WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hoping to capitalize on the phase-out of a fuel additive, a Senate committee voted Thursday to authorize $300 million in research on new ways to make ethanol and other chemicals from crops, grass and trees.

The action by the Senate Agriculture Committee is intended to boost farm income and follows a decision this week by the Environmental Protection Agency to curtail use of methane-based MTBE because of evidence it contaminates groundwater.

MTBE's chief rival as a fuel additive is ethanol, which now is made from corn but theoretically can be processed from any plant.

Ethanol, already heavily subsidized by the government, costs more to make than MTBE and primarily is made in the Midwest, which makes it difficult now to get it to West Coast and Northeast markets. Researchers hope to find ways to make ethanol more cheaply.

Plastics also could be made from plant material, known as biomass.

``This research initiative holds the promise of meeting clean fuel demands by bringing to the market a competitively priced alternative fuel by 2005,'' said the committee's chairman, Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.