ENGINEERING NEWS

Northwestern, NuMat Technologies, and GTI Land U.S. Department of Energy Funding for Work on Natural Gas Vehicles

A research team of Northwestern University, Northwestern start-up NuMat Technologies, and Gas Technology Institute (GTI) is one of 13 teams across the country that will share $30 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) in support of natural gas vehicle technologies.

The awards — offered through the “Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy” program (MOVE) — support researchers developing cutting-edge methods for harnessing natural gas supplies for cars and trucks and expanding the use of natural gas as a vehicle fuel.

Sharing $1.5 million in funding, Northwestern, NuMat, and GTI will design, synthesize, and test high-performance materials that can store clean fuels and be produced on a large scale for industry. Their computer-aided design process allows researchers to rapidly identify high-potential, low-cost alternatives, speeding the development of low-pressure natural gas tanks for vehicles.

The research will be divided between the three organizations. Researchers in the lab of Randall Q. Snurr, professor of chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering, will work with NuMat on computational design of the materials. The group of Joseph T. Hupp, professor of chemistry at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Omar Farha, a research associate professor of chemistry at Weinberg, will conduct materials synthesis at Northwestern. GTI, a Des Plaines, Ill.-based research, development and training organization for the natural gas industry and energy markets and the project lead, will test the materials.

The process for designing and testing the gas-storing materials, known as metal-organic frameworks, was developed in Snurr’s lab and has been commercialized by NuMat. The start-up, which has won more than $1 million in business plan competitions since February, includes representatives from four Northwestern schools: Farha (chief scientific officer) from Weinberg; Chris Wilmer (chief technology officer), a chemical and biological engineering doctoral student at McCormick; and Ben Hernandez (chief executive officer) and Tabrez Ebrahim (chief operating officer), who are pursuing a JD-MBA, a joint degree from the Kellogg School of Management and the School of Law.

Launched in 2009 by President Barack Obama, ARPA-E seeks breakthrough technologies that are too risky for private-sector investment but have the potential to translate science into energy technology, form the foundation for new industries, and have large commercial impacts. Demonstrating the success ARPA-E has already seen, the program announced last year that 11 of its projects secured more than $200 million in outside private capital investment after initial funding from its programs.

“These innovative projects will leverage the ingenuity of U.S. scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to develop breakthrough technologies to fuel cars with natural gas,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. “These projects could transform America’s energy infrastructure and economy by utilizing domestic energy sources to power our vehicles, reducing our reliance on imported oil, and increasing American energy security.”

View a complete list of projects funded by the MOVE program.