A $21 million effort among federal, state and industry sources was announced by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on Wednesday to support the development of natural gas engines and vehicles.

Increasingly, the search for clean vehicle initiatives in response to climate change include natural gas-powered vehicles (see Daily GPI, Sept. 22) as well as electric vehicles, and NREL officials indicated the increasingly plentiful domestic gas supplies driven by shale gas are rekindling interest in natural gas as a transportation fuel.

The U. S. Department of Energy's (DOE) NREL, California Energy Commission and South Coast Air Quality Management District will collectively put up $13.5 million, and as part of cost-shared projects, companies will invest nearly another $8 million, NREL said. Four projects in British Columbia, California, Texas and Indiana have been selected for awards to do pieces of the research and development.

NREL will oversee the natural gas engine research and development projects seeking to develop more efficient engines meeting or exceeding the 2010 emission standards, integrating the engines into different chassis and vehicle platforms, and verifying fuel efficiency, petroleum reduction and emissions benefits.

"The focus is on medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses that currently represent 22% of the fuel used in on-road vehicles," a NREL spokesperson said.

NREL issued a request for proposals in March, focusing on expanding the availability of market-ready natural gas engines and vehicles. That process drew more than 20 proposals, indicating what the federal lab called "significant industry interest."

"Significant increases in the projected amount of natural gas available in the United States have stimulated renewed interest in using it to fuel commercial vehicles," said NREL Project Manager Margo Melendez. "More engine and vehicle choices are needed, however, for natural gas to be a practical alternative to petroleum-based fuels for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses. That's where this project comes in."

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