True flex fuel cars should also accommodate another important fuel called methanol. China has embraced this alcohol fuel. Several provinces in China already blend their gasoline with methanol and scores of methanol plants are currently under construction there. The
Chinese auto industry has already begun to produce flex-fuel models that can run on methanol. Methanol packs less energy per gallon and is more corrosive than ethanol. But it is cheaper and far easier to produce in bulk. While ethanol can be made only from agricultural products such as corn and sugar cane, methanol can be made from agricultural waste, natural gas, coal, industrial garbage and even recycled carbon dioxide captured from power stations' smokestacks -- an elegant way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Since we hardly generate any electricity from oil, using electricity as a transportation fuel enables the full spectrum of electricity sources to compete with petroleum. Plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) can reach oil economy levels of 100 miles per gallon of gasoline without compromising the size, safety, or power of a vehicle. If a PHEV is also a flexiblefuel vehicle powered by 85 percent alcohol and 15 percent gasoline, oil economy could reach over 500 miles per gallon of gasoline. Ideally, plug-in hybrids would be charged at night in home or apartment garages, when electric utilities have significant reserve capacity.
The Department of Energy estimates that over 70 percent of the U.S. vehicle market could shift to plug-in hybrids without needing to install additional baseload electricity-generating capacity. In addition, the U.S. is the world’s biggest potential market for electric cars which can be sold as second or third family car. Thirty one percent of America’s households own two cars and additional 35% own three or more vehicles. There are over 75 million households in the US that own more than one vehicle and that can potentially replace one or more gasoline only cars with cars powered with made-in-America electricity.
A nationwide deployment of flex-fuel cars, flex fuel plug-in hybrids, and alternative fuels could take place within two decades. But such a transformation will not occur by itself. Every year that passes without Congressional action to ensure that new cars sold in America are flex fuel vehicles is another year in which 16 million gasoline-only cars start their 17-year life on U.S. roads, further binding us to foreign oil. On the grounds of national security and in the interest of stemming the hemorrhaging of our economy, Congress should take swift action to require that new vehicles sold in the United States are flexible fuel vehicles through an Open Fuel Standard.
Such an Open Fuel Standard would level the playing field and promote free competition among diverse energy suppliers. A few years ago Congress passed an open standard for television mandating that as of February 2009 every television sold in the U.S. must be digital enabled. Further, Congress allocated coupons in the amount of $80 per household to allow Americans to convert their analog TV to digital transmission. One would hope we consider our transportation sector at least as strategic as television watching. I realize that many are opposed to any government interference in the market. Indeed, in a perfect world, government would not need to intervene in the energy market, but in a time of war, the United States is taking an unacceptable risk by leaving the problem to be solved by the invisible hand. This is especially true since the energy market is anything but free. It is manipulated by a cartel, heavily rigged in favor of the status quo, and, as the case of the ethanol tariff shows, riddled with protectionism.
Choosing not to embrace an Open Fuel Standard, is choosing to preserve oil’s monopoly in the transportation sector, and with it OPEC’s growing stranglehold over the global economy and in essence guaranteeing continuous economic and strategic decline.