The commercialization of a refueling technology for gaseous fuels, developed and patented by Argonne National Laboratory, could boost public interest in pollutant-reducing vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells and compressed natural gas (CNG) by significantly reducing the costs associated with fueling them.
This commercialization was made possible when pressure-consolidation refueling technology developed by Argonne scientists was transferred to PDC Machines Inc., a global compressor manufacturer based in Warminster, Pennsylvania, between August 2017 and May 2019.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are powered by clean, domestic energy sources and provide more than double the efficiency of conventional gasoline internal combustion engine vehicles, while emitting no pollutants (only water vapor) from the tailpipe. However, the capital costs for hydrogen fueling stations are high. Argonne’s refueling technology significantly lowers these costs.
Vehicles using clean gaseous fuels, such as hydrogen, are more challenging to fuel than those using liquid hydrocarbon fuels like gasoline and diesel. To pack enough fuel gas molecules inside a vehicle’s tank, the fuel must be compressed to very high pressures at the refueling station. Several stages of compression may be needed to fuel such vehicles, making the compressor a major contributor to refueling costs.
The effectiveness of a refueling compressor depends on the pressure of the supply it draws from. As hydrogen is drawn from the ground storage to supply the compressor, its pressure drops over time, which reduces the compressor’s fueling capacity. Argonne’s technology consolidates the refueling station storage pressure to maintain a high-pressure hydrogen supply for periods of peak demand, which translates to higher throughput and lower compressor costs.
The transferred technology includes the pressure consolidation refueling algorithm and a software tool that sizes refueling station equipment, simulates vehicle refueling, and optimizes station cost for a given vehicle demand profile.
The pressure consolidation technology could save refueling stations up to 30% of their equipment costs or allow an existing station to triple its fueling capacity without buying a new compressor. It also makes transferring fuel from delivered storage containers at least 20% more efficient, which in turn reduces fuel transportation and delivery costs.
The transferred technology includes the pressure consolidation refueling algorithm and a software tool that sizes refueling station equipment, simulates vehicle refueling, and optimizes station cost for a given vehicle demand profile. During the technology transfer, PDC integrated Argonne’s technology into its product development and control process.
The technology was transferred through two mechanisms: (1) the Hydrogen at Scale (H2@Scale) initiative at the Department of Energy (DOE) and (2) a technology licensing agreement between Argonne and PDC. H2@Scale required a standardized pre-negotiated version of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Argonne to streamline the technology transfer process.
The potential societal impacts of the transferred technology are numerous. It could help small businesses in the US compete in the rapidly growing fuel cell vehicle industry, which would create jobs, increase exports and accelerate the transition from fossil fuel energy toward zero carbon emission technologies.
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