The United States Department of Energy has awarded a $4.2-million research grant to the Consortium for Fossil Fuel Liquefaction Science--a five-university partnership--for a new research program to study innovative ways to produce cleaner alternative fuels and premium-quality chemicals. The research could point to new ways to use natural gas, coal, biomass, petroleum coke and municipal solid wastes as the source of fuels that might one day begin replacing imported oil while providing significant environmental advantages.

The Departmentís Office of Fossil Energy and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will jointly fund the research in at least the first year of the 3-year project. In addition to the federal funding, Consortium members, the University of Kentucky, West Virginia University, the University of Utah, the University of Pittsburgh and Auburn University, will contribute another $1.2 million, bringing the effortís total cost to $5.4 million.

The grant will allow the Consortium to pursue new directions in an area of research called "C1 chemistry," which investigates single carbon-bearing molecules--such as those that make up natural gas, carbon dioxide or "syngas" (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen)--into valuable liquid and other products.

Historically, much of the technical communityís C1 chemistry research has focused on a specific category of chemical reactions called the Fischer-Tropsch process. In contrast, the Consortiumís main effort will be to carry out a first-of-its-kind, nationally coordinated research program on innovative chemical processes that may not follow the traditional Fischer-Tropsch pathway.

A better understanding of new types of C1 chemistry could not only lead to lower-polluting transportation fuels but also to the increased use of fuel cells, new ways to use carbon dioxide to convert natural gas into fuels and chemicals, or new ways to produce liquid products from remote sources of currently unmarketable natural gas.

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