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Praxair Inc., with facilities in the Town of Tonawanda, is one of three companies picked by the Clinton administration to develop a new generation of fuels, including a derivative of natural gas to replace diesel fuel, lawmakers announced Thursday.

The Praxair award is part of a broader program, involving the Army, and Ford Motor Co., to generate alternative fossil fuels and cut pollution.

Joining Praxair in a government quest to covert natural gas to liquid form, Rep. John J. LaFalce said, will be Conoco of Houston, Texas; Integrated Concepts in Alexandria, Va., and Syntroleum of Tulsa, Okla.

The Tonawanda Democrat said that Department of Energy scientists hope that clean-burning liquid natural gas can be delivered and used without requiring major changes in existing fuel systems.

Some fleets are using compressed natural gas systems, but these require major retrofitting of vehicles and special fuel delivery systems.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the award is part of the government's Ultra-Clean Transportation Fuels Initiative, an effort to cut truck, auto and bus emissions by 90 percent in the next seven years.

Praxair's expected allocation will be about $15 million of a $74 million national effort.

Three other firms will concentrate on emission reduction research. They are Phillips Petroleum, Bartlesville, Okla.; Petro Star, Anchorage, Alaska, and Research Triangle Institute, N.C.

Another company, EnviRes, LLC, Somerville, N.J., will study the potential of converting coal and coke products into clean fuels.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said, "President Clinton has challenged America's transportation sector to make dramatic cuts in air pollutants. . . .Now the Energy Department is preparing to put federal research dollars into future fuels that can meet the president's goal and perhaps go beyond it."

Richardson said Ford Motor Co. will focus on a new type of emission control system that will use a chemical process that captures smog-forming nitrogen oxides from vehicle exhausts.

The total projected cost of the projects is $176 million, with the government providing about $74 million. The Army's National Automotive Center in Warren, Mich., has agreed to provide $700,000 to get the program moving.

Praxair maintains a strong presence here, spending about $200,000 on lobbying according to congressional reports. In addition, Praxair's Danbury, Conn.-based political action committee, and its executives have contributed more than $125,000 to congressional candidates in the last two cycles, with about 75 percent of it going to Republicans.

Praxair executives were not immediately available to comment.

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