Four per cent of the world’s motor vehicles are currently fueled by natural gas and nearly all of those are smaller passenger cars in a select number of countries outside North America. Dramatically accelerating the pace of technology development and adoption of natural gas vehicles (NGV) across Canada and the globe is the end goal of a potentially ground-breaking initiative supported by the Natural Gas Innovation Fund (NGIF).

NGIF has invested $500,000 towards the development and testing of Vancouver-based Westport Fuel Systems’ high performance compressed natural gas (CNG) storage system, a revolutionary technology that will allow greater volumes of CNG to be stored on-board vehicles without impacting load or passenger space.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

“What is probably not apparent to many North Americans are the countries around the world where NGV’s are much more commonplace,” explains Westport Executive Vice President Jim Arthurs. “One of the reasons they haven’t become as popular here are the cylinder CNG storage tanks, which take up a lot of room in the vehicles – and that reduces available space for loads in commercial vehicles or for passengers on the automotive side.”

“That’s why we became interested in technology that would remove those barriers for customers.”

Towards that end, Westport conformable CNG storage is intended to replace conventional composite cylinders – and those complex storage capacities they require – with multiple connected chambers in shapes that conform to other forms of energy storage such as liquid fuels or battery packs.

“With conformable storage technology, you can have for example flat panel storage that covers the floor in the rear of some vehicles, or panels on the roof in other types of vehicles,” said Arthurs.

Westport is working with original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and automotive manufacturing partners to produce the potential breakthrough in a technology that can store up to 35 per cent more CNG than traditional cylinders.

The timing couldn’t be better. With many in the transportation sector facing new greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations – and the majority of trucks still running on diesel – there are unprecedented opportunities for gaseous-fuel product solutions powered by natural gas, renewable natural gas, and hydrogen.

The substitution of natural gas for petroleum-based fuels drives a reduction in harmful combustion emissions such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and GHG’s in addition to the economic benefits of a low-cost and abundant fuel.

Westport Fuel Systems is a Canadian company with a massive global outreach. Teams in Vancouver, Calgary and Cambridge, Ontario – with additional offices in Italy, the Netherlands and Argentina – are all helping lead the transition to emission reductions by designing next-generation alternative fuel engine and vehicle technologies that offer significant environmental benefits.

In Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg, for example, Volvo passenger station wagons running on CNG/biomethane with a four-cylinder engine designed by Westport are being used extensively in Taxi and company car fleets.

Additionally, the company has spread its wings in India and signed an additional agreement in China, where it has been operating a successful joint venture since 2008.

In 2018, Westport entered into a development and supply agreement with India-based automaker Tata Motors Ltd. for four-cylinder and six-cylinder natural gas spark-ignited commercial vehicle engines – currently being certified in a country where emissions have been historically amongst the highest in the world.

Also last year, Westport signed a development and supply agreement with China’s Weichai Westport Inc. to develop, market, and commercialize a heavy-duty, natural gas engine featuring Westport’s proprietary high pressure direct injection (HPDI 2.0TM) technology.

The company has won major awards for its environmental leadership, including national recognition as Export Development Canada’s Clean Technology Export Stars in 2018.

Net-zero energy homes supported by NGIF

With consumers starting to have more options in the transportation segment of the market, an Edmonton-based custom home builder has meanwhile proven that a net-zero energy producing home using natural gas combined heat and power is possible for customers in a northern climate.

Effect Home Builders first built a custom home as a trial project in the suburb of Belgravia, in Edmonton back in 2012, with the structure unexpectedly generating a surplus of energy.

Using a combination of passive solar design – a way to capture energy with a south-facing wall, lots of windows and a concrete floor – a highly insulated air-tight building, and a solar-electric system, the home generated enough energy for the home’s consumption as well as feeding net-excess energy back into the grid for neighbours to use.

The two solar systems produced the energy required for the home, with the solar-electric system also generating a surplus of 14,000 kWh in almost four years. That saved 44,000 kg of CO2 emissions from Alberta’s electricity generators.

The Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) selected the Belgravia residence constructed by Effect Homes as the National and Provincial winner of the Green Home Award.

“Effect Home Builders first built a custom home as a trial project in the suburb of Belgravia, in Edmonton back in 2012, with the structure unexpectedly generating a surplus of energy.”

“With this home and others we have subsequently built, electricity is harvested in the summer, and that goes back into the electrical grid for a credit,” explains Dale Rott, one of the company’s three managing partners. “Then you draw from the grid in the winter with the credits intended to even out over the year.”

The company now builds six to 10 customized energy-saving homes per year in the Edmonton area, an accomplishment that NGIF partners noted and rewarded with a grant for the energy-conscious group.

“With the NGIF grant, we built a combined solar and heat/power unit in our office building, essentially taking a 2,000 square foot building and transforming it into a deep energy retrofit,” Rott said. “We show the building to anyone who wants to see it as a new concept in the commercial industry.”

The Effect Home Builders office space – an 1940’s era two story home – was retrofitted using clean technologies and natural gas together to create a net zero office space disconnected from the electrical grid, with lower costs, and lower GHG emissions.

“Our real message here is that the public can be part of the solution to lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

Turning waste biogas into clean energy

And back on the West Coast, a Canadian clean technology company called Quadrogen Power Systems caught the eyes of NGIF partners.

Quadrogen builds customized biogas clean-up systems that allow wastewater treatment plants, landfills, agricultural digesters and power generation facilities to turn waste biogas into clean energy, including renewable natural gas (RNG) for use by existing customers.

Quadrogen’s Integrated Biogas Clean-up 300 System (IBCS) purifies biogas from a variety of sources – including those with challenging constituent gases and contaminants, such as landfills. The renewable energy turns into a clean product that becomes usable as heat/electricity, biomethane, CO2 for greenhouses/hydroponics, and/or hydrogen.

“In the case of biomethane or renewable natural gas – the clean and upgraded fuel can be injected right into a natural gas distribution system,” explains Alakh Prasad, one of Quadrogen’s executive leaders.

From its very first pilot project at a California Orange County Waste Water Treatment Plant – where the integrated system did its job supplying clean energy to a 300kw fuel cell – the 12 year-old company is expanding with offices in Canada, the United States, and India where the units are built.

Orders are coming in from around the world, for example in China, across parts of Europe and into Thailand.

The company was previously selected by Corporate Knights as one of the most promising tech clean-up companies in Canada. NGIF funding is assisting Quadrogen in the pilot-scale demonstration of its proprietary C3P gas clean-up technology.

NGIF was created by the Canadian Gas Association in 2016 to fill what was a technology development gap in the sector and ensure the industry remained competitive with innovations happening elsewhere, such as in the renewable energy sector.

Dennis Lanthier is an award-winning writer and corporate communications specialist with almost two decades of experience in oil and gas. He earned an International Association of Business Communicator’s Gold Quill in 2011 for the creation of a magazine distributed to TransCanada Pipeline’s employees and retirees. Dennis is now a freelance writer working with several oil and gas associations in the energy sector.