Navy researchers have developed a nonpolluting rocket fuel that relies on alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, and scientists say a variation might one day propel cars.

Already, major aerospace companies are talking to the Navy about the new method for getting energy out of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide, the chemical compound that acts as a bleaching or disinfecting agent in more dilute forms.The technology could be used to boost satellites or spacecraft into orbit or alter their paths in space. The hydrogen peroxide is considered nontoxic because it can be diluted with water.

The key is the catalyst - the substance that causes the hydrogen peroxide to break down into water and oxygen, generating heat. The Navy would not disclose the composition of the catalyst.

"You don't need a spark or a source of ignition. You just have to mix them," said Eric Saikin engineer with the Airframe, Ordnance and Propulsion Division at the Navy's research facility in China Lake. The ignition takes less than 15 milliseconds.

Researchers say similar technology can be adapted to drive turbines, which suggests it could be developed for automobiles, Saikin said.

So far, China Lake researchers have used the liquid fuel in prototype missile thrusters built on a small scale.

"What we're trying to do now is scale them up to flight-weight size to demonstrate their applicability," Saikin said.