They certainly have given the news of their (3M and Chesapeake Energy’s, that is) collaboration with an upbeat yet deeply concerned (about breaking the “foreign stranglehold” on energy imports) tone. From the Feb. 28, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,
“3M believes in the potential of natural gas, and this agreement illustrates our commitment to the industry,” said George Buckley, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of 3M. “We are excited about this collaboration to speed the development and adoption of natural gas-powered vehicles.” [emphasis mine]
Increased political support and private investment have made natural gas a viable automotive fuel alternative with large growth potential. With more than a 100-year supply of natural gas in the United States and an average price per gasoline gallon equivalent of $1.00 to $2.00, the fuel is plentiful, affordable and domestic. [emphasis mine] The fuel also burns more cleanly than gasoline, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent and particulate matter by 95 percent.
“This partnership brings together two leading companies from different sectors, both committed to advancing the natural gas transportation fuel market,” said Aubrey K. McClendon, Chesapeake’s Chief Executive Officer. “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.” [emphasis mine]
The companies will be using a nanotechnology-enabled solution to making the tanks, which hold the natural gas, stronger and lighter. From the 3M/Chesapeake Energy Feb. 21, 2012 press release,
3M’s CNG [compressed natural gas] tank solution combines the company’s proprietary liner advancements, thermoplastic materials, barrier films and coatings, and damage-resistant films to transform the pressure vessel industry. Using nanoparticle-enhanced resin technology, 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. In addition to these benefits, the 3M technology produces safer and more durable tanks than those currently on the market. This tank innovation builds on 3M’s proven history of developing and introducing pioneering technologies to the market.
I’m wondering how the estimate for that “100 year supply of natural gas in the US” was derived. It stands to reason that if you make natural gas an attractive alternative to current fuels that its use will increase, perhaps exponentially, should more uses for natural gas be discovered than simply as a ‘replacement’ for current fuels.
I did check out Chesapeake Energy, a company based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and not in a New England state (I think Chesapeake Bay is in Massachusetts) as I was expecting. Here’s an excerpt from the company’s home page,
We’re the second-largest producer of natural gas, a Top 15 producer of oil and natural gas liquids and the most active driller of new wells in the U.S. Headquartered in Oklahoma City, the company’s operations are focused on discovering and developing unconventional natural gas and oil fields onshore in the U.S. Chesapeake owns leading positions in the Barnett, Haynesville, Bossier, Marcellus and Pearsall natural gas shale plays and in the Granite Wash, Cleveland, Tonkawa, Mississippi Lime, Bone Spring, Avalon, Wolfcamp, Wolfberry, Eagle Ford, Niobrara and Utica unconventional liquids plays.
I also found out a little more about the technology that 3M will be incorporating in the new gas tanks (from the 3M™ Matrix Resin Technology page),
Carbon fiber composite products are limited by their compression strength. Under compressive loading, carbon fibers can micro-buckle (like a small wrinkle) resulting in breaking or failure of the composite product.
Creating a resin with a high concentration of uniformly dispersed nanoparticles makes a stronger composite. These nanoparticles are so tiny, they can uniformly surround and support the carbon fibers, significantly increasing the shear modulus of the resin, and effectively delaying the micro-buckling of the carbon fibers. The greater the nanoparticle loading, the stiffer the support of the carbon fiber. Where other nanotechnologies (like carbon nano tubes) deliver <3% nanoparticles loading, 3M’s proprietary technology uniquely enables loadings of >40% of uniformly dispersed nanoparticles.
3M’s ability to significantly increase resin shear modulus is a game changer in and of itself. But 3M’s technology truly bends the rules by simultaneously increasing fracture toughness. In the past, attempts to increase resin stiffness resulted in a significant decrease in fracture toughness, producing very brittle materials. 3M’s proprietary nanoparticles technology creates such a strong bond between the particle and the resin, that energy is dissipated when the composite is stressed, preventing crack propagation.
I am curious as to exactly what those nanoparticles might be made of but I gather that is proprietary information