gas) refueling station in Bridgeport, Connecticut, adjacent to Interstate 95. This represents the first time LNG has been sold as a vehicle fuel from Distrigas’s Everett Marine Terminal.
“Interest in LNG to power fleet vehicles is increasing significantly as diesel fuel and gasoline prices continue to climb,” said Joe Murphy, vice president, Sales and Transportation for Distrigas. “The difference in fuel and maintenance costs and the environmental benefits make LNG an attractive vehicle fuel alternative.”
The public-access refueling station presently provides LNG to Enviro Express’ new commercial fleet of 18 Kenworth T800 semi tractor-trailers and CNG to fleet customers. Enviro Express is a waste collection and transport company, which uses its fleet to haul ash and other refuse from Bridgeport to Putnam, Connecticut, a 110-mile trip.
Partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the $6.2 million project is part of the larger Connecticut Clean Cities Future Fuels project.
By switching to LNG, Enviro Express’ fleet is able to displace approximately 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually and remove hundreds of tons of particulate emissions from the air. The switch to a cleaner fuel should also lower vehicle maintenance costs and allow the trucks to travel farther between oil changes. Additional savings is realized because the price of LNG is much lower than the price of diesel fuel and gasoline.
Adding to the environmental benefit, the fueling station is a closed system which recaptures boil-off from the LNG that would otherwise vent into the atmosphere and compresses it to be stored as CNG.
“LNG is lighter than diesel, so we can go farther, cleaner, and improve load efficiency by hauling more with the same vehicle,” said Bill Malone, of Enviro Express.