The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said Thursday it was offering another $30 million in grants aimed at advancing the equipment and technology critical to the use of natural gas vehicles (NGV). DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced the new funding under a vehicular category focused on methane's use in transportation.

Projects in nine states will get parts of the funding, all looking at creating ways to make NGV fuel tanks more affordable and compressors more efficient for creating compressed natural gas (CNG).

DOE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman said the grants should "leverage the ingenuity of U.S. scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to develop breakthrough technologies to fuel cars with natural gas." The announcement was made at a meeting of the National Petroleum Council in Houston. Two of the grants, totaling $7.3 million, are going to two Texas university research centers.

A project at Colorado State University in conjunction with Oregon State University's Bend campus will be getting a $700,000 ARPA-E grant to develop a truck that doesn't require a CNG fueling station. Over the next 18 months, researchers hope to develop an engine that will both power the vehicle and compress the natural gas fuel.

DOE characterized the latest grants as an extension of President Obama's call for making greater use of domestic natural gas supplies, now estimated to be at least 100 years in duration, which also carries the potential for creating thousands of new jobs. The federal agency said its past research contributed to the advancements in shale gas development that have lead to plentiful gas reserves and it hopes similar advancements can come from the funding for NGV research.

The funding of projects in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Washington and Wisconsin, in addition to Texas, is designed to build on efforts already under way through the Clean Cities program and National Clean Fleets Partnership, which are aimed at helping large fleet operators nationally, including large companies, cities and states. They all are geared to helping smooth the transition to more use of NGVs.

While stressing that ARPA-E grants aim to remove developmental barriers, Poneman said NGV technologies generally "require tanks that can withstand high pressures," making them often cumbersome, large and expensive for smaller passenger vehicles. A $3 million grant is going to Calumet, MI-based REL Inc. for the development of "foam core" which would allow natural gas tanks to be formed into any shape necessary. "This will enable higher storage capacity than current carbon fiber tanks at one-third the cost," Poneman said.

Other projects will focus on CNG compression technology, particularly related to the development of home-based fueling systems. The University of Texas at Austin's Center for Electromechanics will get $4 million to develop an at-home CNG fueling system that uses a single-piston technology, making it lighter and more cost-effective, DOE said.

DOE created the ARPA-E program in 2009 (see Daily GPI, April 29, 2009), and so far it has had 11 projects go on to secure more than $200 million in outside private-sector capital. To date, the program has attracted 5,000 applications from various research teams, resulting in what DOE called 180 groundbreaking projects it said are worth nearly $500 million.

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