THE ABSENCE of a flatbed tank has been the principal reason why natural gas, which costs significantly less than gasoline and diesel and burns cleanlier, is not yet widely used as a fuel for vehicles. But a breakthrough may lead to a flat and compact tank that would fit under the floor of a passenger car, similar to current gasoline tanks. 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. 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. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) and Midwest Research Institute (MRI) in Kansas City developed the technology.

Long-term goal

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, according to a press release from the National Science Foundation. 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.

Low pressure

The low pressure of 500 pounds per square inch is central for crafting the tank into any desired shape, fuel storage tanks could be thin-walled, slim, rectangular structures.. Our Bureau