The Republicans and Democrats don’t really get along these days, but there seems to be one area of common ground between the two parties; natural gas as an alternative to oil. Unfortunately, the expensive tanks needed to hold compressed natural gas put a hefty price premium on CNG vehicles. But Chesapeake Energy and 3M are teaming up to design a cheap tank design that is lighter and holds more fuel. But are they chasing the dragon?
Right now CNG tanks represent a big chunk of the cost of a CNG conversion because of the intense pressure (around 3,600 psi) they are under. They must stand up to accidents, fire, and gunshots, because something that flammable under that much power would result in a very big boom. As a result, the equivalent of a 10-gallon gas tank can cost around $1,000, and unlike gasoline tanks, CNG tanks have expiration dates, again due to that high pressure.
But these tanks are almost all made from high-strength steel that is both heavy and costly. 3M, in a partnership with Chesapeake Energy, is working to develop a resin-based tank solution that using nano-particle enhanced resins. These tanks, it is hoped, will be 10-20% lighter with a 10-20% increase in capacity. Today’s tank technology weighs around 125-lbs per tank, and each is only able to hold the gasoline-equivalent of 10 gallons. A 20% weight reduction/capacity increase would result in a sub-100 lb. tank that could hold up to 12 gallons gas-equivalent. All for less money.
CNG vehicles could put a dent in oil’s dominance in the market, though legitimate concerns about fracking remain. But as a domestic energy source, can America do better than natural gas, right now? The CNG market is expected to explode in the coming years, especially in the heavy-duty truck market. 3M wants a cut of that pike, and Chesapeake Energy is a big player in the natural gas market. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with.
Source: Green Car Congress