February 4, 2020. The United States possesses large reserves of natural gas, like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, but the fuel powers few of the country’s vehicles, due partly to storage limitations.

Penn State researchers seek to overcome that hurdle by creating a less expensive and more efficient natural gas storage system with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

T.C. Mike Chung, professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, received a three-year, $1.12 million grant to develop super-absorbent materials designed to store natural gas under less extreme pressures and temperatures than those required today.

The technology could lead to smaller and less-expensive onboard tanks for natural gas vehicles, and may make the fuel economical for tractor-trailers, and with further advances, cars and SUVs, Chung said.

Chung’s group previously created a polyolefin polymer product called i-Petrogel that can absorb 40 times its weight in oil while not absorbing water, showing great promise for cleaning up or remediating crude oil spills. With the funding, the researchers will create a new Petrogel polymer tailored to absorb methane, the main component of natural gas used to heat homes and power vehicles.

“We are certainly very excited for the opportunity to do this research that could expand Petrogel for use in natural gas storage,” he said. “We can see several advantages in using natural gas for transportation: it’s abundant, less expensive and a cleaner energy source than other fossil fuels. Natural gas is also produced by renewable nature resources like biomass and agriculture byproducts.”