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Chemical Market Reporter

Pure Energy Plans New Fuel Based on Chemicals and NGLs

by John Hoffman

BIOTECHNOLOGY INVESTMENT firm Pure Energy Corporation (PEC) is planning to manufacture a non-petroleum gasoline substitute, called P-series, following the US Patent and Trademark Office's decision last fall to give Princeton University a patent for the blend of ethanol, natural gas liquids and methyltetrahydrofuran.

The blend was developed by Stephen Paul, a physicist at Princeton, who expects it to be cost-competitive with gasoline and meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Energy Policy Act of 1992. PEC is planning to commercialize P-series and is producing it at pilot plants in Alabama and California, which are run in conjunction with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Arkenol, a bio-refining company.

Merrick G. Andlinger, president and CEO of New York-based PEC, says P-series will cost roughly as much as gasoline and can be distributed through the petroleum industry's current infrastructure. "It requires none of the infrastructure changes needed for alternative fuels currently on the market," he says.

Mr. Andlinger adds that P-series reduces greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 65 percent relative to traditional gasoline, and it lowers carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions by at least 25 percent.

"P-series requires no refining and contains essentially no undesirable olefins, sulfur or aromatics, such as benzene," he says. "There were fewer than 100,000 flexible fuel vehicles on the market in 1997, but the industry estimates there will be more than 1 million within two or three years and approximately 3 million by 2005. This is the market we're targeting."

PEC has bought its methyltetrahydrofuran from Great Lakes Chemical Corporation, the only US manufacturer, but PEC is planning to use biotechnology to produce its own MTHF. PEC would then sell MTHF and its derivatives, as well as P-series and other fuels. Great Lakes says it plans to leave the market.

Mr. Andlinger expects PEC to build fuel plants all over the world. "This technology offers a solution to the buildup of municipal solid waste, as well as the dependence on foreign oil and the threat from greenhouse gases," he says.

Analysts do not expect P-series to replace gasoline, but they think its sales could grow rapidly in the next decade. "The gasoline and motor vehicle fuels market is huge," a representative of a major engineering company says. "PEC could capture just 2 or 3 percent and make a lot of money."

"This type of fuel could be the break-through that the ethanol industry has been looking for. It uses less ethanol than E-85 blends, but if it's closer to gasoline in performance, it could have a much larger market."

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