January 25, 2008 | Rocky Mountain News

Flex-fuel Cars Can Break OPEC

Much of the money we are spending on oil is being used to fund an international network of front organizations and madrassas devoted to spreading terrorist ideology. Meanwhile, Iran is using its share of the take to fund the development of materials that can be used in nuclear weapons.

We are financing a war against ourselves, and the way things are going, we will soon be paying the enemy more than we are paying our own military.

In light of this, a top priority of U.S. national security policy should be to break the oil cartel. This imperative has been apparent since the 1973 oil embargo, but nothing effective has been done. However there is now a way to break OPEC.

What is needed is for the Congress to pass a law requiring that all new cars sold in the United States be flex-fueled – able to run on any combination of alcohol or gasoline fuel. Such cars are existing technology – in fact about 24 different models of flex-fuel cars were produced by the Detroit Big Three in 2007, and they only cost about $100 more than the same car in a gasoline-only version. But, since alcohol fuel pumps (such as E85, a fuel mix that is 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline) are nearly as rare as unicorns, flex-fuel cars only command about 3 percent of the new-car market.

The reason E85 pumps are so rare is that gas station owners don’t want to dedicate one of their pumps to a kind of fuel that only a few percent of the cars can use. If we had a flex-fuel requirement, however, then within three years of enactment there would be 50 million cars on the road capable of running on high-alcohol fuels. Under those conditions, E85 and M50 (a 50 percent methanol, 50 percent gasoline fuel mix; flex-fuel cars can use any alcohol, including methanol) pumps would start appearing everywhere.

But most important, this would not just be happening here. By requiring that all new cars sold in the United States be flex-fueled, we would be forcing all the foreign car manufacturers to switch their lines to flex-fuel as well, effectively making flex-fuel the international standard. So there would be hundreds of millions of cars worldwide capable of running on alcohol, forcing gasoline to compete everywhere against alcohol fuels that can be produced from numerous sources. This would effectively break the vertical monopoly that the oil cartel currently holds on the world’s fuel supply and keep prices in the $50-a-barrel range, because that is where alcohol fuels become competitive.

It would also create a market that would mobilize tens of billions of dollars of private investment into areas such as cellulosic ethanol and other advanced alcohol production techniques that can cheapen alcohols further and radically expand their potential resource base (although methanol already can be produced from any kind of biomass, without exception, as well as from coal, natural gas and urban trash).

With such a production and distribution infrastructure in place, we could proceed to not merely contain the petrotyrants, but wipe them out at our discretion by implementing tax and tariff policies that favor alcohol over petroleum.

We could effectively take more than a trillion dollars a year that is now going to the oil cartel, and direct it toward the world agricultural sector instead. This would not only be of great benefit to farmers here, but an enormous boon to the Third World, which otherwise faces brutal looting through continued unconstrained OPEC price hikes.

Instead of financing terrorism, we could be funding world development. Instead of selling blocks of CNN to Saudi princes, we could be selling tractors to Africa. That is the way to win the war on terror.

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