ARPA-E Project Participants Mull the Next Steps
Venture capitalists and experienced natural gas vehicle experts counseled participants in ARPA-E’s MOVE program regarding next steps to commercialization now that the three-year, $30 million Methane Opportunities for Vehicle Energy program is winding down.
“It takes longer than you think, it costs more than you think, and you won’t sell as many as you think,” one NGV expert told the remaining program participants at the MOVE Review conference that preceded NGVAmerica’s 2015 North American Natural Gas Vehicle Conference & Expo in Denver last week.
ARPA-E is the U.S. Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy. The agency awarded $30 million to 13 organizations under the MOVE initiative in mid-2012. Nine of the projects addressed the challenge of storing natural gas onboard a vehicle, and four were for development of home fueling equipment (F&F, July 13, 2012).
In addition to presentations by eight program recipients, the MOVE Review program featured individuals versed in NGV infrastructure and vehicle conversions, as well as representatives from the utility, funding, regulatory, consulting and testing sectors.
United Technologies Research Center
Ellen Sun of the United Technologies Research Center said that her team has developed a flat CNG pressure vessel that can more easily fit in existing vehicles without sacrificing cargo or passenger space. The UTRC pressure vessel boasts a there is a 30% more efficient use of space, which could also be used to for greater vehicle range.
The length can be customized, and width can be adjusted by varying the number of internal sections, “resulting in flexibility in aspect ratios.”
“United Technologies Research Center’s tank is more efficient in using the space and much more flexible in where it can be,” Sun said. “Our tanks have a cost that is very competitive with today’s cylinders,” she added. “Overall the cost is very much acceptable.”
UTRC’s focus now is on technology-to-market transition. And, as the design can easily be adapted to lower pressures, UTRC is open to the possibility of combining its conformable fuel vessel with ANG/adsorbed natural gas technology.
CEM at the University of Texas
Michael Lewis of CEM, the Center for Electromagnetics at the University of Texas at Austin, outlined his organization’s work on a free piston linear motor compressor that could lead to a home CNG fueling device priced from $2,000 to $4,000. “We are trying to reduce the complexity,” he said, noting partners including the Gas Technology Institute for commercialization and the Argonne National Laboratory for critical long-wearing seals and coatings.
Field-testing is expected to start in mid-1916, Lewis said, adding, “We’re looking for funding.”
When it comes to light duty vehicles, “There is a tendency in this industry to cede that territory prematurely,” said Dan Recht, COO at San Francisco-based Volute. His company feels that its conformable CNG vessel concept, essentially a series of continually manufactured braided carbon fiber cylinders comprising “a long, narrow tube that folds to fill even the most oddly-shaped spaces,” can allow NGVs to out-perform electric vehicles.
Volute, he said, is developing an “intestine-shaped” fuel container that “won’t eat up your cargo space.” Volute is looking for partners to commence pilot production in 2017.
Clark Fortune of Eaton described plans for a commercial liquid-piston isothermal compressor that will consumer 15% less energy to produce CNG than current units. The new Eaton offering will be based on off-the-shelf hardware – “Everything that we use in this machine has been proven in industry,” Fortune said in Denver. A prototype unit has been built and is being commissioned, and will be tested next month, he said. He expects the new compressor to be able to pump approximately 40 GGEs per hour.
Advanced materials VP Adam Loukus of Michigan’s REL described his company’s Matrix technology for making rectilinear CNG storage containers with 20% to 25% greater storage capacity that today’s cylinders (F&F, August 9, 2014). Advanced casting of high-strength aluminum into complex shapes is the key, he said, reporting that the REL vessel has been tested to 8,100 psi. Loukus said he expects to produce a 10-GGE CNG tank for $800 to $1,000. “What we’re looking for is the early adopters,” he said in Denver.
Jeff Witwer of Oregon’s Onboard Dynamics reviewed his company’s plan to develop NGVs with the vehicle’s engine itself acting as a compressor (F&F, August 4). “You need to base the compressor technology on something that’s already in mass production,” he said: a given vehicle’s own engine.
Witmer said too that beyond the self-fueling vehicle, Onboard Dynamics is looking to develop a stand-alone fueling unit. “You can also do this outside the vehicle.”
And, like Dan Recht of Volute, Witmer decried the current success of the electric car. “An inferior technology of elec trtic vehicles has taken off,” he said. “Wee’re not in the game right now and we need to admit it and face it.”
CEO Doug Kirkpatrick of BlackPak, Inc. said that his company has solved the problems generally associated with adsorbed natural gas – “We understand the underlying characteristics of what makes a successful sorbent,” he said, noting that the BlackPak material is unaffected by impurities and can work with standard pipeline methane.
Kirkpatrick said that his is the only ARPA-E MOVE program participant that’s paying attention to the many standards that have to be met to commercialize a product for vehicle use, and that BlackPak has identified golf carts as an addressable “beachhead” market for the ANG product.
A Toro mower with engine modified for CNG-diesel dual fuel operation – Kirkpatrick calls it a “hybrid” – is one the job at the Monarch Bay Golf Club in San Leandro, Calif. “To be successful you need to provide a system,” Kirkpatrick said in Denver,
Kirkpatrick said too that San Francisco-based BlackPak would have a pre-production prototype by mid-2016, and he said he’s open to working with conformable vessel developers to commercialize his ANG technology.
The VC community was represented in Denver by managing director Maurice Gunderson of Earth Energy Ventures (a member of the board of MOVE program participant Onboard Dynamics) and Bill Perry of Boulder, Colo.-based Infield Capital.
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Source: Fleets & Fuels at the ARPA-E MOVE Review in Denver