Mandate Flex-Fuel Vehicles

Flex fuel vehicles are capable of runnign a blend of 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline. Flex fuel / E85 technology allows us to substitute gasoline (which is a foreign hydrocarbon) with ethanol (which comes from a variety of courses).

A recent comment by Purpleslog made me aware of Robert Zubrin, and his plan to make all new vehicles sold in America flex-fuel vehicles.

Changing the game: Breaking OPEC’s grip on oil (OneNewsNow.com)
Energy expert Robert Zubrin says in this worsening economic crisis, Congress must take an essential step to get the United States off its dependency on foreign oil from countries that want to do America harm.

Dr. Robert Zubrin is the author of Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil. He believes the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, is deliberately restricting the production of oil in the face of growing world demand in order to drive the world into a recession. He adds while opening up areas like the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling is a good idea, it will not break OPEC’s stranglehold.

“Drilling is certainly a good idea, but it’s not sufficient to beat them. OPEC’s got a 40-percent share of the world oil market; we’ve got eight [percent]. If we opened up some additional areas for drilling, we could have nine, maybe ten [percent],” he contends. “They still have the winning position as long oil is the game. What we have to do is change the game.”

And according to Zubrin, that requires Congress to pass flex-fuel legislation, mandating that all cars sold in the United States be able to operate on gasoline, ethanol, and methanol. “This feature only adds a hundred dollars to the cost of a car,” he explains. “If we made this the American standard, it would effectively become the international standard because the foreign car makers would have to switch over to comply.”

Barack Obama supports this plan. John McCain is more skeptical towards ethanol.

8 thoughts on “Mandate Flex-Fuel Vehicles”

  1. Hi Dan,

    I can see mandating alternative fuels, but I’m not sure ethanol is the answer. We’ve already managed to completely politicize the supply. No importing any from Brazil, where the supply of biomass is much cheaper. We’ve got to protect those corn growers, because there’s no other use for that corn!

    I actually thing CNG provides a better long-term solution (it’s cheap, and we have an incredibly large supply), unless we really crank up the alternative biomass ethanol production methods.

    Mike
    Mike

  2. There are flex-fuel vehicles that work with natural gas. I think the law could be written so the vehicles would have to allow at least some other propulsion then gasoline – but non-exclusively. So a pure electric car would be okay, a pure CNG would be okay. A flex-fuel car would be okay. A flex-fuel/CNG hybrid would be okay. Heck, straight diesel might be okay. Only cars that are exclusively gasoline could be forbidden.

    Zubrin’s plan has as pluses that it is straightforward, can be implemented quickly, is cheap to implement for consumers ($100 per car) and leaves opportunities for entrepreneurs on what the alternatives can be and how the can be met.

  3. We get natural gas from the same sources as oil. Considering the huge dislocation switching from the foreign hydrocarbon of gas to the foreign hydrocarbon of CNG, it’d be much easier just to write Putin a check.

    Corn ethanol works Ok now (it substitutes a lot of stuff in for foreign hydrocarbons), but obviously both sugar ethanol and cellulosic ethanol are better long-term solutions. Building up our ethanol capacity now lets us scale to that challenge. Also, once E85 becomes widespread the push to allow importation of sugar ethanol will be much larger… E85 stations currently overlap with corn-growing states, and until that changes there won’t be a voice for sugar ethanol.

  4. Mike

    The main obstacle to widespread conversion of vehicles to dual CNG / gasoline use is the EPA which requires any conversion to go through a $200,000 evaluation process. That evaluation is required for each engine type in each vehicle type. The result is that those few companies who go through that evaluation process must recoup the cost of legal compliance from their customers. Do a google search. The cost of legally converting an F-150 pickup truck to run on CNG is ~$18,000.

    If you use a non certified conversion kit, you can do the conversion for less than $2,000 but you run the risk that the EPA will prosecute you for tampering with the emission controls on your engine and fine you $5,000 per day that the conversion was installed. That fine will still be imposed even if the conversion causes fewer emissions.

  5. The main obstacle to widespread conversion of vehicles to dual CNG / gasoline use is the EPA which requires any conversion to go through a $200,000 evaluation process.

    To make CNG widespread, as opposed to something for hobbyists, you’d still need networks of filling stations, ensuring that either they do not explode or else they are far enough away from city centers so the resulting, infernos are not overly lethal, and of course the refinary and distribution networks to service those stations.

    Pretty much the same holds true for Ethanol, of course (sans the volitility). Electrics cars don’t suffer from that drawback, because they plugin to the existing grid.

    If you use a non certified conversion kit, you can do the conversion for less than $2,000 but you run the risk that the EPA will prosecute you for tampering with the emission controls on your engine and fine you $5,000 per day that the conversion was installed. That fine will still be imposed even if the conversion causes fewer emissions.

    A way around this would be valuable.

  6. Dan: To make CNG widespread, as opposed to something for hobbyists, you’d still need networks of filling stations, ensuring that either they do not explode or else they are far enough away from city centers so the resulting, infernos are not overly lethal, and of course the refinary and distribution networks to service those stations.

    There are compressors available that enable you to fill up the CNG tank in your garage directly from the natural gas line that supplies your water heater and home central heating system. Depending on the size of your CNG tank, that can be enough for most trips around town. The fact that there are not networks of CNG filling stations in place is why you need to retain the existing gas tank and the ability to switch back to running on gasoline. Depending on the local cost of natural gas, operating a vehicle on CNG can cost the equivalent of less than $1.00 gasoline in some cases. It also tends to produce cleaner exhaust and less wear and tear on the engine than running on gasoline.

    The only way around EPA obstruction is for the White House to make a priority of stopping the obstructionists. I’ll admit that it would be emotionally satisfying to drag some of the rabid greenies out of the EPA headquarters in DC, chop off their heads with axes and mount the heads on sticks by the door where the other EPA bureaucrats must walk past them every day on their way into work, the reality is that federal civil service employees cannot even be fired for cause. They could, however, probably be transferred to a research station on the north shore of ANWR to report on the breeding grounds of the Alaskan caribou.

  7. Another, less ambitious method than either Zubrin’s or yours–a X year program of generous tax subsidies for the purchase of flex-fuel vehicles in the areas where they make sense without subsidies for the fuel itself. The companies that already make flex-fuel of the type that makes sense in the area will benefit, companies that don’t make flex-fuel will have an incentive to start, corn and sugar (and CNG) prices are less likely to be stressed by increased demand prior to the development of cellulose- or algae-based techniques and poorer people in those areas will benefit from newer vehicles.

  8. Mark in Texas,

    Thanks for the follow-up.

    The bureaucratic roadblocks that are built are distressing. Hopefully the new Administration will reverse them.

    My greater concern is that natural gas, like oil, is a foreign hydrocarbon. Having a more flexible fleet can’t hurt, but aside from that I don’t see many advantages.

    Michael,

    Great comment!

    I recall reading — but cannot now find — an Obama proposal to mandate that all new vehicles be E85-ready by 2012. Likewise, a 2005 press release shows Obama advocating tax credits for E85 stations back in 2005. [1]

    We need to get in what we can, but I don’t see audacious as being necessarily bad here. High oil prices can cause real damage to the global system [2]

    I don’t see high food prices as a bad thing, as it encourages widespread food production, better infrastructure, and so on. [3]

    Relatedly, Gas 2.0 has an algae-based biodiesel story just today. [4]

    [1] http://obama.senate.gov/press/050419-obama_proposes_tax_credit_for_/
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/08/10/8808-like-8290-and-91101.html
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/11/01/the-e85-lifestyle.html#comment-157493
    [4] http://gas2.org/2008/11/02/thailand-scientists-discover-new-algae-species-can-be-used-to-produce-biodiesel/

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