Requiring Flex-Fuel: A Giant Step Towards Energy Security

On July 22, 2008, a bipartisan panel of senators (Brownback, R-Kansas; Salazar, D-Colorado; Lieberman, I-Connecticut; Thune, R-South Dakota; and Collins, R-Maine) introduced a bill that promises to benefit us in the War on Terror, in the economy, and in the environment.

The Open Fuel Standard Act would require that beginning in 2012, 50% of new automobiles, and in 2014, 80% of new automobiles, sold in the U.S. (imported and produced domestically) be warranted to operate on gasoline, ethanol, and methanol, or be warranted to operate on biodiesel.

This is far from pie-in-the-sky technology and far from a too-simple solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism. Oil is virtually the only product that the fundamentalist Muslim nations produce; without oil revenue, their funding for nuclear reactors, schools, and terrorist training camps is cut off. As engineer and author Robert Zubrin also reports in his recent book Energy Victory, the technology for flex-fuel cars has been around for a while. Engineer Roberta Nichols and her team at Ford developed a commercially viable flex-fuel car in 1986. In the early 1990s Ford did a full-production run of flex-fuel cars, and other manufacturers like General Motors and Chrysler followed suit. But with oil prices dropping, interest in flex-fuel cars -- except by the farm lobby, which saw an opportunity to expand ethanol sales -- dropped.

Since the 1980s, the technology has become more sophisticated, allowing consumers to pump without worry any combination of the above-mentioned fuels. A major objection currently to running cars on ethanol has been the surge in food prices attributed to the increased demand for corn for ethanol production. But Zubrin demonstrates that the energy sources can come from elsewhere: virtually any waste product for methanol, and high-sugar-yield crops grown in tropical and often impoverished countries for ethanol. Using such fuel would carry the added benefit to the environment by using waste products and producing less pollution from the exhaust pipe. It would help third-world countries develop economic independence and thus provide disincentives to those who would enter the U.S. illegally to find work. And we already have the model of Brazil. Beginning in the 1970s, through government mandates and incentives, flex-fuel cars were developed and manufactured, and energy-appropriate alternatives were made available to consumers at all gas stations. As a result, 90% of cars now sold in Brazil are flex-fuel, and the country, which also maintains off-shore oil exploration, can boast of energy independence.