Natural gas vehicles could become more of a viable option for consumers. GE is working to make an at-home refueling station.
GE researchers, in partnership with Chart Industries and scientists at the University of Missouri, will work to develop a station that would meet a target of $500 per station and reduce re-fueling times from 5-8 hours to less than 1 hour. The groups were awarded a program through Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E).
So far, several road blocks have kept the concept of NG vehicles from penetrating the mainstream. Although natural gas prices are at an all-time low, the inconvenience of lack of availability of refueling stations has kept consumers off of the NG vehicle highway.
The at-home fueling stations are sold today, but they come with a hefty price—$5,000—and require long re-fueling times.
And to use the fueling stations you need a car that will run on natural gas. These vehicles don’t come cheap. They cost more to build because they require a heavy storage tank to hold the compressed gas.
These roadblocks have not stopped business fleets, but, as of yet, are typically impractical for the common driver.
“Since the beginning of the automotive industry, cars and trucks have driven on diesel fuel or unleaded gas,” said Anna Lis Laursen, project leader and chemical engineer at GE Global Research. “But with new technologies to reduce the cost of NG re-fueling and continued improvements in battery technology, the prospects for vehicles that run on alternative fuels will only grow.”
Laursen added, “The goal of our project is to design an at-home refueling station that is much simpler in design, more cost effective and reduces re-fueling times to under an hour. By reducing the time and cost of re-fueling, we can break down the barriers that are preventing more widespread adoption of NG vehicles. If we can meet our cost targets, the price of a home refueling station would be less than typical appliances in the home such as a dishwasher or stove.”
The pros of NG vehicles are great, but the cost of transitioning at this time is a concern for most consumers.
One pro is the cost of natural gas. Drillers have unlocked enormous resources in shale deposits, and the new-found gas has pushed prices to record lows. The prices are expected to remain low based on the estimated amount of gas available. Oil prices are expected to remain high, which will keep gasoline prices high.
Another pro is that natural gas engines burn much cleaner.
The refueling station design being worked on is fundamentally different from how today’s re-fueling stations operate. Today’s systems rely on traditional compressor technologies to compress and deliver fuel to a vehicle. The research team from GE, Chart Industries, and the University of Missouri will design a system that chills, densifies, and transfers compressed natural gas more efficiently. It will be a much simpler design with fewer moving parts, and that will operate quietly and be virtually maintenance-free.