Oklahoma State University, 2011 - $20,000

Fuel storage capacity, range and costs have been the main deterrents to the adoption of natural gas as an alternative fuel choice in America. Part of the problem is the typical natural gas fuel storage system found in vehicles; prior to advancements in composites and designs, tanks were made of steel, were very heavy and dangerous if exploded due to scrap metal debris. Advancements over the years have allowed for higher pressure (and thus greater storage capacity and range), but have usually resulted in additional cost or added weight.

This team is developing a new natural gas fuel storage system that could solve these issues. The solution, a higher-pressure storage vessel constructed using innovative, mineral-based composite materials, can hit the target service pressure of 5800 psi compared to standard 3600. By increasing pressure, more fuel can be stored in a smaller space, thus reducing the size and increasing capacity. The team’s innovation is the material (mineral fiber reinforced plastic which mimics carbon fiber) and the use of several composite manufacturing techniques (including braiding and filament winding to enhance strength).