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Auburn expert says alternative auto fuel possible

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — An Auburn University alternative-fuels expert said some companies already have the technology to produce alternative fuels for cars and trucks without the need for engine modifications.

David I. Bransby, professor of energy and fiber crops at Auburn and a researcher on the use of switchgrass and other plant fibers as fuel, said an announcement on the new technology from a company "still under the radar" could come within a few weeks.

The technology will enable the company to produce fuels for ordinary car and truck engines for "under $1 a gallon."

No engine modification

While biodiesel, a plant-based fuel for cars and trucks, requires engine modifications, Bransby said other fuels on the horizon would not require such alterations.

He sees the new fuel as one possible option in a future that will see biodiesel production, solar energy and other means to reduce to U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Currently, 15 percent of the U.S. oil supply comes from the Middle East and the rest from other countries, including Venezuela.

Bransby said the country needs alternatives to fossil fuels. He spoke after a Tuesday news conference announcing the formation of a task force to study alternative fuels for Alabama.

He predicted that while petroleum prices will drop, the growing economies of China and India will stretch existing petroleum supplies and increase demand for alternatives.

Bransby is one of 65 members of the Alabama Alternative Energy Committee, a group formed to study alternative energy sources and make recommendations to Gov. Bob Riley and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. The committee has two focuses, biofuel and alternative energy sources like solar power.

Riley said he expects at least two pieces of legislation for 2007 from the committee's work. One would give incentives to companies and the other to consumers, possibly in the form of tax breaks. But Riley said no legislation is drafted yet.

"There is a bipartisan consensus that we can no longer depend on Mideast oil," Riley said.

He wants the committee to develop a comprehensive plan for the state's future energy production and use.

The state motor pool switched its vehicles from gasoline to ethanol in January, and Riley said the state will continue to work with industry to develop gasoline and diesel alternatives and biodiesel production and fueling stations.

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