Monday, July 10, 2006

Like a Chocoholic, but with Alcohol

That's what Robert Zubrin, the (IMHO) brilliant former NASA and Martin Marietta engineer, thinks our country needs to become in order to free ourselves from dependence on morally and economically costly middle eastern oil. Zubrin outlines his case for massive legislative support of ethanol/methanol fueled cars in an old issue of The American Enterprise I've been trying to find for a week or two.

A pretty healthy percentage of political writing advocating near-term "energy independence" for the United States is so underinformed as to almost count as an argument for the other side, which is why it's so refreshing to read something like Zubrin's article. He begins by dispensing with the biggest red herring in energy policy today: hydrogen-powered cars. Despite the widely known problems with trying to use hydrogen to power the automobiles of a country that's not Iceland, hydrogen fuel cells are far too often promoted out by politicians who would rather postpone resolution of outstanding problems in energy policy for future generations. As Zubrin states,
The bottom line is that hydrogen is not a source of energy. It is a carrier of energy, and one of the least practical carriers we know of.
The majority of his article, however, is an extended summary of the physics and economics of alcohol fuels. Recent rises in oil prices are finally making these fuels competitive with gasoline, and, just as importantly, the feasibility of transitioning to a gasohol (some mixture of methanol, ethanol, and traditional gasoline) economy has been demonstrated by Brazil. Thanks to some far-sighted (or unabashedly self-interested, depending on your view of the Brazilian sugar lobby) legislation, a majority of new cars produced for the Brazilian market are now flex-fuel vehicles. I won't summarize the whole thing, but if you want to see a compelling case for Congressional mandates on flex-fuel engines and ethanol production, read Bob Zubrin's article.


Post a Comment

<< Home