Methanol Already Lost

by Henry Payne

Just three years ago, Robert Zubrin was chief carnival barker for Big Ethanol, which he said would save America from Big OPEC — if only by making America more dependent on Big Government mandates and subsidies. Now that ethanol has lost its luster (even The Goracle runs from its name), Zubrin is hawking . . . methanol.

Trouble is, methanol is soooo 47 years ago.

In 1964, the Indy 500 made methanol the first trendy alcohol fuel – after a horrific seven-car pileup killed two drivers when their gas-fueled cars exploded. A public outcry ensued (the Zubrins of the day — the Indianapolis Star’s George Moore chief among them — argued safety instead of energy independence) and Indy converted to the less volatile — but also lower-energy-content — methanol (which might explain why the thirsty racers ducked in and out of the pits so often).

Indeed, the difference between methanol and ethanol is largely feedstock and the letter “m.” Both are inferior in energy content (a gallon of gas goes 30 percent further), need massive subsidies to survive, and would need a federal mandate to goose the national infrastructure that alcohol-fuel advocates desperately want.

But even Indy’s high profile did nothing to convert America to the methanol alternative. So, seeking greener PR pastures, the Indy Racing League converted to E100 during the Iraq War, hoping to get a new boost from patriotic Midwesterners (as well as huzzahs from Indiana farmers).

That is, Zubrin long ago lost his $10,000 bet that methanol is the new silver bullet. The multimillion-dollar Indy Racing League has abandoned the stuff. And they’ll abandon E100 for the next trendy alternative to King Gas. Small wonder that Zubrin has found methanol for a buck-and-a-quarter (is that retail? Include federal tax? State tax? Federal subsidy? So many questions).

It’s out of fashion.

Zubrin is nothing if not persistent. But he would better spend his time writing to the White House for an appointment as Alcohol Fuels Czar. Then he could just mandate the stuff.

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