What Consumer Reports missed

We’ve gotten several questions about this Consumer Reports article about ethanol which focuses on the lower fuel economy vehicles get when powered by E85 as opposed to pure gasoline.  The point the article misses is that when you look at it from an energy security point of view the problem is not miles per gallon, it is miles per gallon of oil based fuel.  People have to refuel somewhat more often if they use an alcohol blend, but in terms of reducing oil dependence it’s a clear win, since while you are getting fewer miles per gallon of liquid in your tank, you are getting many more miles per gallon of gas. Of course, if your car is a plug-in hybrid, and your first 20 miles or so of driving are done on grid-electricity, than you’ll hardly ever have to go to the fuel station anyway since you’ll be recharging at home every night and fairly rarely dipping into your liquid fuel tank for power (50% of cars on the road in the U.S. are driven 20 miles a day or less.)  And let’s keep in mind that unlike in the 1970s, today only about 2% of U.S. electricity is generated from oil.

While we’re on the subject: the two key issues regarding alcohol fuels are 1.open up the market to imports by removing the onerous tariff on imported ethanol 2.ensure that flexible fuel vehicles can run on a variety of alcohols in a addition to gasoline (not just ethanol) so that the liquid fuel market can really open up to competition. Gasoline-ethanol-methanol flexible vehicles would do the trick. 

UPDATE:  here’s a relevant quote from Set America Free Coalition member Robert Zubrin’s book review of Nobel Laureate George Olah’s Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy: “The commercial competitiveness of ethanol is somewhat confused by the complex influences of a variety of subsidies and tariffs. By contrast, methanol is currently selling—without any subsidy—for about $0.80/gallon. Given that methanol’s energy content is about half that of gasoline, that price is the equivalent, in energy terms, of gasoline for $1.60/gallon. In other words, we can produce a useful and economically viable vehicle fuel, using a huge domestic and Western hemispheric resource base, at prices lower than gasoline.”

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