NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has developed a new composite vessel technology that is suitable for use as a liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel storage tank for alternative fuel vehicles. This technology uses an improved composite over-wrapped technology to produce a pressure vessel that is simple to use, robust, and capable of withstanding high pressures. It is also lightweight and low cost. This technology shows great potential to help the United States and other countries move toward a cleaner environment while allowing for efficient use of a more natural fuel in many different applications.
Current LNG vehicles use low-pressure, double-layered, vacuum-sealed, stainless steel fuel tanks that are heavy, complex, and expensive. In contrast, NASA’s technology offers the industry a tank that is lightweight, strong, capable of withstanding high pressures, and low cost. It is based on the use of an aluminum tank liner, overwrapped with composite materials, that contains abrasion-resistant, insulating, and environmentally protective components. There are some similarities between the NASA technology and other fuel tank technologies being developed, but none of the others appears to contain an effective insulation component. This fuel tank contains a NASA-developed insulation that consists of aerogels. These aerogels enable cryogenic fuels and other cryogenic fluids to be more effectively contained.
The technology is relatively inexpensive. For example, a 12" × 40" tank has been prototyped for under $2,000. The tanks function at high pressures (3,000 psi) that are suitable for compressed natural gas storage, and use common, commercially available aluminum tank liners. They have an impact-resistant environmental protectant layer on the outer surface, and resist damage from abrasion, fire, or ultraviolet rays.
Potential applications include fuel tanks for alternative fuel vehicles, aircraft, or spacecraft; and storage/transport tanks for compressed natural gases or liquid cryogenic fuels.