A home or office-based fueling device for natural gas vehicles (NGV) that would dramatically speed up the fueling time and lower the cost is being pursued jointly by a unit of General Electric Corp. (GE), Chart Industries and researchers at the University of Missouri.

The trio recently was awarded a federal grant as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) $30 million largesse to support various NGV equipment advances (see Daily GPI, July 16). The GE-Chart-Missouri effort is part of projects in nine states receiving parts of the funding, all looking at creating ways to make NGV fuel tanks more affordable and/or compressors more efficient for creating CNG.

GE Global Research, Chart and the university engineering researchers have set ambitious goals of reducing the cost of small refueling equipment by 10 times while cutting refueling time from the current five to eight hours to one hour. A typical at-home unit today costs about $5,000, while this DOE-funded research seeks to develop equipment priced at around $500.

The project, slated to run for about 28 months, is estimated at $2.3 million, which would be split between the GE unit and DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). GE researchers would focus on overall system design integration; Chart and Missouri personnel are to address detailed engineering, cost and manufacturing aspects of key system components.

"The goal is to deliver and demonstrate a fully functioning at-home refueling station unit," said a GE spokesperson, who added that GE recently introduced a "Compressed natural gas (CNG)-in-a-Box" for industrial and traditional fueling station installations in which pipeline natural gas from a service line is compressed onsite into CNG. The latter is "making it faster, easier and less expensive for users to fuel up" with natural gas, he said.

GE is touting the fueling station concept being pursued as "fundamentally different" than traditional compressor technologies used with NGVs. Researchers are devising a system that "chills, densifies and transfers CNG more efficiently," according to the spokesperson. "It will be much simpler in design with fewer moving parts, and it will operate quietly and be virtually maintenance-free."

The research project aims at some of the barriers that continue to hold back a wide spread transition to CNG for transportation despite historic low natural gas prices in North America today. Those barriers include the inconvenience and low availability of refueling stations and limited driving ranges for most NGVs. Fleet operators can more easily overcome the barriers; individual vehicle owners cannot, and it is the latter who are the focus of this research, the project partners said in accepting the DOE funding.

GE Global Research's Anna Lis Laursen, the project leader, said that "new technologies to reduce the cost of NGV fueling and continued improvements in battery technology" can help break the historic reliance on diesel and gasoline products for transportation and allow the use of alternative fuels, such as CNG, to grow.

"The goal of our project is to design an at-home refueling station that is much simpler in design, more cost effective and reduces refueling times to under an hour. If we can meet our cost targets, the price of a home refueling station would be less than typical appliances in a home, such as a dishwasher or stove."

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