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Copyright 1999 The Scotsman Publications Ltd.
Scotland on Sunday

May 30, 1999, Sunday


By Peter Warren

THE US government has given its backing to the development of a cleaner vehicle fuel made from agricultural and paper waste as it races to improve its dismal pollution record.

And according to experts from Friends of the Earth, the P-Series fuel could be effectively produced in Scotland, which as well as its large oil reserves has ample forestry and agricultural waste from suitable crops such as oil seed rape.

"You could say that it's a stopgap, because people are seeing the future as fuel cells and hydrogen; but they are still some way away so these are important developments to look at," said Dr. Richard Dixon, head of research for Friends of the Earth Scotland, who with other experts predicts a three decade life-span for fuels like the P-Series.

The announcement by the US, which has 4% of the world's population and is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, is seen as a significant step towards cutting those figures in line with commitments made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the Kyoto Convention on Climate Change of 1997 which aim for an 8% reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2000.

The fuel, produced by using dilute acids to break cellulose waste into sugar, which is then converted into ethanol, is being seen as a quick fix for the US smog problem as it can be distributed using the existing service station network and does not require any modifications to be made to the cars using it.

According to Rick Andlinger, president of the Pure Energy Corporation, which owns the world rights to market the P-Series fuel, not only can it cut emissions by between 15% and 50% but it is the first alternative fuel to compete favourably against petrol.

"What we're looking at is something than can have an impact now, that can go through the current system, that costs the same as the cleanest gasoline and cuts down the cost to the environment."

The use of a biological process to produce fuel from materials obtained via other processes also offers important benefits to the US, as unlike other alternative fuels the manufacture of the P-Series does not produce additional gas and waste products.

Produced to a formula devised by Dr. Stephen Paul, an academic from Princeton University who chairs the US Alternative Fuels subcommittee, the P-Series fuel is likely to be one of the first alternatives to petrol able to take advantage of tough new US regulations. These require the car fleets of both state and federal government in the US to replace existing vehicles with ones capable of burning a range of alternative fuels.

This is a feature of the compound Andlinger believes will be key to the success of the fuel: "The internal combustion engine is not going to go away any time soon. We still have decades of the internal combustion ahead of us."

Yet companies such as General Motors hope to confound his prediction with the rapid introduction of advanced technology cars.

Earlier in the year Vauxhall announced that it planned to have a hydrogen-based fuel-cell electric car in production by 2004 which will produce near zero emissions of oxides and nitrogen, be capable of 0 - 60 mph in 9 seconds and return 80 miles per gallon, though unfortunately still producing around half of the CO2 of a conventional petrol engine.

However, the UK government, which committed itself to reductions of 20% of 1990 emission levels by 2010 in its manifesto at the last election, has not yet announced plans to introduce alternative fuel technology, concentrating instead on streamlining and public transport.

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