Partnership Powers Advances in Natural Gas Vehicles
Researchers at MU and the Midwest Research Institute (MRI) are testing an alternative fuel technology that may revolutionize natural gas-powered vehicles.
Currently, natural gas vehicles are equipped with bulky, high-pressure tanks that take up premium cargo space. The new technology would enable gas to be stored in a smaller, low-pressure tank. What makes this possible is an MU discovery that fractal pore spaces (spaces created by repetition of similar patterns at different levels of magnification) are remarkably efficient at storing natural gas. The scientists, led by MU physics professor Peter Pfeifer, first "bake" corncobs into carbon briquettes that contain fractal pore spaces. They then use the briquettes to store natural gas in a low-pressure tank.
MU and MRI researchers are now testing a prototype of this tank in a pickup owned by the Kansas City Office of Environmental Quality. "This technology could make natural gas an attractive alternative fuel for smaller vehicles," said MU Chancellor Brady Deaton. "The research partnership here exemplifies how scientists from very different fields can work together to conduct truly fundamental research in new materials with the explicit goal of having the results of the research solve problems for people."
The test pickup has been on the road since mid-October. "Having a prototype of this technology operating in the day-to-day work environment is significant," said James L. Spigarelli, president and CEO of Midwest Research Institute. "It symbolizes the power of collaboration and the ability of MU and MRI researchers, working together, to make a scientific discovery and to transfer that discovery to a technology, in this case a fuel tank technology."