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Hybrids Pave the Way for Biofuel Vehicles

BAY CITY, Mich. -- Sales of newer hybrid gas-electric cars and trucks, which can get up to 50 percent better mileage and have lower emissions than conventional gasoline vehicles, have grown almost tenfold since 2000, according to a report in Bay City, Mich.-based Bay City Times.

New hybrid vehicle registrations totaled more than 83,000 nationally last year, an 81-percent increase from the year before.

That's only the beginning, say experts like Chris Schilling, an engineering professor at Saginaw Valley State University who researches alternative energy sources.

"Fuel cells are under significant development" by automakers, Schilling said. "But it's going to take a long time for them to be perfected and be made affordable."

In the meantime, hybrids are helping wean the American public off its dependency on foreign oil, Schilling said.
Americans guzzle about 11 million barrels of foreign fuel every day and hybrids are making a small dent, according to the report. Schilling thinks alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel will be the next wave.

Ethanol and biodiesel are poised to become more available and more widely used in coming years, said Charles Griffith, auto project director for the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor.

"Biodiesel and ethanol are still making their market entry," Griffith said, adding they will be driven by increased production facilities, a shift in crop use and government incentives.

Ethanol and biodiesel aren't necessarily cheaper than gasoline, but they can be produced domestically from corn, soybeans and sugar beets and are said to be easier on engines, provide better performance than gas alone and have cleaner emissions.

"It's vegetable oil, not dinosaur oil," Schilling said of biodiesel.
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