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NREL and California Air Agency to Test Clean Diesel Fuels

For more information contact:
Sarah Holmes Barba, 303-275-3023
email: Sarah Barba

Golden, Colo., Oct. 4, 2000 - The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will test Fischer-Tropsch synthetic diesel fuel for California's South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to determine if using the fuel can help reduce air pollution.

Fischer-Tropsch fuels can be produced from natural gas, biomass or coal. They are void of sulfur and aromatic chemical compounds, and therefore can reduce exhaust emissions from diesel vehicles. Fischer-Tropsch fuels, named after the German coal researchers Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, who discovered the process for synthesizing hydrocarbons, are used in South Africa today and have been blended with crude oil-derived fuels in California to meet the state's diesel fuel quality standards. Synthetic diesel fuels have not been widely used in the United States.

In 1998 NREL and its project partners from DOE and West Virginia University (WVU) conducted what is believed to be the first controlled tests of Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuels in heavy vehicles. The tests showed that Fischer-Tropsch fuels can be substituted in unmodified trucks and buses without any detectable loss in performance. The Fischer-Tropsch fueled vehicles emitted about 12 percent less nitrogen oxide and 24 percent less particulate matter than vehicles fueled with conventional diesel.

NREL's project with the SCAQMD will test Fischer-Tropsch fuels in a small vehicle fleet operating in southern California. The vehicles will be retrofitted with catalyzed exhaust filters to virtually eliminate diesel smoke, odor and particulate matter emissions. Project partners include DOE, NREL, SCAQMD, WVU and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The SCAQMD is concerned about the potential health risk associated with diesel exhausts. Fuels with low sulfur and low aromatic content may enable the use of catalyzed exhaust filters to reduce diesel emissions.

"Based on previous research, we expect the fleet to have very low exhaust emissions while maintaining diesel-like fuel efficiency," said NREL principal investigator Keith Vertin. "We will be evaluating an experimental Fischer-Tropsch fuel for 12 months to determine if there are any engine reliability problems or fleet operating issues that need to be resolved."

DOE currently is evaluating petitions from three companies to register their Fischer-Tropsch products as alternative fuels under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT).

"We are working with industry to develop paths for introducing Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuels into the marketplace as well as trying to reduce vehicle emissions," Vertin said.

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