Politics & Policy

A Fuel-Efficiency Bet


On July 27, I published an article on National Review Online in which I claimed that methanol could provide the United States with an alternative liquid fuel that is substantially cheaper than gasoline. This claim was greeted with skepticism by some, who countered that, if methanol were a more economic fuel, the free market would have already implemented it.

Talk is cheap, so — in the tradition of Julian Simon’s famous 1980 wager with Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren that five crucial natural resources would not become dangerously scarce by 1990 — I am willing to back up my assertion with hard cash. I am willing to wager up to ten people $10,000 each that I can make my 2007 Chevy Cobalt run with substantially superior fuel economy on methanol than it does on gasoline. The Cobalt is not a flex-fuel car, but, like all other recent GM cars, it includes all the hardware necessary for flex-fuel operation.

According to the EPA, the 2007 Cobalt can get 34 miles per gallon on the highway running on gasoline. The current spot price (i.e., before taxes) of gasoline is $3.16 per gallon. Methanol is currently $1.28 per gallon. If my Cobalt can get 24 miles per gallon running on methanol, that will come out to 18.75 miles per pre-tax fuel dollar, 74.2 percent better than the 10.76 miles per pre-tax fuel dollar achievable using gasoline.

So here are the conditions of the challenge: Within 60 days of someone’s accepting my bet, I will make the Cobalt run on 100 percent methanol, and get at least 24 highway miles per gallon. The car will be driven at an average speed of at least 60 miles per hour, with the test course being a roundtrip on the I-25 highway between Denver and Colorado Springs. Mileage will be measured by dividing the number of miles traveled by the number of gallons of fuel consumed. I drive, you ride. Minimum bet is $10,000. The results will be reported on National Review Online.

There you have it. I’m willing to bet that I can make methanol beat the fuel economy of gasoline by 74 percent. That’s quite a spread! In terms of fuel economy, achieving 24 miles per gallon using methanol is equivalent to getting 59.25 miles per gallon on gasoline. President Obama is proposing a 54.5 mile per gasoline gallon fuel economy standard by 2025.  I’m betting I can beat it by Columbus Day. Surely there must be some oil or laissez-faire partisans willing to accept my challenge? If so, just reply to this column with a post below, stating your name, contact info, and how much you are willing to bet. We will ask National Review to hold the checks until they can be awarded to the winning side.

How about it, sports?

— 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.


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