When you think about electric cars, the phrase "Fill er up! doesn't immediately come to mind--but early in the next century it might.
A government-industry team has demonstrated a gasoline-fueled system that could form the heart of a clean, fuel-efficient electric car. The system consists of a fuel processor that partially oxidizes gasoline to create hydrogen gas, which is then sent to a fuel cell that generates electric power. Members of the partnership include the Department of Energy and Arthur D. Little of Cambridge, Mass.
In tests conducted earlier this month, the prototype fuel processor generated hydrogen at a rate sufficient to produce 50 kilowatts of electric power--enough to run a midsize car, says Robert S. Weber, a senior scientist for the project at Arthur D. Little.
Although the laboratory tests used gasoline and ethanol as fuels, the system can also use methanol and natural gas as sources of hydrogen. A car equipped with the system would get about twice the gas mileage of a comparable car with an internal combustion engine, Weber says.
Electric cars have faced two vexing problems--the need for heavy batteries that must be recharged after a few hours' use, and the lack of an infrastructure to …