Compressed natural gas offers the best opportunity for a majority of the nation’s drivers to be weaned off of gasoline as their primary transportation fuel, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a House subcommittee last week.

Liquefied natural gas makes sense as a transportation fuel for heavy trucks, but it is problematic for all of the nation’s delivery vans and personal vehicles, which would require more refueling infrastructure, Chu said during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Development subcommittee.

“We think that compressed natural gas is the solution,” he said. “However, we need better storage. [Currently] you either have a very expensive tank at a very high pressure, or you have a very heavy tank, which is not really considered an option.”

President Obama recently called for a Department of Energy (DOE)-backed competition to find breakthroughs for natural gas vehicles (NGV) (see NGI, Feb. 27). Through its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), DOE will make $30 million available for a research competition in the coming months to engage scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs in finding ways to harness domestic natural gas for vehicles.

Under the new Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy program, DOE will seek to fund projects to develop lightweight tanks for cars that can run on natural gas and fit into passenger vehicles. The approach includes developing affordable natural gas compressors that can efficiently fuel an NGV at home.

ARPA-E also seeks to fund projects that will develop absorbing materials that are able to hold gas, similar to how a sponge holds water, which could lower pressure in natural gas tanks in vehicles, making them safer and more affordable.

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