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Reprinted with permission from Daily Environment Report , No. 145
(July 29, 1998), p. A-1. Copyright 1998 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.
(800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com

DOE Proposes 'Alternative' Designation For Series of New Alcohol Fuel, Notice Says

A new series of alcohol-based fuels should be designated as "alternative" because drivers of flexible fuel vehicles can use them in place of gasoline, the Department of Energy said in a July 28 proposed rule.

In a Federal Register notice, DOE proposed the fuel series, known as "P-Series" fuels, for approval as qualified alternative fuels under a program that requires fleet operators to purchase vehicles designed to run on alternative fuels (63 FR 40202).

Approval of the new fuel would expand the ability of fleet operators to drive their flexible fuel vehicles on an alternative fuel, according to Rick Andlinger, president and chief executive officer of Pure Energy, the Manhattan company that makes the new fuel series. "From a marketing perspective, it would be a very powerful signal to the . . . fleets," Andlinger told BNA July 28.

The vehicle purchases are required of most state and federal government fleets - as well as some private fleets - under the Energy Policy Act (EPACT). The law requires fleet operators to purchase an increasing percentage of alternative fuel vehicles each year. DOE is deciding whether to expand the vehicle purchase requirements to nearly all private fleet operators in the United States (198 DEN A-9, 6/5/98).

Flexible Fuel Vehicles. One option for fleet operators is use of flexible fuel vehicles, which are designed to run on either gasoline or alcohol-based fuels like ethanol. Using special sensors, the vehicles alter their air-fuel ratio to match the type of fuel coming into the vehicle. In addition, flexible fuel vehicles use non-rubber hoses and seals to withstand the extended use of alcohol-based fuel.

Flexible fuel vehicles can be purchased to fulfill EPACT requirements, since they are designed to run on alternative fuels like ethanol (as well as on gasoline). In the new proposal, DOE said, P-Series fuels should be added to the list of alternative fuels approved for use in the program. The fuels, which are not yet being produced on a commercial scale, are a mix of methyltetrahydrofuran, natural gas liquids, ethanol, and butane, and are designed for use in flexible fuel vehicles.

By expanding the fuel mix for flexible fuel vehicles, Andlinger said his P-Series would help fleet operators abide by "the spirit" of EPACT, and to operate their vehicles on an alternative fuel.

B20 Biodiesel. Because the P-Series fuels are not designed for use in standard gasoline vehicles, DOE approval would not raise the same concerns that surround a different fuel, called "B20 biodiesel," Andlinger said.

At a recent congressional hearing, a top DOE official said that B20 biodiesel - a mix of 80 percent diesel fuel and 20 percent plant matter - should not be designated as alternative because it can be used in standard diesel vehicles. Thomas Gross, DOE assistant secretary for transportation technologies, said approval would enable regulated fleet managers to buy standard diesel vehicles that run on "alternative fuel" (140 DEN A-3, 7/22/98). Since diesel fuel costs less than alternative fuels, fleet managers would have no incentive to use alternative fuels, Gross said.

DOE has not yet proposed to grant B20 biodiesel alternative status. "We are working diligently" to get that proposed rule out, a DOE official said July 28. Gross told the congressional hearing on July 21 that the B20 proposal would be out any day.

The proposal to label the P-Series fuels as alternative will be open for public comment until Sept. 28. Comments can be sent to DOE, Office of Transportation Technologies, EE-34, Docket No. EE-RM-98-PURE, 1000 Independence Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20585.

While the new P-Series fuels are not yet produced commercially, Andlinger said that his company is searching for a site on which to build a new large-scale production facility. "We have good confidence that we'll be able to produce the fuel at a competitive price," he said.

BY JAMES KENNEDY

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