Two Approaches to Fuel Choice
Open Fuel Standards is the right choice.


Robert Zubrin

In contrast, the Open Fuel Standard bill does not choose a single winner, and would not cost the treasury anything. Instead, it stipulates that within several years the majority of new cars sold in the U.S. must give the consumer fuel choice by being any one of the following: full flex fuel (i.e., capable of using methanol, ethanol, and gasoline), natural gas, plug-in hybrid, or biodiesel compatible. Of these, the cheapest to produce will be flex fuel (zero to at most $100 additional cost per car), as many gasoline-powered vehicles now sold in the U.S. are already built with flex-fuel capability in mind, and need only a software upgrade to realize it. However, should consumers wish to spend their own money for the other alternatives, they will have every right to do so.

That said, it is the flex-fuel car’s methanol capability that will truly open up the source market for liquid fuels, as methanol can be made cheaply from coal, natural gas, or biomass. In fact, if the goal is to open up the vehicle-fuel market to natural gas, that can be much more readily accomplished, in a much bigger way, by the Open Fuel Standard legislation than by the NAT GAS Act, without any cost to the taxpayers at all — provided, of course, that natural-gas-sourced methanol continues to beat coal- or biomass-sourced methanol on price. This is as it should be.

Furthermore, unlike the NAT GAS Act, which will have near-zero impact on global oil prices, the worldwide effects of the Open Fuel Standard bill would be profound. This is because foreign carmakers will not wish to walk away from the American automobile market. If flex fuel becomes the standard for U.S. auto sales, foreign carmakers will switch their lines over, and their products worldwide will be predominantly flex fuel as well. This will subject gasoline to competition from methanol, and in some places ethanol, made from the cheapest local sources everywhere, thereby creating a permanent global competitive constraint on future oil prices.

The NAT GAS Act would cost the treasury a fortune, while accomplishing next to nothing. The Open Fuel Standard bill would cost the treasury nothing, while protecting both the U.S. and world economies from continued taxation by the oil cartel.

One can only hope that Congress makes the right choice.

— Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of the aerospace-engineering firm Pioneer Astronautics, a fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil.