Gasoline produces electricity New method opens way to battery-less electric car



WASHINGTON -- The Energy Department and an engineering firm plan to announce today that they have produced electricity from gasoline through a method that yields twice as much useful energy per gallon as a car engine does, and with pollution 90 percent lower.

The development raises the prospect of an electric car, still quiet, swift and clean, but without the problem of heavy batteries that must be recharged often.

Instead, such a car would be refilled with energy in minutes from the pump at the corner gasoline station and get twice the gas mileage of a comparable car with an internal combustion engine.

"We have a terrific breakthrough here," Federico Pena, the secretary of energy, said in an interview. He said such cars could be on the road by 2010.

Other experts not directly involved with the system praised it as an important technical achievement, although several pointed out that important steps remained before the method could be commercialized.

The method uses a fuel cell, a device first used by NASA for the Apollo moon-landing program, that makes electric current by combining hydrogen and oxygen into water. Oxygen can be pulled out of air, but hydrogen has always been a problem, because it is expensive to produce and store.

The new method, developed by Arthur D. Little Inc., with $15 million from the Energy Department and technical aid from a nuclear bomb laboratory, is the first practical way to extract hydrogen efficiently and cleanly from gasoline, which is made of hydrocarbon molecules.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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