Lotus to front fossil fuel bid

A Norfolk engineering firm is to spearhead a government research project to wean cars off fossil fuels and boost the number of miles per gallon cars using biofuels can travel.

Norfolk engineering firm Lotus is to spearhead a government research project to wean cars off fossil fuels and boost the number of miles per gallon cars using biofuels can travel.

Lotus, based at Hethel, is teaming up with scientists at Queen's Univer-sity Belfast and fellow car firm Jaguar on a scheme geared to making cars running on greener second-generation biofuels more efficient.

The project, being sponsored by a £281,000 grant from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), centres around designing an improved “flex-fuel” engine, which can run on both petrol and biofuel.

Currently, only a handful of car makers, including Ford and Saab, have models with flex-fuel engines but one of the drawbacks when running on biofuels is they cannot achieve as many miles per gallon as with fossil fuels.

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Cars running on bio-alcohol have the potential to produce lower CO2 emissions because of the fuel's superior combustion qualities.

The plan is to develop what is known as the Omnivore concept, a new single-cylinder engine that maximises fuel efficiency when running on renewable fuels.

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Lotus Engineering is undertaking a design study and will build the single-cylinder unit by January 2009.

Mike Kimberley, chief executive officer of Lotus, said: “We are delighted with the investment from Defra which will assist this partnership in taking forward research development and the demonstration of this environment-ally-conscious transport solution.

“The automotive industry is now focusing on its environmental obligations to reduce CO2 emissions and improve efficiencies and we are seeing the high technology capabilities of Lotus Engineering being in strong demand.”

The Omnivore programme complements the recently-unveiled Lotus Exige 270E Tri-fuel sports car as part of Lotus' research to under-stand the complex combustion process involved in running on mix-tures of alcohol fuels and gasoline.

Dr Robert Kenny, from the school of mechanical and aerospace engineer-ing at Queen's University, said the long-term aim would be to produce cars able to run on the next wave of greener biofuels which can be produced without harming rainforests or food production.

“If successful, there would be a cost benefit, because increasing the engine efficiency would translate into more miles per gallon,” he said.

A Defra spokesman said: “As biofuels develop they have the potential to become a key element of the UK's energy mix. This will help us get the most from existing biofuels and will also help to open up the market for second and third- generation biofuels.”

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