Developments in storing natural gas go to a more particular level
3M may have a solution to the problem, however; it says it has developed a new composite material that is capable of withstanding the required pressure, but which can still be made small enough to fit into a vehicle. With the new material, carbon and epoxy are woven together to form a very strong fibre and then nanoparticles are added to increase both its strength and stiffness. Finally, the inside walls of the tank are lined with plastic.
One disadvantage of natural gas is that it must be stored under high pressure, meaning that the tanks must be very strong. The tank, whether in the vehicle or underground at a service station, must be able to withstand pressures of 3,500 lbs per sq in. The cost of manufacturing these tanks raises the price of the fuel, as well as the vehicle into which the fuel goes.
If the new technology proves to be successful it could open the door to increased use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), by standard automobiles rather than just buses and fleet vans. In addition, other fuels that require storing under pressure could come into use via this same technology, for example hydrogen. Hydrogen must be kept cold, as well as under pressure and these requirements have prevented it from being used as anything more than a curiosity fuel. 3M’s work could move this fuel out of the theoretical realm and into practical applications.
Partnering with Chesapeake Energy, 3M is moving forward with plans to create a CNG tank that incorporates the new nanotechnology. Chesapeake, a leader in natural gas production, is a welcome partner and hopes to gain new, low-cost, lightweight composite tanks for storage of their product. The new tanks have the potential to be 10-20 percent lighter and hold 10-20 percent more fuel, all at a lower cost than the heavier reinforced tanks used today.
Chesapeake’s promise of an initial $10m investment will be channeled through Chesapeake NG Ventures Corporation (CNGV), a separate corporation tasked with investment in alternative fuel companies and ventures. A total of $1bn has been promised over the next 10 years.
Natural gas producers welcomed the news; should the product be commercially viable, it could open up vast new markets for the fuel, most of it domestically. If more personal vehicles could be converted to CNG, it would help reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Should it work in the US, natural gas producers around the world would soon follow suit, potentially changing the baseline of fuel requirements in many countries.