Planet Gore

Forcing ethanol: a flex-fuel mandate alone won’t work

Robert Zubrin writes that I and other critics of mandating flex-fuel ethanol cars (at a cost of $200 a vehicle) are anti-American “OPEC fans.” Actually, we’re tools of that Great Satan, Canada, our largest oil exporter. But seriously folks. . . .

 

The national security crowd continues to avoid the fundamental problem: Ethanol is not a competitive fuel.

 

This is not idle speculation as the self-described “open-source supporters” seem to think.

 

Brazil makes the most cost-efficient ethanol in the world (from sugar cane, which does not require the expensive distillation of corn to sugar) and yet simply mandating flex-fuel cars was not enough to ensure a market for Brazilian ethanol (currently 40 percent of fuel consumed).

 

Not by a long shot.

 

Brazil also had to mandate that E100 ethanol be taxed 25 percent less than gas (in order to make up for ethanol’s inherent 25 percent shortcoming in fuel efficiency relative to gas), mandate a 20-percent ethanol fuel mix for gas (the U.S. mandate is currently 10 percent), nationalize the state oil industry in order to goose production, massively subsidize that production to the tune of $1.20 a gallon (the much-maligned U.S. corn subsidy is “only” 51 cents) . . . and even then still had to ban diesel-fueled cars (the best alternative to gas).

 

In short, Brazil’s government declared ethanol a national-security imperative and took over the energy sector. “If alcohol fuels really can’t compete, let that be proven in an open market,” writes Zubrin. Been there, done that. Over its 25-year experiment, Brazil – with the optimum crop and climate for biofuel — found ethanol could not compete necessitating the comprehensive, aforementioned government intervention.

 

I am not an advocate for “continued oil dominance” but an advocate for free markets. The U.S. is economically strong in part due to cheap energy — a result of a low-regulatory climate that puts consumers first.

 

What Zubrin & co. subscribe is a radical departure from that model.

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