A new source of support for natural gas vehicle tech: ARPA-E

The Department of Energy’s high-risk, early stage program — ARPA-E — has announced a new project that will give $30 million in grants to companies, university labs and startups building the next-generation of natural gas vehicle technology. Winners of the funds (which still need to be finalized) include a combination of large corporations like Ford, GE, Eaton and SRI, as well as university and government labs like Texas A&M, Pacific Northwest National Labs, Colorado State University and the Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the more surprising winners was Other Lab, which is a lab in San Francisco created by inventor Saul Griffith. Other Lab will receive$250,000 for a project to work on a high-pressure natural gas tank that uses small diameter tubes tightly wound into a tank shape — “intestine” like, they described it in the release. Ford scored the biggest grant, while Other Lab received the smallest.

ARPA-E named the program Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy, or MOVE. The grants are supposed to solve some of the barriers for bringing natural gas vehicle technology to smaller regular cars — the tanks are often times too expensive or too big for a consumer car.

New, abundant and super cheap natural gas resources discovered in the U.S. in the past few years are fundamentally remaking the energy ecosystem in the U.S. While natural gas is still a fossil fuel — and emits carbon — it is cleaner than coal and can be used for both generating electricity, and as a transportation fuel. If just 30 percent of coal-fired generation plants were replaced with natural gas plants in the U.S., the U.S. would be able to hit a 17-20 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020.