From Farm Waste to Fuel Tanks

Feb 16, 2007
From Farm Waste to Fuel Tanks
Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City have developed a method to convert corncob waste into a carbon "sponge" with nanoscale pores. The new material can store large quantities of natural gas and can be formed into a variety of shapes, ideal characteristics for next-generation gas storage tanks on methane-powered automobiles. Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

Using corncob waste as a starting material, researchers have created carbon briquettes with complex nanopores capable of storing natural gas at an unprecedented density of 180 times their own volume and at one seventh the pressure of conventional natural gas tanks.

The breakthrough, announced today in Kansas City, Mo., is a significant step forward in the nationwide effort to fit more automobiles to run on methane, an abundant fuel that is domestically produced and cleaner burning than gasoline.

Supported by the National Science Foundation Partnership for Innovation program, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City developed the technology. The technology has been incorporated into a test bed installed on a pickup truck used regularly by the Kansas City Office of Environmental Quality.

The briquettes are the first technology to meet the 180 to 1 storage to volume target set by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2000, a long-term goal of principal project leader Peter Pfeifer of MU.

"We are very excited about this breakthrough because it may lead to a flat and compact tank that would fit under the floor of a passenger car, similar to current gasoline tanks," said Pfeifer. "Such a technology would make natural gas a widely attractive alternative fuel for everyone."

According to Pfeifer, the absence of such a flatbed tank has been the principal reason why natural gas, which costs significantly less than gasoline and diesel and burns more cleanly, is not yet widely used as a fuel for vehicles.

Standard natural gas storage systems use high-pressure natural gas that has been compressed to a pressure of 3600 pounds per square inch and bulky tanks that can take up the space of an entire car trunk. The carbon briquettes contain networks of pores and channels that can hold methane at a high density without the cost of extreme compression, ultimately storing the fuel at a pressure of only 500 pounds per square inch, the pressure found in natural gas pipelines.

The low pressure of 500 pounds per square inch is central for crafting the tank into any desired shape, so ultimately, fuel storage tanks could be thin-walled, slim, rectangular structures affixed to the underside of the car, not taking up room in the vehicle.

Pfeifer and his colleagues at MU and MRI discovered that that fractal pore spaces (spaces created by repetition of similar patterns at different scales) are remarkably efficient at storing natural gas.

"Our project is the first time a carbon storage material has been made from corncobs, an abundantly available waste product in the Midwest," said Pfeifer. "The carbon briquettes are made from the cobs that remain after the kernels have been harvested. The state of Missouri alone could supply the raw material for more than 10 million cars per year. It would be a unique opportunity to bring corn to the market for alternative fuels--corn kernels for ethanol production, and corncob for natural gas tanks."

The test pickup truck, part of a fleet of more than 200 natural gas vehicles operated by Kansas City, has been in use since mid-October and the researchers are monitoring the technology's performance, from mileage data to measurements of the stability of the briquettes.

In addition to efforts to commercialize the technology, the researchers are now focusing on the next generation briquette, one that will store more natural gas and cost less to produce. Pfeifer believes this next generation of briquette might even hold promise for storing hydrogen.

Source: NSF

Explore further: Morocco raises 1.7 bn euros for solar plants

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rolling lab tracks methane to its source

14 hours ago

McHenry Township, Lycoming County. Equipped with a gray box, a map and an SUV, Thomas Lauvaux and a team from Penn State's Department of Meteorology has been at it for hours, taking measurements and racking ...

Finding innovative solutions for reducing CO2 emissions

13 hours ago

Today, the company Gaznat SA and EPFL signed an agreement for the creation of two new research chairs. The first one will study ways to seize carbon dioxide (CO2) at its production source and increase its value ...

Boeing 737 factory to move to clean energy

Dec 16, 2014

Boeing said Tuesday it plans to buy renewable energy credits to replace fossil-fuel power at the factory in Washington state where it assembles its 737 commercial airplanes.

Recommended for you

The state of shale

23 hours ago

University of Pittsburgh researchers have shared their findings from three studies related to shale gas in a recent special issue of the journal Energy Technology, edited by Götz Veser, the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Che ...

Website shines light on renewable energy resources

Dec 18, 2014

A team from the University of Arizona and eight southwestern electric utility companies have built a pioneering web portal that provides insight into renewable energy sources and how they contribute to the ...

Better software cuts computer energy use

Dec 18, 2014

An EU research project is developing tools to help software engineers create energy-efficient code, which could reduce electricity consumption at data centres by up to 50% and improve battery life in smart ...

Cook farm waste into energy

Dec 17, 2014

It takes some cooking, but turning farm waste into biofuels is now possible and makes economic sense, according to preliminary research from the University of Guelph.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.