There has been much discussion about the potential of natural gas as a transportation fuel in the U.S., from everything from passenger cars and light trucks all the way up to Class-8 tractor-trailers. Up to now, one of the issues limiting the popularity of natural gas vehicles is the inordinate amount of space the required cylindrical fuel tanks take up. In passenger cars, such as the Honda Civic, the tank cuts the trunk capacity by half, and in pickups, such as the Ram 2500 CNG and other models, the bed-mounted tanks and enclosure steal approximately one-third of the available bed space. But with a patent-pending technology being developed by Chrysler, these packaging compromises may soon be an issue of the past.
Looking at the volumetric efficiency of the human lung, made up of millions of individual sacks known as alveoli, Chrysler's advanced engineering team is developing a patent-pending natural gas tank design that will offer greater capacity than today's conventional cylindrical tanks, and will offer greater packaging flexibility, similar to that of liquid fuel tanks, which can take on any shape necessary to fit within the vehicle's chassis. The research is being partially funded through the state of Michigan's Economic Development Council's Technology Innovation challenge, from which Chrysler received a $50,000 grant.
No specific date or timeline was given for when this technology might reach mass-production, but with more practical packaging options, along with the expanded public availability of CNG filling stations and home fillers, CNG cars may be on their way toward mainstream acceptance.