A Breakthrough in Natural Gas Storage Vessels

Those in the natural gas industry have long known that natural gas-powered vehicles will play an increasingly important role in our future. However, to work toward this future, we have had to navigate several challenges. Storage vessels, specifically, have presented challenges in the areas of weight, durability, capacity, and cost. In fact, currently, the fuel tank on a compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle is its most expensive single component. Because storage vessels play such an important role in natural gas vehicles, addressing this issue this has been an important goal for many.

Now, however, innovative technologies are helping address the problems surrounding storage vessels for natural gas. One such technology is 3M Matrix Resin for pressure vessels, which uses nano-particle enhanced resin technology to produce CNG tanks that are 10 to 20 percent lighter than standard vessels, with 10 to 20 percent greater capacity.

Additional 3M technologies such as liner advancements, thermoplastic materials, barrier films and coatings, and damage-resistant films are helping to transform the pressure vessel industry. Together, these technologies can produce CNG tanks that are safer and more durable than standard vessels. They are also lower in cost, offering up to a 40 percent savings on a cost-per-liter basis, with an average vehicle savings expected to be approximately 10 percent (dependent on original equipment manufacturer pricing).

Very soon, these new tanks will be available to the natural gas vehicle market, thanks to a new agreement between 3M and Chesapeake Energy Corporation. In February, we announced that we will collaborate to design, manufacture, and market a broad portfolio of CNG tanks for use in all sectors of the United States transportation market. With these new CNG tanks, we will not only reduce cost, but also improve performance. It is our goal to use these attributes to move toward greater market adoption of CNG as an alternative automotive fuel source.

We have undertaken this commitment because 3M believes in the potential of natural gas. Now more than ever, conditions are right for this transition. As those in the industry know, in the past few years private investments and increased political support have dramatically increased the viability of natural gas as an automotive fuel. With more than a 100 year supply in the United States alone, natural gas is an abundant resource that can help reduce the country’s reliance on oil imports.

Furthermore, with an average price per gasoline gallon equivalent of $1.00 to $2.00, the fuel is much more affordable than oil. Its price has also remained more stable than market prices for gasoline and diesel over the past several years, a factor that can make it significantly easier for owners of CNG vehicles to budget for fuel. On top of all this, we also know that natural gas burns more cleanly than gasoline, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent and particulate matter by 95 percent.

3M and Chesapeake will work cooperatively in the coming months to begin the certification process for the first portfolio of tanks. After certification, production is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of this year. OEMs, particularly those serving corporate fleets, will find these new tanks very promising. In fact, Chesapeake itself has committed to using the new tanks for its corporate fleet conversions to run on natural gas. In addition to OEMs, integrators of CNG equipment and upfitters stand to benefit from these new offerings.

With this innovative partnership, 3M and Chesapeake are excited to build a strong future in the natural gas vehicle market and speed adoption of this important technology.

 

Mike Roman is Vice President of 3M Industrial Adhesive & Tapes Division