The markets: Pressure vessels (2018)

High-pressure gas storage vessels represent one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets for advanced composites.

High-pressure gas storage vessels represent one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets for advanced composites. Although they are used in self-contained breathing apparatuses and provide oxygen and gas storage on aerospace vehicles, the primary end-markets for composite-reinforced pressure vessels are bulk transportation of compressed natural gas (CNG) products, and fuel storage in passenger cars, buses and trucks with powertrains dependent on CNG and hydrogen alternatives to gasoline and diesel. 

Demand for alternative fuels is growing, in large part, because the extraction of natural gas from shale reserves has contributed to lower prices in North America and parts of Europe. In the North American market, for example, the cost of natural-gas fuels currently runs about 40% less than diesel, per diesel gallon equivalent. In addition, increasingly stringent emissions regulations, including the EU Euro 6 Standard, which became effective earlier in 2016, are making diesel-powered buses and commercial vehicles more expensive for operators. Impending regulations are improving the marketability not only of CNG but also of hydrogen — after a period of relative dormancy — for fuel-cell powered vehicles. 

Seven years ago, the world’s natural gas-powered vehicles (NGVs) — cars, trucks, buses, and fork-lift vehicles — numbered about 10 million. By 2023, the NGV population could be more than 65 million. Based on strong demand in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Iran, Italy and Pakistan, NGV deliveries could reach nearly 11 million per year by 2023. The vast majority (94%) of these NGVs are expected to be equipped with high-pressure (200+ bar) fuel storage systems.

Although past promises about the marketability of pressure vessels for hydrogen (H2) storage in automobile fuel-cell powered drivetrains systems were received with well-deserved skepticism, 13 automotive OEMs have fielded FCV demonstrators and test fleets. The number of new-build FCVs was up to 4000 in 2014 and, says Composite Forecasts’ Chris Red, it is plausible that annual production could climb to approximately 200,000 vehicles per year by 2023. This would create sizeable demand for high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks. Further, demand for much larger vessels, for use in over-the-road and water transport of gases, is growing. 

A growing and likely huge, sustainable market for pressure vessels is the growing construction of seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plants. SWRO depends on membrane systems that serially cleanse water piped onshore from the ocean (See “Utility Infrastructure,” p. 19). These membranes must be encased in membrane housings. Filament-wound fiberglass pressure vessels are used almost exclusively for this purpose today, in quantities of as many as 6,000 per desalination plant. The Freedonia Group (Cleveland, Ohio) predicts demand for SWRO housings and related equipment will increase 6.9% per year. In the US alone, the market was worth about US$495 million in 2017.

Linerless, all-composite pressure vessels, which fit the more recent and radical Type V classification and are best able to reduce mass in weight-sensitive applications, are the goal for a number of pressure vessel manufacturers. Infinite Composites Technologies (ICT), Tulsa, OK, US) offers one of a growing number of Type V vessels coming to market. The company’s patented infinite composite pressure vessel or infiniteCPV (iCPV), an all-composite design, enables users to take advantage of the maximum fuel storage capacity by reducing vessel weight. The iCPV provides 10% more usable volume and reduces vessel weight by 90% compared to conventional vessels. And while the company has a focus on developing next-generation fuel storage and delivery systems for natural gas vehicles and storage applications, it also hopes to introduce its Type V tank technologies to the commercial space industry. 

 

Related Content

Pressure vessels for alternative fuels, 2014-2023

Lower fuel costs and escalating emissions standards are driving a 10 percent annual growth in alternative fuel pressure vessel sales.