Methanol Wins
It’s time to open up the Open Road with H.R. 1687.


Robert Zubrin

These results should not be too surprising. Methanol contains about half the energy content of gasoline, but its high octane allows it to be burned more efficiently, and thus obtain two-thirds of the mileage. The fact that the Cobalt could easily be made to use it should be no shock either: While not a flex-fuel car, the Cobalt uses the same E-37 computer and the same engine as GM’s HHR, which is a flex-fuel car. In fact, all GM cars sold in the U.S. for the past five years use either the E-37 (for small cars) or the equally flex-fuel-capable E-38 (for larger cars), and so all are capable of flex-fuel operation provided they are programmed correctly. The same is true at Ford, whose cars, whether flex-fuel or not, indiscriminately use the same “black oak,” “green oak,” or “silver oak” computers. Without question, the same must be the case for European and Japanese cars as well, since all are sold in Brazil, where flex-fuel capability is mandatory.

There was a time when adding flex-fuel capability to an automobile increased its cost by about $100. This is no longer true. Now almost all new cars already have flex-fuel hardware, and could easily be marketed as flex-fuel vehicles. Yet the automakers have failed to do so. This is an extraordinary disservice to the nation, because it is preventing us from meeting our fuel needs using our own resources. The United States has only about 4 billion tons of oil reserves, but over 270 billion tons of coal, unknowably vast supplies of natural gas, and by far the world’s most powerful agricultural sector — all of which could be used to produce methanol. Yet instead of being able to put these assets effectively to use to meet our transportation needs, we are being forced to buy 5 billion barrels per year of imported oil. At $100 per barrel, this is costing us $500 billion per year, a deduction from our GDP equal to that required to support 5 million jobs, at $100,000 annually per job.

The Open Fuel Standard bill (H.R. 1687) would remedy this situation by requiring automakers to activate the flex-fuel capabilities of their vehicles. This would open the market to fuels producible from plentiful domestic resources not under cartel control, free us from looting by OPEC, create millions of jobs, slash our deficit, reduce the flow of income to the Islamists, and cushion us from counter-effects should forceful action be required to deal with threats such as the Iranian nuclear-bomb program. Introduced by Reps. John Shimkus (R., Ill.) and Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), its current bipartisan list of sponsors includes liberals such as Jim McDermott (D., Wash.), Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.), Steve Israel (D., N.Y.), and Howard Berman (D., Calif.) to conservatives Dan Burton (R., Ind.), Roscoe Bartlett (R., Md.), Tom Cole (R., Okla.), and Allen West (R., Fla.), as well as many in between. It is a bill clearly in the national interest, and should be supported by everyone from left to right.

By eliminating the artificial incompatibility between the vehicles we drive and the fuels we can make ourselves, the Open Fuel Standard bill will unchain the Invisible Hand, creating a true free market in vehicle fuels. Those reluctant to embrace it need to answer the following questions: In whose interest is it that Americans should continue to be denied fuel choice? In whose interest is it that America’s vast natural-gas, coal, and biomass resources remain unusable as a source of liquid vehicle fuel? In whose interest is it that America continue to give hundreds of billions of dollars each year to foreign potentates bent upon our destruction, instead of paying our own people to make fuel out of our own resources? In whose interest is it that a foreign cartel retains unlimited power to raise the cost of our fuel? In whose interest is it that we remain in the power of our enemies? Finally, should their interests be allowed to prevail, or should ours?

The fault, dear reader, is not in our cars, but in ourselves, that we are tributaries. We can set ourselves free, but action is required.

— Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, a member of the Steering Committee of Americans for Energy, and author of Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil. His next book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, will be published by Encounter Books in February.

editors note: This article has been amended since its initial publication.


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