Can alcohol really replace oil as an energy source? |

Can alcohol really replace oil as an energy source?

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

Here’s to alcohol ” The cause of, and answer to, all of life’s problems.

” Homer J. Simpson

I have a new hero. He’s Robert Zubrin, author of “Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil.”

Zubrin, a Denver-area author and former senior engineer for Lockheed Martin, knows there’s a difference between simple and easy, but he’s laid out a simple, yet convincing way to kick-start the world’s search for an alternative to oil. Zubrin believes the crucial first step in that process is a government mandate that every car and light truck sold in the United States be “flex-fuel” capable; that is, able to run on any mixture of alcohol and gasoline, from straight dino-juice to Everclear.

The technology is readily available. In fact, General Motors this year announced that most of its cars would have the technology in just the next couple of years.

As opposed to other government mandates that often do too little to affect markets, or have bizarre unintended consequences, Zubrin’s idea is elegant in its simplicity.

Given that Americans buy about 15 million new cars and light trucks every year, a mandate for flex-fuel capability in just three years would put 50 million cars on the road that could run on alcohol. That would give the nation’s still-fledgling alcohol fuel industry the kind of boost it needs to really put a dent in the country’s oil imports.

Opponents of ethanol ” a group that until recently included Yours Truly ” worry that producing enough ethanol to affect oil imports will raise prices for food. That’s a short-term worry, Zubrin writes.

In Zubrin’s alcohol economy, either ethanol or methanol will work just fine, and methanol can be made fairly simply from everything from coal to natural gas to garbage. Ethanol and methanol can also be used to create jet fuel, diesel fuel and can be chemically altered to create plastics. In short, alcohol can do everything oil can do.

Zubrin devotes a chapter to the model of Brazil, which is now energy independent thanks to a combination of a home-grown alcohol industry and active oil exploration. Most of Brazil’s alcohol infrastructure was put in place by government mandate imposed by various iron-fisted leaders, but Zubrin believes the shove provided by tens of millions of flex-fuel cars would move this country’s free markets to accomplish the same job.

But Zubrin doesn’t just want to reduce our oil imports, he wants to eliminate them and put the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) out of business.

Readers have to wade through a lot of political polemic, but Zubrin is convinced that destroying OPEC would cut off most of the money to Islamic terrorists’ sugar daddies in Iran, and especially Saudi Arabia. The trillions of dollars now going to various dictators and crazies could then be put into more productive activities, like building up the agrarian economies of Africa and Latin America.

It won’t be easy, and would require political will to impose tariffs when the OPEC nations boost production and slash the price of oil.

Besides putting the petrocracies out of business, another benefit of replacing oil with alcohol is its positive effect on global warming. Zubrin makes a pretty convincing case that human-caused global warming is a fact, but isn’t that worried about it, arguing the earth is still far short of the median temperature of even the Middle Ages, when England had wineries and the area of the Rocky Mountains that collects snowpack was about 1,000 feet higher than it is today.

What’s the local angle here?

The Vail Valley’s economy is predicated on people coming here from somewhere else. If oil prices continue to rise, or global-warming hysterics impose various “carbon taxes” that raise the price of travel, we’re going to feel it here.

Read this book. Whether or not you agree with Zubrin’s politics, his simple plan could start our country down the tough road to breaking the stranglehold oil and its current masters have on us.

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