3M, Chesapeake Energy team to develop cheaper, lighter CNG tanks

  • 24-Feb-2012 03:33 EST
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Through innovations in design, process technology, materials, and capacity optimization, 3M expects to offer a range of CNG tanks that are 10 to 20% lighter with 10 to 20% greater capacity compared to standard vessels as well as provide up to 40% savings on a cost per liter basis.

3M and Chesapeake Energy Corp. are collaborating to design, manufacture, and market a portfolio of compressed natural gas (CNG) tanks for use in various transportation sectors in the U.S. The companies note that currently the fuel tank on a CNG vehicle is its most expensive single component, and they claim that the new CNG tanks stemming from their partnership will reduce costs while increasing performance.

Cost reduction will depend on the size of the tank as well as OEM pricing, but “the 3M CNG tank can offer up to 40% savings on a cost per liter basis, and the average vehicle savings is expected to be approximately 10%,” a 3M spokesperson told SAE Magazines via email. “The cost savings is gained through innovations in design, process technology, materials, and capacity optimization.”

3M’s CNG tank solution combines the company’s proprietary liner advancements, thermoplastic materials, barrier films and coatings, and damage-resistant films. Using nanoparticle-enhanced resin technology, 3M Matrix Resin for Pressure Vessels, the company expects to create CNG tanks that are 10 to 20% lighter with 10 to 20% greater capacity compared to standard vessels.

The company declined to provide more technical details on the proprietary materials but did note that its initial focus will be Type 4 composite overwrapped vessels. The 3M Matrix Resin has been employed in multiple applications over the past two to three years—ranging in diversity from fishing rods and hockey sticks to marine masts and aerospace panels.

The new CNG tanks will be suitable for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles as well as passenger and potentially even military vehicles, according to the spokesperson. “One of our innovations will be new-to-the-world geometries intended to address some of the limitations (e.g., range) in today’s NGV medium- and heavy-duty applications… OEMs, particularly those serving corporate fleets, will have interest in this product. Also, integrators of CNG equipment and upfitters will be top customers.”

“3M believes in the potential of natural gas, and this agreement illustrates our commitment to the industry,” George Buckley, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of 3M, said in a statement announcing the partnership. “We are excited about this collaboration to speed the development and adoption of natural gas-powered vehicles.”

Chesapeake Energy has pledged an initial $10 million toward design and certification services, market development support, and a commitment to use the new tanks for its corporate fleet conversion to CNG. The company’s investment will be provided by Chesapeake NG Ventures Corp. (CNGV), established in 2011 to identify and invest in companies and technologies that will replace the use of gasoline and diesel. CNGV has committed $1 billion over the next 10 years to help fund various initiatives to increase demand for natural gas, including investments totaling $300 million in Clean Energy Fuels Corp. and privately held Sundrop Fuels Inc.

3M has engaged Utah-based Hypercomp Engineering Inc. for the design and certification of tanks. 3M will manufacture the tanks and focus its capital on all future operations and production.

“We’ve been working for two years to optimize this technology in tanks and have launched multiple geometry certification programs,” the spokesperson said. The supplier expects the first tanks to be available for sale during the fourth quarter of 2012.

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