3M and Chesapeake Energy Corporation have announced they’ve agreed to collaborate in designing, manufacturing and marketing a broad portfolio of compressed natural gas (CNG) tanks for use in all sectors of the U.S. transport market.

3M's Sampling of Pressure Vessels.

CNG has often been suggested to be a good replacement for gasoline.  It is; its simpler to get to proper emissions, burns clean, has workable octane, and it could be generally available without an entirely new infrastructure.  Natural gas is already piped to most every place but the rural areas of the U.S.  As a fuel substitute it would work pretty well.

On the other hand, while switching over isn’t totally simple, it isn’t something many would be advised to do in the home garage.  The equipment needed for metering and pressure regulation isn’t particularly expensive, but to get a tank with worthwhile capacity is an expensive barrier.

That’s where 3M and Chesapeake are jumping in – Chesapeake has the gas and 3M the technology.  Currently the fuel tank on a CNG vehicle is its most expensive single component.  The plan is the new CNG will reduce costs while increasing performance. Less expensive tanks will enable greater market adoption of CNG as an alternative automotive fuel source.

Chesapeake has pledged through Chesapeake NG Ventures Corporation (CNGV) an initial $10 million investment toward design and certification services, market development support and a commitment to use the new tanks for its corporate fleet conversion to CNG.  Chesapeake NG Ventures Corporation was established in 2011 to identify and invest in companies and technologies that will replace the use of gasoline and diesel derived primarily from foreign oil.

CNGV has committed expenditures of  $1 billion spread over the next 10 years to help fund various initiatives to increase demand for natural gas.  The big investments so far include $300 million in Clean Energy Fuels Corp. and privately held Sundrop Fuels, Inc.

On the technical side 3M has subcontracted with Hypercomp Engineering, Inc. of Utah for the design and certification of tanks. 3M will do the actual tank manufacturing and focus its capital on all future operations and production. 3M expects the tanks to be available for sale during the fourth quarter of 2012.

3M’s CNG tank solution is a combination of the company’s proprietary liner advancements, thermoplastic materials, barrier films and coatings, and damage-resistant films in an effort to transform the pressure vessel industry. Using nanoparticle-enhanced resin technology and 3M™ Matrix Resin for Pressure Vessels, 3M will create CNG tanks that are 10 to 20 percent lighter with 10 to 20 percent greater capacity, all at a lower cost than standard vessels.

Add to that the 3M technology is said to produce safer and more durable tanks than the common heavy welded steel models currently on the market. The tank innovation builds on 3M’s proven history of developing and introducing pioneering technologies to the market.

This may be a significant modality for transport fuel change.  George Buckley, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of 3M said, “3M believes in the potential of natural gas, and this agreement illustrates our commitment to the industry. We are excited about this collaboration to speed the development and adoption of natural gas-powered vehicles.”  With a presales investment of $10 million that has to be a happy CEO.

So far there are only little areas of CNG market success.  But lots of places and some fleets have looked or started adopting conversions.  The incentives are strong – there’s more than a 100-year supply of natural gas in the U.S. and lots more is available to come on line.  Natural gas priced equivalent to a gasoline gallon comes in at only $1.00 to $2.00.

Basically it boils down to this: the fuel is plentiful, affordable and domestically produced.

Our thanks for this push on the opportunity goes to Aubrey K. McClendon, Chesapeake’s Chief Executive Officer who said, “This partnership brings together two leading companies from different sectors, both committed to advancing the natural gas transportation fuel market. We applaud 3M for recognizing the future of natural gas as a low-cost, cleaner alternative to gasoline, and for creating innovative tank technology that will make natural gas vehicles more affordable and accessible to fleets and individual consumers nationwide. Our country needs a solution to break the foreign stranglehold on our fuels market, and today’s announcement is another step to transition our nation away from costly imports.”

The numbers aren’t being touted yet for consumer comparisons.  It’s very likely that the cost per mile by CNG is going to be less.  If 3M gets its marketing act together there won’t be any gouging by shops to do conversions.  We may even have a brief holiday from fuel taxes until the Feds and States catch up.

The meaningful number is going to be access to fueling – for a while getting filled isn’t going to be convenient.  It’s not impossible now, but there will be to be quite a bit of organizing to get a to growing market that has ready access.

For many the biggest question is going to be how the old gas tank compares in range to the new CNG tank.  That’s a big if.  If 3M can cut the weight by 20% and increase the capacity by 20% one has to wonder how close that gets to the gasoline range.

The timing is good – the gasoline price forecast, albeit dubious, has gasoline headed past $4 a gallon.  That makes $1.50 very attractive indeed.

I think I’ll be signing up . . .


6 Comments so far

  1. Jagdish on February 23, 2012 3:48 AM

    Another fuel gas, acetylene, which is sensitive to pressure, is used as a solution in acetone. The pressure in the cylinder is reduced and it is safer to use. Acetone or petrol may serve as solvents for methane and other hydrocarbons in the natural gas. Gases not soluble in the solvent may be rejected.

  2. Matt Musson on February 23, 2012 8:01 AM

    I believe that most of the UPS Brown trucks are currently running on natural gas. I would love to convert my old pickup. Just put the tank in the bed and go.

  3. Benjamin Cole on February 24, 2012 12:28 PM


    Go to cngvehicles.net. If you live near Oklahoma, you can buy cng truck for $15k or less.

    I have no connection to cngvehicles.net, and he could be a typical used car salesman for all I know.

    But looks interesting.

  4. Jagdish on February 27, 2012 3:00 AM

    CNG is used widely in Delhi and nearby areas. I have always wondered why the simple idea of using a solvent in cylinders to make them safer has not occurred to people who deal with compressed gas. Someone should develop and sell fuel filled gas cylinders with gas dissolved in a solvent. existing acetylene cylinders are too big for car but can be used in a truck.

  5. Ron on September 2, 2012 2:05 PM

    I have an 03 dodge caravan.Ive wondered with so many mini vans out there has anyone thought of an tank that would fit on the roof using the roof rack mounts mabe a gas tank that looks like an roof extension with the roof rack mounted on the top.
    Im not sure how safe this would be but a
    resin type tank that could just raise the roof line some might help open the idea to many vehicles besides pickup trucks.

  6. Ron on September 2, 2012 2:11 PM

    Ill add this while im here.I think all new pickup trucks,mabe suv,s should run on natural gas.It would help the environment,since these vehicles use more fuel and put out more emissions.And help with our country needing less oil.
    Its good for creating jobs and an healthier country.I did see where petro and t/a truck stops well be putting in hundreds of fueling stations at theyre truck stops.

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