But can we readily open our vehicle-fuel market to methanol? The simple answer is yes, and quickly. The large majority of cars sold in the U.S. today (and for at least the last five years), including all GM and Ford vehicles, have been equipped with computers and chromated fuel lines that make them potentially capable of flex-fuel operation. If provided with the right software, and with methanol-impervious Buna-N rubber seals (costing less than 50 cents per vehicle) for their fuel system, every new car sold in the U.S. could be fully flex-fuel, capable of running equally well on methanol, ethanol, or gasoline.
There is currently a bill before Congress — the Open Fuel Standard bill (HR-1687), co-sponsored by a bipartisan group including Reps. John Shimkus (R., Ill.) and Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) — that would require flex-fuel capability of the majority of new cars sold in America. If the bill passes, a market for methanol would be created that would very quickly call into being expanded production and distribution facilities, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. This would force gasoline into competition with methanol at the pump worldwide, thereby putting in place a permanent global competitive constraint on the price of oil. Thus owners of older cars, which are incapable of methanol operation, would also benefit, since their gasoline would be cheaper. And once methanol pumps become widely available, many drivers would see the benefit of spending a few hundred dollars to have their seals replaced and cars reprogrammed to obtain fuel choice. The switch to a predominantly methanol-fueled vehicle fleet could thus take place very rapidly.
The Open Fuel Standard bill would unchain the Invisible Hand, creating a true free market in vehicle fuels. Those reluctant to embrace it need to answer the following question: In whose interest is it that Americans should continue to be denied fuel choice?
We can break our fatal dependence on foreign oil, but Congress needs to act.
— Robert Zubrin is the president of 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.