GE Teams Up to Accelerate Low-Cost Natural Gas Vehicle Refueling0

Matthew Van Dusen | Wed Jul 18 2012 |

GE and its research partners are hoping to accelerate the adoption of natural gas vehicles with a low-cost, quick-fill refueling station for the home.

Current natural gas (NG) refueling units cost around $5,000 and take up to five to eight hours to fill a vehicle. That’s why researchers from GE Global Research, Chart Industries and the University of Missouri have teamed up to develop an affordable at-home refueling station that fills a tank much more quickly.

They are trying to match the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy’s (ARPA-E) goal of creating new refueling unit that costs below $500 and takes less than an hour to fill a tank.

Two goals for natural gas filling stations: less than $500 and less than an hour to fill

“By reducing the time and cost of re-fueling, we can break down the barriers that are preventing more widespread adoption of NG vehicles,” says Anna Lis Laursen, project leader and chemical engineer at GE Global Research. “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.”

As it now stands, long refueling times and high unit costs make NG vehicles viable for fleet operations. But historically low NG prices and the research team’s efforts could open the consumer automobile market to the alternative-fuel vehicles, which produce fewer emissions.

“Since the beginning of the automotive industry, cars and trucks have driven on diesel fuel or unleaded gas,” says Laursen. “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.”

We can break down the barrieres to widespread addition of NG vehicles.

The Energy Department says there are about 112,000 NG vehicles in the U.S. and roughly 14.8 million around the globe. Most are fleet vehicles like buses and delivery trucks.

Current NG refueling relies on traditional gas compressing technologies. The joint research group is looking to reimagine the process to dramatically increase efficiency and lower manufacturing costs.

They are designing a system that chills, densifies and more efficiently transfers compressed NG. They intend for their unit to be built much more simply and with fewer moving parts. They are also building it to operate more quietly than current systems and to be virtually maintenance-free.

GE and the Department of Energy will split the project’s expected cost of $2.3 million. They plan for it to take 28 months to complete.

GE researchers will focus on the system’s overall design while Chart Industries and the University of Missouri will do the detailed engineering, cost projections and manufacturability of key system components.

Top image: Courtesy GE