Scientists Unveil Ride of the Future By Emil Venere Engineers from the Applied Physics Laboratory and private industry last Friday unveiled a new concept car that runs on natural gas and produces fewer pollutants than gas-powered cars. The new car, a retooled 1994 Chevy GEO Prizm, is called the Advanced Natural Gas Vehicle; it was presented to federal officials during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. "Natural gas vehicles can and are being built that satisfy consumers' as well as fleet operators' needs for range, fuel economy and performance," Warren Mitchell, chairman of the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, said before the unveiling. Natural gas cars are becoming more attractive because of concerns about air pollution and the nation's dependence on foreign oil. In the United States about 30,000 natural gas cars are currently in operation. There are about 1 million in use worldwide, officials said. The compact-sized ANGV gets the equivalent of 32 miles per gallon of gasoline, and it can travel 300 miles between fillups, a considerable improvement from the 125 to 150-mile range most natural gas vehicles have. "A dedicated natural gas vehicle can be built that is virtually indistinguishable from its gasoline-powered counterpart in terms of range, performance and safety but which has significantly lower exhaust emissions," said John Wozniak, the APL engineer managing the project. The car's 1.6-liter engine gives it a performance comparable to that of gasoline-powered cars, accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 12.5 seconds, Wozniak said. The car comes equipped with a new kind of tire that eliminates the need for a spare. The Goodyear Extended Mobility tire can travel up to 250 miles or more after losing air, Wozniak said. The car has five fuel tanks, which have passed extensive safety tests and are made entirely of composite materials that are strong yet lightweight. The car is designed so that it may be built on the same assembly line as gasoline-powered vehicles, Wozniak said. If it was mass produced, the vehicle would cost $2,000 to $3,000 more than its gas-driven counterparts, project officials said. Wozniak stressed that before the car goes into production, it needs more refining and field and crash testing. In the future, APL will put the car in its auto fleet to see how well it endures real-life conditions. Future research will focus on increasing fuel-storage capacity and improving performance. ANGV already meets, and in some cases surpasses, California's stringent ultra-low emission vehicle standard. Work on the vehicle began a year ago with money from the Department of Energy's Office of Transportation Technologies. Wozniak said APL began the project with five goals in mind: to design a car with a operating range of 300 miles; to keep at least 75 percent of the trunk space of conventional cars; to satisfy California's emissions standards; to meet or exceed the performance of gas-powered cars ; and to maximize safety in the event of a collision.
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