3M to Make Fuel Tanks for Natural Gas Vehicles

The manufacturing giant, in partnership with a large natural gas producer, intends to develop less-expensive, higher-performance, lighter, and higher-capacity fuel tanks-which it hopes will jump-start the market for natural gas-fueled vehicles.

3M Company has partnered with the country's second-largest natural gas producer, Chesapeake Energy-and the companies intend to jointly create compressed fuel tanks for natural gas-fueled vehicles.

The fuel tank on a compressed natural gas vehicle is the most expensive single component, according to the companies. They intend to develop less-expensive, higher-performance tanks, which they hope will jump-start the market for natural gas-fueled vehicles.

Maplewood-based 3M and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based Chesapeake said that their tanks will also be 10 to 20 percent lighter and have 10 to 20 percent greater capacity than traditional tanks, while also being safer and more durable.

The tanks-which are expected to be available for sale during the fourth quarter of 2012-will make use of 3M's liners, thermoplastic materials, barrier films and coatings, and damage-resistant films.

“3M believes in the potential of natural gas, and this agreement illustrates our commitment to the industry,” 3M Chairman, President, and CEO George Buckley said in a statement. “We are excited about this collaboration to speed the development and adoption of natural gas-powered vehicles.”

3M and Chesapeake said that increased political support and private investment have made natural gas a viable automotive fuel alternative that has significant growth potential. With a U.S. natural gas supply that will last more than 100 years and a price of $1 to $2 for an amount that goes as far as a gallon of gasoline, the fuel is plentiful, affordable, and domestic, the companies said. The fuel also burns cleaner than gasoline, thus slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent and particulate matter by 95 percent.

Through its Chesapeake NG Ventures Corporation division, Chesapeake will invest an initial $10 million toward the fuel tanks initiative. The division was established last year to identify and invest in companies and technologies that will replace the use of gasoline and diesel derived primarily from foreign oil; it has committed $1 billion over the next 10 years to help fund various initiatives to increase demand for natural gas, including investments totaling $300 million in Clean Energy Fuels Corporation and Sundrop Fuels, Inc.

3M is working with Brigham City, Utah-based Hypercomp Engineering, Inc., for the design and certification of the tanks. 3M will manufacture the tanks and “focus its capital on all future operations and production,” the company said.

3M is Minnesota's fifth-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $29.6 billion in 2011.