ARPA-E Sponsored Free Piston Controller for Natural Gas Compressor
UT Austin is developing an at-home natural gas refueling system that compresses natural gas using a single piston. Typically, at-home refueling stations use reciprocating compressor technology, in which an electric motor rotates a crankshaft tied to several pistons in a multi-stage compressor. These compressor systems can be inefficient and their complex components make them expensive to manufacture, difficult to maintain, and short-lived. The UT Austin design uses a single piston compressor driven by a directly coupled linear motor. This would eliminate many of the moving components associated with typical reciprocating compressors, reducing efficiency losses from friction, increasing reliability and durability, and decreasing manufacturing and maintenance costs.
The Texas Electric Vehicle (EV) Program
The University of Texas at Center for Electromechanics (UT-CEM), the Texas Energy Conservation Office, and the Texas Department of Commerce have jointly organized an electric and hybrid-electric vehicle program in Texas. The program capitalized on the advanced technical position in four key dual-use technologies that has been established by UT-CEM and focuses on technology development and transfer to firms capable of production. The program also involves innovative linkages with users and customers during the development process to simultaneously develop initial market interest, attract investment, and identify user test platforms. The program is intended to serve as a beginning, with an expanding number of participants and technologies in future years. Funds are being provided by Federal Agencies, State Agencies, utility companies, industrial project partners, a metropolitan transportation authority, and commercial investors.
The Texas Electric Vehicle Program consists of four interdependent projects to develop: efficient low-cost homopolar EV traction motors; small flywheel batteries for vehicle power management; large flywheel batteries for utility power management (such as would be required for practical electric vehicle recharge stations) and hybrid electric railroad locomotives; and improved electromechanical active vehicle suspensions. The breadth and scope of the principal organizations (over a dozen) participating in the projects provide the strength of the program — the interaction of the manufacturers, the developers, and the users during the development process. Similarly, the program’s complexity and the diverse requirements of the 10 different organizations that are providing funds has heightened the dependencies of the projects. For example, the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations is primarily interested in job creation in Texas. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), on the other hand, is primarily interested in electric vehicle technology development for both military and commercial applications. Technical inter-dependencies also exist. For example, the utility flywheel battery program relies on the vehicular flywheel battery project to solve flywheel battery manufacturing cost issues and flywheel battery containment and safety problems.