Natural Gas Grabs The Lead In The Clean Air Stakes

Alternative fuels are key to cutting pollution--especially in the smoggy Los Angeles area, where 70% of dirty air is caused by vehicle exhaust. So, two years ago, government and industry mounted the $6.6 million South Coast Alternative Fuels Demonstration Project to test five cleaner fuels against regular gasoline in 111 Federal Express Corp. vans.

The early leader: compressed natural gas. On the whole, it outperformed the other fuels in emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and nonmethane organic gases. In carbon monoxide, for instance, compressed natural gas produced emissions at least 65% lower than those of regular gasoline. Methanol's carbon monoxide emissions were only 37% lower than gasoline's, and those of reformulated gas were at best 17% lower. But natural-gas producers shouldn't celebrate just yet. Battelle Memorial Institute, which is managing the study, will conduct two more evaluations of emissions and is also judging the fuels based on other criteria, including safety, fuel economy, and reliability. Final results won't be tallied until 1995.

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