Updated 07/13/2012 08:55 PM
UT receives grant for alternative fuel research
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Hybrid and electric cars get a lot of attention when the price of gasoline spikes, but there's already a proven alternative fuel for automobiles—natural gas.
Pete Cue is an expert at converting cars, trucks and fleet vehicles to run on compressed natural gas, a technology which has been around for decades.
"All you have is water vapor coming out the tail pipe,” Cue said. “The cost—$1.88 per gallon equivalency, so as you can tell, it's green, it's clean, it's cheap."
But there's one drawback—the gas has to be at high pressure, something home gas lines can't do.
"Although we have a lot of reserves, we have the fuel on hand, it is difficult to get that fuel into your vehicle and store it on your vehicle," Michael Lewis with the University of Texas Center for Electromechanical Research said.
Scientists at the University of Texas now have a multi-million dollar federal grant to solve the problem.
"What we have here is a novel compressor concept that would be used for a home refueling appliance," Lewis said. "We have integrated all four stages of compression into one single piston and one single moving part."
Right now, there are only two CNG filling stations open to the Austin public, but if this cutting edge technology is successful, drivers will be able to fill up their CNG vehicles at home.
It would still take between six and eight hours to refuel, but at a cost of about one dollar per gallon.
"Then you can have enough natural gas stored in your vehicle to drive two, three hundred miles without having to refuel," Lewis said. "In the case of the compressor technology we're developing, the goal here is to have this unit be sold for five hundred dollars or less."
It's an investment that pays off in a lot of different ways
"The exhaust system, your catalytic converters run a hundred and fifty degrees cooler,” Cue said. “A lot less wear and tear on your engine. It's a clean fuel."
And some estimates say there's enough natural gas in the US to last 300 years.
Converting a vehicle to run on natural gas is still relatively expensive, but costs are coming down.
If you would like to learn more about compressed natural gas vehicles, click here.