Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

OU Looks at Liquefied Gas Technology

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

OU Looks at Liquefied Gas Technology

Article excerpt

With federal mandates to clean up vehicular emissions looming on the horizon, the use of alternative fuels no longer will be an option for American consumers.

Very soon, growing numbers of vehicles will be required to use more environmentally friendly fuels, but the picture is not clear as to which fuels will be powering our planes, trains and automobiles five, 10 or 20 years from now.

William H. Sutton, a University of Oklahoma associate professor of mechanical engineering, believes that no single alternative fuel will take over the marketplace. There are advantages and disadvantages to each technology, he said, including both liquefied and compressed natural gas.

While various fuels likely will play a role in the nation's transportation future, Sutton believes that liquefied natural gas will be a major player, especially in the trucking and rail industries.

His views go somewhat against current conventional wisdom, which is banking on compressed natural gas being the predominant natural gas fuel.

Three years ago, when 24 U.S. universities competed in the Society of Automotive Engineers Natural Gas Challenge, OU's entry was one of only three trucks powered by LNG.

Sutton and his students learned a lot from the Natural Gas Challenge. They probably were overly concerned about engine temperatures, and they added a number of high-dollar modifications, including ceramic-coated pistons, that probably were unnecessary, he said.

But, he added, their decision to change the compression to 12.5-to-1 to better utilize the properties of a higher octane fuel was a good one.

The truck modified by Sutton has been turned into a research vehicle and can be reprogrammed to change the way the fuel is delivered to the engine, which means it can be powered with a number of different fuels, including gasoline, LNG and CNG.

However, it's the liquefied form of natural gas that has continued to be the focus of Sutton's research.

The Natural Gas Challenge involved full-size pickup trucks for a good reason. Natural gas, in either form, takes more room than gasoline.

"Both natural gas fuels are good for the environment, and from the engine's point of view, there's not much difference," Sutton points out. "All natural gas is burned the same way once it gets to the engine."

But LNG takes one-third the storage space of CNG. And tanks of CNG must be relatively heavy to withstand pressures of up to 3,000 pounds per square inch or higher.

LNG tanks don't have to be as durable because LNG is stored at a much lower pressure: the LNG used in the NGV Challenge truck was stored at 235 pounds per square inch. The two 12-gallon tanks Sutton and his students installed on the vehicle together weighed only about 70 pounds. Sutton continues to look for ways to make LNG storage more convenient and less wasteful.

On the down side, natural gas becomes a liquid only at very cold temperatures and must be stored in cryogenic tanks that keep it at minus-200 degrees Fahrenheit. …

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