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The briquettes are the first technology to meet the 180 to 1 storage to volume target set by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2000, a long-term goal of principal project leader Peter Pfeifer of MU.
"We are very excited about this breakthrough because it may lead to a flat and compact tank that would fit under the floor of a passenger car, similar to current gasoline tanks," said Pfeifer. "Such a technology would make natural gas a widely attractive alternative fuel for everyone."
According to Pfeifer, the absence of such a flatbed tank has been the principal reason why natural gas, which costs significantly less than gasoline and diesel and burns more cleanly, is not yet widely used as a fuel for vehicles.
Standard natural gas storage systems use high-pressure natural gas that has been compressed to a pressure of 3600 pounds per square inch and bulky tanks that can take up the space of an entire car trunk. The carbon briquettes contain networks of pores and channels that can hold methane at a high density without the cost of extreme compression, ultimately storing the fuel at a pressure of only 500 pounds per square inch, the pressure found in natural gas pipelines.
The low pressure of 500 pounds per square inch is central for crafting the tank into any desired shape, so ultimately, fuel storage tanks could be thin-walled, slim, rectangular structures affixed to the underside of the car, not taking up room in the vehicle.
The test pickup truck, part of a fleet of more than 200 natural gas vehicles operated by Kansas City, has been in use since mid-October and the researchers are monitoring the technology's performance, from mileage data to measurements of the stability of the briquettes.