Center for Electromechanics Gets $4.3M to Advance Natural Gas Vehicle Technology

The Center for Electromechanics (CEM) at The University of Texas at Austin will receive $4.3 million dollars from the Department of Energy through its Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). The department's new program, titled Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy — or "MOVE" — aims to engineer light-weight, affordable natural gas tanks for vehicles and develop natural gas compressors that can efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home.

The project at UT Austin is one of 13 projects funded through the $30 million MOVE program, and is the largest by a university.

For its part, CEM has been charged to develop an at-home natural gas refueling system that compresses gas with a single piston. Unlike current four-piston compressors, the Center for Electromechanics's highly integrated single-piston system will use fewer moving parts, leading to a more reliable, lighter and cost effective compressor. This is a novel compressor that will be developed, for the first time, for this application.

"For years the Center for Electromechanics has developed technology for novel hybrid vehicles. Those are the electric-gasoline hybrids you see today and that will be even better tomorrow," said Robert Hebner, CEM director and research professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Cockrell School. "We are excited, however, about the opportunity to adapt some of that same technology to help natural gas become a competitive alternative."

These projects build on President Obama's call for a new era for American energy that benefits from the safe, responsible development of the near 100-year supply of U.S. natural gas resources, which has the potential to support more than 600,000 American jobs.

"These innovative projects will leverage the ingenuity of U.S. scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to develop breakthrough technologies to fuel cars with natural gas," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. "These projects could transform America's energy infrastructure and economy by utilizing domestic energy sources to power our vehicles, reducing our reliance on imported oil, and increasing American energy security."

Today's natural gas vehicle technologies require tanks that can withstand high pressures, are often cumbersome, and are either too large or too expensive to be suitable for smaller passenger vehicles. ARPA-E's new projects are focused on removing these barriers, which will help encourage the widespread use of natural gas cars and trucks.

The investments build on efforts underway through the Clean Cities program and National Clean Fleets Partnership to help large fleet operators in the country, such as large companies, cities and states, identify opportunities to transition to natural gas vehicles. Many commercial fleet operators nationwide have already begun to transition long-haul trucks and other commercial vehicles to run on compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. The advances achieved under this latest set of research and development awards will help expand the use of natural gas vehicles, so that consumers nationwide can benefit.

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