Putting the Free Market to Work in the Interests of National Security

Monday, August 29, 2011

By Thomas J. Buonomo

While domestic energy policy is not a silver bullet, it can help extricate the United States from foreign entanglements that have long confounded American decision-makers. History’s painful lessons offer us the power to move our elected officials to act in the interest of renewed economic vitality and national security. From the tragedy of U.S.-Middle East relations is born opportunity.

Saudi Arabia

Longstanding U.S. energy investments in Saudi Arabia began to face intense scrutiny following the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals and U.S. intelligence officials have since identified numerous Saudi-based charities as financial patrons of Al Qaeda.  The Saudi monarchy maintains an uneasy coexistence with clerical leaders who propagate a highly xenophobic worldview while buttressing the regime’s fa├žade of religious legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens.  The September 11th attacks, along with Al Qaeda’s targeting of Saudi oil facilities, have demonstrated to U.S. political leaders that relying on Saudi Arabia to ensure a steady flow of oil at a moderate price is becoming increasingly problematic.

Iraq

American oil investments in Iraq date back to 1928, during which time Iraq was governed under British rule.  British political advisors continued to shape Iraq’s domestic and foreign policies until 1958, when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in a military coup.  Iraq was a founding member of OPEC and by 1972 completed nationalization of its oil industry under Saddam Hussein as a means of achieving economic independence from Western powers. 

Following the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. military forces enforced no-fly zones over Iraqi territory while UN weapons inspectors attempted to wrangle the Iraqi government into fully complying with numerous Security Council resolutions.  More than a decade of hostile relations culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, motivated by uncertainty over the status of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, the erosion of the UN sanctions regime against him, and the vast supply of oil under his control.  

Bush administration officials speculated that the Iraq War might cost as little as $60 billion and asserted that the Iraqi public would greet American troops as liberatorsU.S. military planners and policymakers anticipated a brief military operation followed by the guided election of a friendly Iraqi government that would welcome foreign investment in its oil industry

This hopeful scenario turned into a bloody occupation that has cost the lives of nearly 4,500 American troops and over 100,000 Iraqis to date. The Iraqis’ initial expressions of gratitude quickly turned to distrust and hostility after a series of policy blunders resulted in mass unemployment, the collapse of social support infrastructure, a refugee crisis and civil war. 

Approximately 3 million Iraqis remain refugees or internally displaced, hundreds of thousands of them with minimal access to basic public services.  Thousands of America’s veterans are being lost to what CBS News has unequivocally called a “suicide epidemic” as a consequence of their deployments to Iraq.  The long term cost of the war, including health care for our veterans, has been estimated at more than $3 trillion.

Iran

A defining point in the United States’ relationship with Iran can be traced back to 1953, when U.S. intelligence operatives collaborated with their British counterparts in the overthrow of the Iranian Prime Minister due to his defiant opposition to foreign control of Iran’s oil industry.  A period of surface-level stability under the rule of the U.S.-friendly shah was shattered by the 1979 revolution, which brought a theocratic and virulently anti-Western regime to power.

Throughout the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War the United States backed Saddam Hussein despite his use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops, further embittering already distrustful Iranian political and military leaders.

U.S.-Iran tensions continue to heighten as growing evidence indicates that the Iranian government is developing a nuclear weapons capability.

The Consequences of Energy Dependency

U.S. dependence on the international oil industry has ensnared the United States in a web of national security liabilities and threats throughout the Middle East region.  Efforts to maintain security of oil supplies, some with highly destructive consequences for the people of the region, have over the last several decades led to the rise of increasingly hostile political actors who in the most dangerous cases believe that the only way to deter the U.S. from pursuing designs over their natural resources is to acquire a nuclear deterrent.  But weapons ostensibly intended for defensive purposes can also be used as instruments of coercion in the hands of zealots with expansionist ambitions of their own.  The rhetoric and actions of Iranian officials are hardly reassuring.   

The Solution

Although we cannot wave a magic wand to solve these problems overnight, we can take immediate steps to address their underlying causes.  One of the most important actions we can press our elected officials to take is to establish a free market in the transportation fuels industry in order to allow alternative fuels to compete based on their own merits.  The Open Fuel Standard Act of 2011 does exactly this. 

Less reliance on oil from the Middle East would conceivably reduce the pressure or temptation to take a hard power approach to problems in the region.  The historical record demonstrates that the consequences of this approach- including political radicalization, terrorism and nuclear proliferation -are less predictable and potentially more costly to manage in the long term, however necessary they may be viewed at the time. 

Fuel diversification would also help reduce global demand for oil and relieve pressure on supply capacity, thereby reducing the price of gasoline and alternative fuels over the long term and reducing OPEC’s power over the U.S.  A reduction in the price of oil would help accelerate and sustain a U.S. economic recovery, stimulating private sector job creation and enabling our government to pay back more than $1 trillion in debt to China.

Given the oil industry’s insidious political influence over Congress, this is not likely to happen without a major concerted push from the American public.  Our elected officials need to be pressed to defy this influence and demonstrate their support for our troops and free market principles by passing legislation to open the transportation fuels market to competition.

The power is in our hands but we have to be ready for a fight.  We can expect the oil industry to invest its massive profits in lobbying from the shadows, buying influence through campaign contributions, co-opting media outlets, and engaging in public disinformation campaigns.  We must remember that the stakes are high and be determined to win.  If we neglect to address this systemic problem we can be sure that our troops will remain in the Middle East for a long time to come and our future economic growth will remain constrained by an industry that wields far too much power over our elected officials.

Thomas J. Buonomo is a former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and Middle East Studies from the U.S. Air Force Academy and has spent the past six years researching U.S. foreign energy policy in the Middle East.

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FREEDOM Film Revew

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The following review by Patrick Robinson in the West Seattle Herald, was written in response to the Seattle showing of the rough cut of the film on August 6th. The filmmakers are touring the country. You can find out when they'll be in your area by going here.

FREEDOM has the power and energy to change your mind and the world

Documentary film clears up confusion about ethanol and makes a compelling case for it as an oil alternative

By Patrick Robinson

The documentary FREEDOM from the husband and wife team, Josh and Rebecca Tickell, is aptly named because in the context of the film it represents the most significant meaning of the word and gives it depth, dimension and hope. The couple showed the rough cut of the film, its only Seattle theatrical showing at the Admiral Theater (the third time it's been shown publicly) on Saturday, Aug. 6. The film is due to be released at the same time theatrically and on DVD later this month.

FREEDOM is about a journey the couple took that began with a wish to document the disaster of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform and its impacts on the Gulf Coast environment, economy and people. They actually shot that film (which documents among other things Rebecca's ongoing health impacts) and also what the filmmakers say was, "an incredible coverup," and it will come out in the future. But along the way Josh came to a new understanding about the world's relationship, and this nation's addiction to oil.

He produced a multi award winning film in 2008 called "Fuel" and had been championing the use of biofuels for a decade. He met his wife Rebecca during the making of that film. In that film he came out against what is the most widely available alternative fuel, ethanol, because the information that was available about it was largely negative. Josh and Rebecca were witness to the efforts to attack all alternatives to petroleum. "We watched the biofuels movement collapse," said Rebecca.

In a story arc worthy of Hollywood the Tickells did a complete 180 and learned that nearly everything they had been told about ethanol was false. Further, they came to see it as the most pragmatic solution to a series of problems facing the United States. These are not starry eyed liberals with unrealistic dreams. They understand that ethanol has drawbacks too. But to get the truth out about it and what it could mean to the American economy, and our way of life, they recognized they had to make a film.

"There are no words to describe the life of an eco-documentary activist filmmaker. The last time we showed a film here (Fuel) we were greeted with protest signs," Rebecca said. "We're tackling a pretty unpopular topic in biofuels and ethanol is kind of a dirty word and corn is definitely a dirty word for most people."

In order to uncover the truth, they had to challenge dozens of assumptions about ethanol, corn, and the avowed beliefs of experts (some paid by the petroleum companies) and traveled across the country to conduct the interviews that comprise some of the most telling moments in the film. Much of what has gained credence as accepted fact was, as they show in the film, based on an orchestrated campaign to discredit ethanol. The film decimates those arguments in a series of interviews, graphics and explanations. In the end, they conclude that ethanol produced by corn, biomass, waste and even garbage has the potential to help this nation lift itself out of the recession and restore the very source of our freedom, our own self reliance.

America's dependence on foreign oil has consequences everyone understands from the need to provide security (and fight wars) over another nation's natural resources to being held economic hostage by those who control the supply.

FREEDOM makes a completely compelling case that by converting our dependence on oil to a literally home grown source of energy we achieve several goals. First we improve our economy by spending energy dollars here, second we create more jobs, third we base our energy needs on a renewable resource (corn and biomass), fourth we reduce our impact on the environment.

Here's a partial list of what they reveal in the film:

Ethanol does not require more energy to make than it yields.

Argonne National Laboratory research has shown that corn ethanol delivers a positive energy balance of 8.8 megajoules per liter. The energy balance from second-generation biofuels using cellulosic sources is up to six times better, according to a study published in Biomass and Bioenergy Journal.

Ethanol does not take food away from humans.

Only 1 percent of all corn grown in this country is eaten by humans. The rest is No. 2 yellow field corn, which is indigestible to humans and used in animal feed, food supplements and ethanol. Read more about this.

Ethanol does not emit more greenhouse gases than gasoline.

A 1996 EPA study analyzing sources of air pollution confirmed that gasoline vehicles and non-road equipment are the largest contributors to vehicular gaseous hazardous air pollutants. However, another study showed ethanol reduces tailpipe carbon monoxide as much as 30 percent and tailpipe particulate matter emissions by 50 percent.

Also, the Journal of Industrial Ecology at Yale University published a study in 2009 that found that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by up to 38-59% when using ethanol as a transportation fuel.

Ethanol can be made from waste.

Cellulosic ethanol can be made from agricultural waste and biomass such as corn cobs and stover, wheat straw, wood, energy crops, and even municipal waste.

Ethanol is cleaner burning.

Compared to gasoline, ethanol reduces every single tailpipe emission (CO; CO₂; smog; particulates; NOx and SOx) because ethanol contains 35% oxygen and results in a higher temperature burn.

12 billion gallons of ethanol were produced in Canada and the US in 2010.

This will grow to 36 billon gallons by 2020. Currently, the ethanol industry replaces 364 million barrels of imported oil each and every year in the USA and Canada.

Ethanol creates jobs and is good for the economy.

A major study by the Windmill Group identifies 645,000 jobs created by ethanol in the USA.

To promote the film the couple are now on a three month, 30+ city North American Clean Energy Tour in a fully customized Freedom Bus, a "green" constructed, highly energy efficient vehicle that will park at movie theatres playing the film. The Freedom Bus will be open to the public for free and will showcase the latest biofuel-efficient, advance fuels and wind, solar and water technology.

FREEDOM features an eclectic array of personalities, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former NATO commander Wesley Clark, singer/songwriter Jason Mraz, (who scored the film), international author Deepak Chopra and such "green" actors as Ed Begley, Jr., Amy Smart and Michelle Rodriguez.

A bit more work needs to be done on the film including some editing refinements, and the addition of a section on hemp as an energy source. The film will premier in Los Angeles August 14.

You can learn more about the film on the website www.thefreedomfilm.com.

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Would Scientific American Sell Out to Oil Money?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In the August 2011 issue of Scientific American is a devastating attack on the biofuels industry. I've subscribed to Scientific American for 25 years and trusted it. I feel betrayed.

The article, entitled "The False Promise of Biofuels," is a blatantly biased, one-sided and thoroughly pessimistic view of ethanol and biodiesel that misrepresents the research and leaves out important and pertinent information. "Breakthroughs remain possible," the articles says, "and the scientific quest for a better biofuel continues, but investors and politicians might be wise not to stake much money or policy on a high-risk bet." The author, David Biello, is referring to the whole biofuels industry as a "high-risk bet."

Here's another gem from the article: "Replacing all U.S. transportation fuel with corn ethanol...would require a farm three times the size of the continental U.S."

Biello is apparently not even a scientist (usually Scientific American articles are written by research scientists — specialists in their field).

I looked through the board of advisors to see who might be motivated to support such a blistering excoriation, expecting to find someone from the petroleum industry. It would not have been a surprise to see them carrying on their long-running tradition of slandering the competition (they've been doing it since the early 1900s). But I didn't find anyone obviously connected to the oil industry.

I searched through the magazine expecting to find a big ad by an oil company, but there were none.

A week later, Lilly discovered in the previous month's Scientific American issue a double page ad on the first two pages of Scientific American from Chevron, the second largest American oil company (which has been posting enormous profits).

Did Scientific American sell out? After reading about what happened to David Blume, I wouldn't be surprised.

I invite you to answer to the Scientific American article, which you can read here: The False Promise of Biofuels. Letters to the editor go to editors@sciam.com.

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OPEC’s New Management

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

By Gal Luft

Rostam Ghasemi
The recent appointment of Islamic Revolutionary Guards veteran Rostam Ghasemi as Iran’s new petroleum minister (read more about that here) is not only the Islamic Republic’s latest poke in America’s eye but it is also harbinger of things to come with respect to Iran’s petro-politics. Ghasemi, a notorious hardliner and the head of the economic wing of the Guards, is personally sanctioned by both the EU and the US. In his new position he will be able to do exactly what his patron Mahmoud Ahmadinejad explained in his nomination support speech before the Majlis: “transform this complex [oil industry] in line with national interests.”

Transforming Iran’s oil industry in line with national interests begins in the Vienna headquarters of OPEC. There, Ghasemi’s first goal would be to continue to erode Saudi Arabia’s hegemony in the cartel. Iran is currently the rotating president of OPEC which means that for the next few months Ghasemi is the oil cartel’s de facto president. In this capacity he will be able to influence decisions on production quotas and crude price negotiations. In recent months, Iran has taken upon itself to challenge Saudi Arabia which has traditionally called the shots in Vienna. Last June, in what was described by Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi as one of the worst OPEC meetings he has ever attended, Iran redefined greed. Ignoring the fragility of the world economy it led a radical wing within OPEC to vote against Saudi Arabia’s plan to increase production. All of a sudden, inflated as it was, the Saudi target price of $100 looked like a bargain.

The rivalry within OPEC is not only about geopolitical domination or the ancient schism between Sunnis and Shiites. It is also about economic survival. While both Iran and Saudi Arabia are heavily dependent on oil revenues they differ in the degree of dependence. Saudi Arabia currently needs a breakeven crude price of roughly $90 a barrel to balance its budget. Iran needs roughly $140 a barrel oil to stay afloat. This spread of $50 a barrel will be the cause of a tug-of-war within the cartel with the radical flank spearheaded by Iran and Venezuela pushing for high as possible oil prices while the more moderate group led by Saudi Arabia is content with ‘only’ $90–$100 a barrel. In order to win this tug-of-war, Ahmadinejad needed a strongman in Vienna — and Ghasemi is someone who knows something about arm-twisting.

Obama announcing new CAFE standards
The appointment of Ghasemi means that consumers seeking oil price stability can no longer find a sympathetic ear in Vienna. The solution can only be in Washington. President Obama’s decision to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves was more of a one-time stunt than a sustainable policy. Equally futile is his more recent decision to raise mandatory fuel efficiency standards of new vehicles to 54.5 mpg by 2025. There is nothing wrong with cars that travel more miles per gallon but efficiency alone does nothing to impact the global price of oil as OPEC cuts production in response to static drops in consumer demand. The U.S. Department of Energy recently claimed that U.S. oil imports declined from 60 percent in 2005 to 50 percent in 2011. But if America truly became less dependent on oil imports, it did not translate into lower price at the pump. To the contrary, the price of a gallon of regular gasoline in 2005 was $2.30. Today it’s nearly $4. In other words, something is wrong with our method. We supposedly did the right thing: we became more fuel efficient. So why are we being rewarded with a penalty of $1.70 per gallon at the pump?

What is wrong is that static demand reduction doesn't work very well in the face of a cartel that can respond with a static cut in supply. Outmaneuvering the cartel requires the ability to respond dynamically — on the fly — to price shifts by replacing its product with another good or service. Drivers can't rapidly change the fuel economy of their vehicles, but, with vehicles that enable fuel competition they could quickly change what fuel their vehicles use.

In the 2005–2011 period the U.S. did very little to address the virtual monopoly of oil over transportation fuel. Over those six years, 85 million new petroleum-only vehicles rolled onto U.S. roads, effectively extending the stranglehold of oil over our economy by two full decades. Changing this dynamic will require an Open Fuel Standard which would ensure that most new cars sold in the U.S. are warranted to run on at least some subset of non-petroleum fuels, be they liquid, gases, or electricity, in addition to or instead of petroleum based fuels. Liquid fuel flexibility would cost automakers on the order of $100 per vehicle to enable, and opens cars to fuels made from natural gas, coal, or biomass.

As long as our cars block fuel competition, people like Rostam Ghasemi will continue to hold the key to America’s prosperity and security and bad actors such as Iran will become stronger, not weaker.

Cutting Edge energy security commentator Gal Luft is executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and co-editor of Energy Security Challenges for the 21st Century.

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The Oil Industry's Campaign Against Ethanol

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The oil industry spent considerable time and money in 2007 and 2008 turning the public against ethanol using underhanded tactics and misleading information. When you talk to people about the Open Fuel Standard Act, you will find that the oil industry's propaganda campaign was fairly successful — as soon as you bring up the word "ethanol," a lot of people have a negative reaction to it. It will raise food prices, they immediately say, it will cause starvation, and it takes more energy to make than you get out of it.

Where do these beliefs come from? They were created by a propaganda campaign orchestrated by a combination of the livestock industry, the big food corporations, and the oil industry. Read about the oil industry's role in influencing public perception in these articles:


Big Oil's Big Stall On Ethanol

Big Oil's War on Ethanol

Big Oil Uses "Ethanol Excuse"

Oil Industry and Food and Farm Groups Sue EPA Over Increase in Ethanol Blend

Oil Companies Push Back on Ethanol

What Oil Industry Did When David Blume Recommended Ethanol

Big Oil vs. Ethanol

Oil industry launches new offensive against ethanol mandate

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Agave is a Promising Fuel Feedstock

Thursday, August 11, 2011

An agave plantation in Africa
"Scientists found that in 14 independent studies, the yields of two Agave species greatly exceeded the yields of other biofuel feedstocks, such as corn, soybean, sorghum, and wheat," says Science Daily. "Agave is a unique feedstock because of its high water use efficiency and ability to survive without water between rainfalls."

"Also, abandoned Agave plantations in Mexico and Africa that previously supported the natural fiber market could be reclaimed as bioenergy cropland...Agave is not only an exciting new bioenergy crop, but its economically and environmentally sustainable production could prove to successfully stimulate economies in Africa, Australia, and Mexico..." Or the American Southwest?

"Agave has a huge advantage, as it can grow in marginal or desert land, not on arable land," said Oliver Inderwildi, at the University of Oxford, in an article in guardian.co.uk.

A new study published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science found that "agave-derived ethanol could produce good yields on hot, dry land and with relatively little environmental impact. The agave plant, large rosettes of fleshy leaves, produces high levels of sugar and the scientists modeled a hypothetical facility in the tequila state of Jalisco in Mexico which converts the sugars to alcohol for use as a fuel," writes Damian Carrington in The Guardian.

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Miraculous Methanol

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Among alcohols, methanol is the simplest. And it makes a great transportation fuel because of its efficient combustion, ease of distribution, and wide availability around the world.

One of methanol's biggest advantages as a fuel is that it can be made from a huge variety of sources. Anything that is, or ever was, a plant can be used to produce this biodegradable fuel. Natural gas, coal, biomass, agricultural waste, landfill gas, industrial waste and even CO2 itself can all be used for methanol production based on existing mature technologies.

Methanol can be used in transportation directly as fuel, blended with gasoline, converted into a diesel replacement, or as a part of the biodiesel production process. The six minute video below illustrates the many uses of methanol in transportation:



Alcohol fuels have been used widely in transportation ever since the invention of the internal combustion engine, and continue to be employed today as an alternative to gasoline derived from oil. Methanol is an ideal fuel for transportation because of its efficient combustion and low cost compared to other liquid fuels.

When burned, gasoline produces a number of harmful and toxic byproducts that are reduced or eliminated by replacement with methanol. Emissions of unburned carbons and carbon monoxide are much lower when consuming methanol fuel, and methanol also greatly reduces NOx emissions as well. Methanol burns with almost no particulate matter (which can lead to respiratory problems like asthma). Emissions from methanol fuel are also less reactive, and create less ground-level ozone and smog.

Methanol is a high octane fuel that enables very efficient and powerful engine performance. Engines optimized for methanol are as much as 75% more efficient than conventional gasoline-fueled engines. The power-producing qualities of methanol are well-known and it is used in several professional and amateur racing sanctioning organizations (e.g., the National Hot Rod Association and the United States Auto Club).

With the passing of the Open Fuel Standard Act, cars will be capable of burning methanol, ethanol, or gasoline, or any mixture of the two, allowing every car to be a platform on which fuels can compete. If you'd like to help make it happen, start here.

The article above is a modified version of a longer article you can find here: Methanol Transportation Fuel.

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New CAFE Standards Alone Keep Us Dependent On Petroleum

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The following was written by Jigar Shah, CEO of the Carbon War Room, in a Huffington Post article here.

Obama announcing new CAFE standards
While I commend the Obama administration and 13 automakers for boosting the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) of cars and light-duty trucks sold in the United States to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, it is only a baby step toward solving our real problem: oil addiction.

Although President Obama is not the first president to recognize our oil addiction, he is the first one to set a timetable.

At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, he made a pledge at his acceptance speech: "And for the sake of our economy, our security and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: in 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East."



The solution to our oil addiction will certainly include efficiency, but that is not enough. We actually need alternatives to oil for our transportation needs. The use of CAFE standards is the equivalent of trying to green up our electricity generation mix by doubling the efficiency of coal and natural gas plants. While energy plant efficiency is a step in the right direction, we also introduced policy to encourage wind, solar, geothermal and other alternatives. Today, most agree that we are on a pathway to eliminating most coal plants in the United States by 2030.



So how do we get off of oil? How do we insist that all cars use mature domestic energy sources that have been around for decades, like natural gas, methanol, renewable electricity and others?

According to Vijay Vaitheeswaran, a co-author of "Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future," a two-way grid is part of the solution. He said in 2007 interview in BusinessWeek, "We will see a smart, sophisticated, software-rich car of the future very soon. They are going to be plugging into the wall, they're going to be getting electricity from the grid, and they're going to be feeding electricity back."



So while technology will certainly play a major role in solving our addiction, we need many entrepreneurs, not just a few, to step up to the plate. To do so, we need a level playing field to entice them. A good start would be to put together a plan on how we might achieve the President's target. One essential part would be to identify and remove market barriers to creating a level playing field for entrepreneurs in the personal transportation sectors:



1. The barrier of scale: With all the regulatory requirements, a new auto company cannot realistically "pilot" a new car. It realistically takes $2 billion to start a new automaker and meet regulatory requirements at scale.


2. The barrier to fuel alternatives: We lack sufficient support in the development and distribution of alternative fuels. And having cars that can be retrofitted is well within our reach. According to The Methanol Institute, "[t]oday, producing new cars with gasoline, ethanol and methanol, or 'GEM,' flexible fuel capability would cost about $100 per vehicle."

3. The barrier of vehicle-to-grid infrastructure: We have not devised a sensible approach to promoting electricity vehicle-to-grid (V2G) infrastructure (supporting a system for electric plug-in-vehicles). This is documented in Energy Policy
 in an article entitled, "Beyond batteries: An examination of the benefits and barriers to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) transition," by Benjamin K. Sovacool and Richard F. Hirsh (Volume 37, Issue 3, March 2009, pp. 1095-1103).

Most recently, China has led with widespread commercialization of methanol fuels. "Major car companies [in China] such as Geely, Chery [and] First Automobile [are] preparing for mass production of M-85/M-100 vehicles," according to Methanex Corporation, a producer and seller of methanol. 


Now other countries are playing catch-up in finding alternative fuel solutions, including the United States. The U.S. Open Fuel Standard Act of 2011 essentially says that by 2017 automakers will no longer be allowed to make cars that run only on gasoline. The bill says that by 2017, 95 percent of all cars made in the United States will be in that category.



Alternative fuels present the potential to overtake the petroleum economy — and with more support, they may. We need infrastructure change with economic support to create alternative fuels, so we can address serious issues like climate change.

While we are improving vehicle efficiency through CAFE standards, let's work to level the playing field for entrepreneurs so that we can reach the president's goal by 2020 and end our oil addiction soon after. Our economy will thank us.

Jigar Shah is CEO of the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change and create a post-carbon economy.

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A Fuel-Efficiency Wager

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The following is by Robert Zubrin, originally published here.

Are you willing to bet ten thousand dollars
gasoline can beat methanol?
On July 27, I published an article on National Review Online (read it here) 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.

Click here to go to the National Review article to leave your information. And please share this article with everyone you know. Let's help Zubrin find his challengers.

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Saturday Morning Cartoon

Friday, August 5, 2011

Using alcohol for fuel is not new. In 1860 Nikolaus Otto built an early internal combustion engine. Its fuel was alcohol. Ford's famous Model T Ford had a built-in adjustable carburetor so it could burn either alcohol or gasoline. In other words, it was a flex fuel car.

All this has been largely forgotten. But in the Betty Boop cartoon below, it was apparently well-known and taken for granted back in 1939. Check it out:

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Breaking News: America Could Win the War against OPEC and Al-Qaeda

By Alan Anderson

America is on the brink of winning the greatest war since winning our Independence back in July of 1776. Our war of Energy Independence from the nations of OPEC is within sight and is almost reality. The only battle left to fight is that of our own political partisanship which is being waged daily for all Americans to see on their TV screens.

The nation has begun to realize that increasing oil production domestically will not get us out from under the stranglehold of OPEC’s monopoly on 75% of world oil supplies. This 75% monopoly is what controls 90% of America’s cost for gasoline and diesel fuel that we consume. We must have the political strength be honest with the American people and let them know that alternative fuels are the only way to be truly energy independent from OPEC and the terrorist groups that benefit from America’s reliance on foreign oil.

So far in the war of Energy Independence there has been one country to beat the Axis powers of OPEC and that is the sugar-rich country of Brazil. America has fought this war up till now using the only weapon we thought could give us the best chance of winning — corn. Although we've made great strides with our best-known weapon, we have still fallen short of the goal line.

A new day is dawning for America and its biofuel weapon of choice. The greatest scientific minds from around the world have made it perfectly clear that what makes biofuel the number one option for Energy Independence is sugar. According to the Advanced Biofuels Association, “The main source of alcohol fermentation is sugar, for which feedstocks include sugarcane, sugar beets and others.” This should be no surprise to us here in America since we have watched Brazil go from totally reliant on foreign oil to an exporter of oil using its sugarcane to build the world’s largest biofuels industry and leaving America at least 10 years behind.

Don’t let this fool you. U.S. farmers have taken notice and some have taken action to change the way we make our biofuels here in America.

Americans know corn is the largest agricultural commodity grown by farmers in the U.S., and the majority of our ethanol is made from it. But if used in conjunction with sugars made from energy beets and other American sugar crops like sweet sorghum and switchgrass, the American ethanol business could outproduce even their estimates for production.

As of today there are three major sugar ethanol projects in development to help America realize that independence from OPEC’S oil monopoly is within sight with the help of the number one ingredient to make ethanol and biodiesel — sugar.

There is only one other obstacle in the way of the freedom from oil dominance and that is the need for government to put in place a policy that lets the expansion of biofuels cover the entire country with protection for fuel stations to install pumps that deliver ethanol. One policy already being considered is the Open Fuel Standard Act of 2011 that mandates automakers to produce more FFVs for the market. This is bipartisan plan supported by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers to help America realize three things — energy independence, jobs, and cheaper costs for fuel.

So as we reach the middle of summer and our leaders in Washington, D.C. continue to fight over which party stands to gain ground politically over the budget and spending battles, let it be known that there is one war that is almost won. The War for Energy Independence has never been closer to being won than it is today. So this message must get to every American across the nation from coast to coast and border to border. Then every American must tell their Congressional Representative to support and vote for Energy Policy that expands biofuels and FFVs for America’s Energy Independence. America can then once again tell the world it is truly a free and Independent nation.

Alan Anderson, a freelance writer focusing on green renewable alternative fuels such as sugar based ethanol and biodiesel. He has written for many online publications including Newsvine.com, EnergyBoom.com and The Energy Collective. President of the newly formed non-profit organization National Association of Proficient Renewable Biofuels (NAPRB).

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August Recess — Time to Influence Your Representative in Person

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The House of Representatives
Our representatives take a scheduled recess now and then (you can find out when by clicking here).

The August recess is a long one. It starts August 6th and lasts a month.

Our representatives are coming home.

This presents us with some opportunities to move the Open Fuel Standard legislation forward. Call your representative's office and ask if there will be a townhall meeting during the recess. And then show up with your friends and participate.

Also, visit your representative's office and make the case for the Open Fuel Standard. Here are some specific instructions on how to do that: Tips for Being An Effective Grassroots Advocate.

Let's make this recess count!

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Big Oil's Big Profits

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The following is an excerpt from an article in the Huffington Post:

The sputtering economy, high unemployment rate and punishing gas prices are taking a huge toll on average Americans, but at least somebody is doing well: The Big Five oil companies this week announced they had made a whopping $36 billion in profits in the second quarter of 2011.

According to second-quarter earnings reports, ExxonMobil alone made $10.7 billion in the most recent three months. That's a 41 percent increase over the same period last year and a 161 percent increase over 2009.

Shell nearly doubled its profits year over year, taking in $8.7 billion in the second quarter. Chevron's profits were $7.7 billion, up 43 percent. BP earned $5.6 billion, a far cry from its $17.2 billion loss a year ago. Only Conoco Philips, with $3.4 billion in earnings, posted smaller profits than a year ago, dropping 18 percent due to the jettisoning of some Russian assets.

A good chunk of these profits is coming right out the pockets of the American public, thanks in part to astronomical gas prices and to $4 billion to $8 billion a year in deficit-increasing tax subsidies that oil companies continue to get, long after the incentives those subsidies were designed to create ceased to make economic sense.

Rather than invest their profits in such things as product development, new facilities, hot talent or research — things that could create jobs, improve consumer offerings and accelerate alternative energy production — three of the five big oil companies are spending large amounts of that money buying back shares of their own stock.

[T]he oil and gas industry is enormously powerful on Capitol Hill, spending over $1 billion in lobbying since 1998, according to opensecrets.org.

And the Big Five oil companies have already spent $75 million in lobbying just through first half of this year. That seems like a lot, until one considers that it amounts to about one-tenth of 1 percent of their profits.

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Another Co-Sponsor

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Congressman James McDermott
Today we announce Representative James McDermott, a Democrat from Washington State, has joined the growing list of co-sponsors of the Open Fuel Standard Act of 2011. If you are in District 7 of Washington, please let him know you appreciate his stand on America's fuel independence. You can email him here. And here's his Facebook page and his Twitter page.

And if you haven't heard back from your representative yet about the Open Fuel Standard, remember it is your right to get a response from your representative. She or he works for you. If you've urged your representative to co-sponsor the bill and haven't heard back, make a follow-up call.

And if you have more time, develop a relationship with your representative's staff member (read more about that here).

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