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Saturday, February 04, 2006

An alcohol future

Robert Zubrin makes a convincing argument that, to reduce our usage of oil, we must move to use engines that can burn greater amounts of alcohol.

To liberate ourselves from the threat of foreign economic domination, undercut the financiers of terror, and give ourselves the free hand necessary to deal with Middle Eastern extremists, we must devalue their resources and increase the value of our own. We can do this by taking the world off the petroleum standard and putting it on an alcohol standard.

This may sound like a huge and impossible task, but with gasoline prices well over $2 per gallon, the means to accomplish it are now at hand. Congress could make an enormous step toward American energy independence within a decade or so if it would simply pass a law stating that all new cars sold in the U.S.A. must be flexible-fuel vehicles capable of burning any combination of gasoline and alcohol. The alcohols so employed could be either methanol or ethanol.

The largest producers of both ethanol and methanol are all in the western hemisphere, with the United States having by far the greatest production potential for both. Ethanol is made from agricultural products. Methanol can also be made from biomass, as well as from natural gas or coal. American coal reserves alone are sufficient to power every car in the country on methanol for more than 500
years.

Ethanol can currently be produced for about $1.50 per gallon, and methanol is selling for $0.90 per gallon. With gasoline having roughly doubled in price recently, and with little likelihood of a substantial price retreat in the future, high alcohol-to-gasoline fuel mixtures are suddenly practical. Cars capable of burning such fuel are no futuristic dream. This year, Detroit will offer some two dozen models of standard cars with a flex-fuel option available for purchase. The engineering difference is in one sensor and a computer chip that controls the fuel-air mixture, and the employment of a corrosion-resistant fuel system. The difference in price from standard units ranges from $100 to $800.

Flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) offer consumers little advantage right now, because the high-alcohol fuels which they could employ are not generally available for purchase. This is because there are so few such vehicles that it doesn’t pay gas station owners to dedicate a pump to cater to them. Were FFVs made the standard, however, the fuel they need would quickly be made available everywhere.

If all cars sold in the U.S. had to be flexible-fueled, foreign manufacturers would also mass-produce such units, creating a large market in Europe and Asia as well as the U.S. for methanol and ethanol—much of which would be produced in America. Instead of being the world’s largest fuel importer, the United States could become the world’s largest fuel exporter. A large portion of the money now going to Arabs and Iranians would instead go to the U.S.A. and Canada, with much of the rest going to Brazil and other tropical agricultural nations. This would reverse our trade deficit, improve conditions in the Third World, and cause a global shift in world economic power in favor of the West.


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