Making it easier to use natural gas

The bulky cylindrical tank in the back of a pickup or the trunk of a car has been a nuisance for drivers of natural gas vehicles. That may soon change. Since 2007 a truck in Kansas has been using a tank filled with carbon briquettes. The carbon “absorbs” natural gas like a sponge.

Research …found that corncob carbon briquettes had a very large amount of surface area, capable of storing natural gas at much lower pressures and in greater quantity than current technologies allow. The surface area inside a carbon briquette, which is approximately 3.5 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches tall, is equal to about 60 football fields. In addition, by storing the natural gas at lower pressures, the storage tanks can be virtually any shape, rather than having to be cylindrical when using compressed natural gas.

The technology vital to making this a reality was developed by Peter Pfeifer, professor and chair of the MU Department of Physics, and Galen Suppes, professor of chemical engineering. Pfeiffer and Suppes led a team of researchers, including Carlos Wexler, associate professor of physics at MU, who have been involved with ongoing research associated with this project.

MU recently licensed the technology to ANG Containment and Delivery Systems, a Wyoming firm, which is required by the license, to build its first production plant in Missouri. The agreement gives ANG a worldwide exclusive license to produce high-surface-area carbon from the corncobs for ground transportation vehicles. The initial goal of ANG is to utilize the high-surface-area carbon in natural gas tanks for ground transportation vehicles within the next year.


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