Profile Response: Amy McPherson, Volute, San Francisco, CA

HWWLT Logo on yellowOtherlab is a consortium of start-ups that have a techie / maker vibe. One of them is Volute, a ten-person company that is prototyping configurable CNG tanks. CNG vehicles have much better energy efficiency than combustion engine vehicles, but there are drawbacks to their acceptance. First is the cost of recharge stations. In addition, fuel tanks with enough CNG to meet our expectations between fill-ups are large. Third, refueling is a time consuming process. Volute is focused on the second problem – creating fuel tanks that are not so bulky they take up a third of a vehicle’s carrying capacity.

Volute works with their garage doors open to the world. Amy McPherson, Operations Director, is a North Carolina native who’s been in San Francisco for two years. I simply walked up to Amy from the sidewalk. When I asked if she liked it here, she laughed, “How can you not like it. Look at the climate.” Then she described some of the hurdles Volute faces.

IMG_4670 IMG_4671 IMG_4668

“Vehicles have all sorts of spaces that are not well utilized, but we can’t put a cylindrical tank in them. So, we want to make tanks that are configured to the particular voids within a vehicle.” The big cost in making CNG tanks are the fittings – the interface between the storage medium and the engine. Volute has grants from DARPA and Department of Energy to explore tanks of varied geometries that keep fittings to a minimum. They have been prototyping models and hope to obtain NGV2 certification for their tanks next year. Like every start-up, Volute feels competition on all sides. “Otherlab has one product already in production. There is another company working on solar panels that move with the sun. We are neck and neck wScreen Shot 2015-12-07 at 5.15.09 PMith them to be the second company to go live. Another group is working on a $5,000 CNG recharging station. That will get it down to a residential scale. But they have a long way to go.”

CNG already has viable applications for regular route vehicles. “UPS trucks, trash trucks, those vehicles can operate very efficiently on CNG.” As issues of fuel storage and recharging get resolved, there will be more worthwhile CNG applications. That will not signal the end of fossil fuels, but it will mean less pollution and more efficient vehicles.

How will we live tomorrow?

IMG_4667“Otherlab has a vision for the future. That’s the whole point of the enterprise. We have an eye toward energy-efficient and smart living.”


About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog,, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
This entry was posted in Responses and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s