Bush to fund alternative fuel research

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President George Bush is set to promise new federal money to help make plug-in electric cars and other alternative-fuel vehicles a reality.

The additional cash - for research projects in aca-demia and in the car industry - comes as car makers are promoting prototypes for a new generation of greener vehicles at this year's Detroit Motor Show.

Industry executives see a future in whichbuyers have a choice of vehicles running on different fuels - from petrol, diesel and ethanol, to electricity or hydrogen.

It is likely that the President Bush will use his State of the Union address in two weeks to press his theme of America's "addiction to oil", as he first did a year ago. Washington insiders expect him to announce funding for alternative fuel research for next year's federal budget.

At $180m (£93m), the annual budget for the Department of Energy's vehicle technologies office has repeatedly been criticised as too modest given the scale of the environmental pollution from more than 200 million petrol vehicles on US roads. Only a fraction of the budget is distributed to groups working on alternative fuels, who have to compete for funds against academic institutions and corporate ventures working on light-weight materials and other projects to improve the efficiency of petrol vehicles.

At the weekend, General Motors and Ford both unveiled concept vehicles that run entirely on electricity. However it is unclear how long the lithium-ion batteries used will last, particularly in extreme climates.

Other companies, including BMW, have used the Motor Show to unveil hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. Michael Ganal, head of sales and marketing at BMW, said: "We are proud to have taken the first step and to have demonstrated what is possible."

And Saab has reserved a prominent spot at the show for its new BioPower car, a bioethanol hybrid concept.

Chrysler's head of advance vehicle engineering, Mark Chernoby, said car-makers had a network of development projects on alternative fuels and electric cars between themselves and with the US government. Chry-sler had pumped $1bn into hydrogen fuel cell technology over the past decade, he said, but it was important for governments to support the development of an infrastructure to make hydrogen available to consumers.

"If we are going to shift to a hydrogen economy, it's going to take more than money. We've got to look at international codes and standards and infrastructure requirements."