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Pitt researchers examine better CNG storage technology

| Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, 10:09 a.m.

University of Pittsburgh researchers are experimenting with chemical compounds that could potentially improve the design of fuel tanks for compressed natural gas vehicles.

In research published this week in the journal Physical Review Letters, the team led by Christopher Wilmer and Hasan Babaei said they are developing a fuel storage system that would replace reinforced, heavy tanks with a material known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) that would absorb gas like a sponge.

The goal is to find an alternative for bulky tanks required to handle the pressurized, volatile gas while overcoming challenges involved with the porous, crystal-like MOFs, which can generate a lot of heat.

“Unfortunately, not a lot is known about how to make absorbents dissipate heat quickly. This study illuminates some of the fundamental mechanisms involved,” said Wilmer, an assistant professor in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering.

Government agencies and companies that operate large fleets of vehicles have moved toward more use of compressed natural gas — or CNG — because of its domestic availability, lower cost and fewer air emissions. Wilmer, whose startup NuMat Technologies is focused on developing the technology, hopes it can increase efficiency across the gas storage industry.

“Beyond natural gas, these insights could help us design better hydrogen gas storage systems as well,” he said. “Any industrial process where a gas interacts with a porous material, where heat is an important factor, could potentially benefit from this research.”

David Conti is the assistant business editor at the Tribune-Review. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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