Six weeks after President Clinton announced the toughest standards
ever for reducing air pollutants from auto tailpipes, the U.S. Department
of Energy today kicked off a major new research effort targeting $75 million
to develop new ways to produce ultra clean fuels and better pollution
control devices for tomorrow's cars and trucks.
"Driving now accounts for 30 percent of the total air pollution
in the United States," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "This
initiative points to the day when Americans will breathe cleaner air not
only because we supported tougher regulations but also because we invested
in better technologies. In addition, if we can develop a low-sulfur, high-performance
diesel fuel, we can take an important step toward dramatically improving
fuel economy while we cut air pollution."
In December, the Clinton Administration announced a new rule requiring
the nation's gasoline suppliers to meet an average sulfur level of 30
parts per million (ppm) by 2005, down from the current average of nearly
300 ppm. A rule affecting sulfur levels in diesel fuel is expected to
be in place by the end of the year. Sulfur reduces the effectiveness of
catalytic converters, the devices that reduce engine exhaust pollution.
A key objective of the initiative is to verify that fuel processing technologies
to meet the tighter gasoline standards will perform as expected. Many
of these new approaches are still on the drawing boards and have yet to
be tested at significant levels.
Similarly, producing low-sulfur diesel fuel, which could be used in more
energy-efficient engines, will require new fuel processing technologies
and clean-burning additives to enhance vehicle performance, especially
when used with new emission control technologies.
The Energy Department is asking for proposals in any of three categories:
(1) projects that produce ultra-clean fuels from a variety of energy resources
-- conventional crude oil, petroleum coke, refinery wastes, natural gas,
or coal -- and verify the performance of these fuels by testing in engines,
(2) projects that develop innovative emission control systems and verify
their performance in engine tests, or (3) longer-range projects that could
lead to innovative fuel making processes, components, materials, or technologies
that refineries and automakers could incorporate into future fuel, engine,
and emission control systems.
Candidate fuels could include low-sulfur gasoline, diesel fuel, or any
liquid fuel that enables a future vehicle to achieve ultra-low emissions.
All fuels produced in the new program must be compatible with the nation's
existing transportation system infrastructure.
The Energy Department intends to make the new funding available in 2000
through 2005 and will require industry partners to share from 35 to 50
percent of a project's cost, depending on the type of project.
The ultra-clean fuels initiative also will address another challenge
facing most U.S. refineries today -- the declining quality of the crude
oils. Crude oil produced in the United States and in neighboring countries
is becoming increasingly heavier (thicker) and higher in sulfur content,
making it more difficult to process into clean-burning fuels.
The Energy Department is encouraging the formation of research teams
made up of technology developers, fuel suppliers, engine or vehicle manufacturers,
and emission control system developers. The effort will be conducted in
conjunction with the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles,
a government-industry initiative to develop vehicles that are three times
more efficient as conventional cars (i.e., up to 80 miles per gallon).
Ultra-clean diesel fuels could offer a way for these new vehicles to meet
the tighter emission standards without compromising safety, performance,
Up to $15 million could be awarded for each project.
Research efforts could take up to 5 years. The Energy Department will
evaluate proposals in two time periods. The first evaluation will be for
proposals received by June 30, 2000. A second evaluation will be conducted
on proposals received by December 1, 2000.