• Jan 2, 2008
Robert Zubrin thinks so. Zubrin is an aerospace engineer and long-time advocate of manned missions to Mars. While going to Mars is a highly dubious proposition given the issues we need to deal with on our planet right now, making all gasoline engines flex-fuel capable as Zubrin promotes in his new book is probably a very good idea. The incremental cost of flex-fuel capability is only about $100 per vehicle and that would provide the ability to use any alcohol fuel including methanol and butanol. The corn ethanol that we use today will make little if any dent in our oil imports.
Cellulosic ethanol, methanol and butanol do hold a lot of promise, though. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and his wife, Helen Smith, have an interesting interview with Zubrin on their podcast that's worth a listen. Some of Zubrin's arguments for using alcohol fuels are a bit over simplistic and ignore some of the pitfalls associated with them. That includes draining fields of nutrients if all the leftover material is converted to fuel. Alcohol fuels are unlikely to free us from oil dependence on their own, although they can make a dent. What they can really do is help diversify energy supplies and domestically produced fuels can also help to fund research into other renewable energy sources. What we really need to do, however, is find different ways to reduce our total consumption of energy while maintaining our current lifestyles. Let the flames begin!

[Source: Instapundit]


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  • 42 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      Sam, we will ALWAYS have "issues to deal with on this planet." Saying we should delay exploring other worlds until all our problems here are solved is a way of saying that humanity does not deserve to explore space until it has perfected itself--and, implicitly, that it never will deserve to do so, as human perfection is im possible.

      • 7 Years Ago
      I think it's important to have flex fuel vehicles not because we are going to use a lot of ethanol, but because then we could in theory do so. Having that implied competitor to gas will help keep speculative and real gas prices down. It also means if OPEC turned the taps off again (like in the 70s), we could still move cars around, even if it cost a lot to do so.

      Also, once there are a lot of vehicles out there than can burn ethanol, companies have an incentive to try to develop better ethanol production methods that do make sense (unlike current ones)
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm in central IL, 20 miles from ADM, the largest ethanol producer if I'm not mistaken. I also have an E85 vehicle. I also live on a farm that produces corn, some of which goes into ethanol production. Do I purchase E85 for my vehicle? No. Would I like to? Of course, when it becomes economically feasible to do so. When I purchased my vehicle, there was a 50-60 cent spread between regular unleaded and E85 when gas was $2.00-$2.25 per gallon. I burned E85. That spread is now considerably reduced with E85 being only 20-30 cents below regular (10% ethanol) gas. Given the somewhat decreased (10% based on my experience) gas mileage from burning E85, the spread is insufficient to cause me to search out E85. Even here in the corn belt, E85 stations are few and far between. I do not see how it's possible to produce enough ethanol to make a difference, even with importing from South America. It's also questionable whether ethanol even saves energy. Why not open the Alaskan reserves and refine the oil shale in the west. I think we have more oil shale reserves in the west than the Saudi reserves. Saskatchewan and Alberta are both flush in oil/tar sands and have huge reserves they are currently exploiting. The oil reserves are there, they just need to be exploited. They won't be unless and until there is economic incentive for doing so. As long as free flowing oil is available from the Middle East and elsewhere without increased production costs, that's where oil will be produced. There is some pragmatic value in not using up one's own reserves unless necessary.
        • 7 Years Ago
        News Report: Nail Hit On Head!

        At some point Americans are going to have to get over not utilizing our own resources and start going after fossil fuels within our own borders. And it had better happen quick! By developing more internal engery production, we lessen our need to import energy and the while keeping more money in the States. People complain about these two things (the flagging economy and energy dependence) but do not realize what we have here in our backyards. So everyone, pull the collective thumb out of our bums and start digging!
      • 7 Years Ago
      It seems bio-diesel has potential. Processes are being developed from which diesel can be made from algae. Plus, diesel vehicles that get very good mpg are already available, especially from VW.

      Do you have an opinion on the future of diesel?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Why wouldnt you want humans to go to Mars? Everything NASA develops is free for any company to produce. how cool is that? there are lots of stuff that NASA has done that ended up in our everyday lives. You don't learn anything new by not pushing yourself. the moment you stop learning is the moment you get passed. if you look at the Euro Space program, Russian, China and the US, the US is up there. the US and Russia have been been at it a long time, NASA has the resources that the RUssian's wish they had. no doubt that Russia would still be at the top if they had the same amount of money every year.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I have a flex fuel Tahoe, but there is no cost benefit to use Ethanol fuel. In fact, there is a penalty because the mileage is about 20-25% worse than when using regular unleaded. Edmunds confirmed with a real world test.

      http://www.edmunds.com/advice/alternativefuels/articles/120863/article.html

      One could argue that making a decision to use ethanol based only on the efficiency and total cost is missing the point, but things usually come down to dollars & cents. Until there is an improvement to the infrastructure, E85 is little more than a way for GM to satisfy some BS government quota or qualify for some tax credit. There's no real world benefit.
      • 7 Years Ago
      continued, I got cut off:
      tax credit if I can show that my home is
      • 6 Years Ago
      "While going to Mars is a highly dubious proposition given the issues we need to deal with on our planet right now..."

      We went to the Moon during Vietnam didn't we?

      And the cost of Zubrin's Mars Direct plan, which NASA has finally adopted in most essentials (the current Administrator is a former board member of the Mars Society), is about $50 billion over ten years for a robust program of exploration. That's $5 billion a year, well within NASA's current $17 billion a year budget. There's no room for it now because the useless space shuttle and useless space station hog too much money, but as soon as we retire the former and abandon the latter to their ant farm experiments, we'll be able to afford a space program that literally GOES SOMEWHERE without increaasing NASA's budget (a paltry >1% of govt spending).
      • 7 Years Ago
      Changing lifestyles can be as simple as changing habits. I see it everyday when drivers leaving shopping centers try to make left-turns across busy four-six-or-eight lane thuroughfares holding up other drivers who have sense enough to make right-turns followed by left-turns at the proper time to go in the opposit direction. And it's the safe way to avoid an accident.

      I see it at bank drive-thru teller stations when drivers sit with their engines running. If the wait takes longer than 4-minutes turn them OFF, with fuel injection you save gas.

      Either THEY change their lifestyles or somebody will change them in other ways not to their likeing.
        • 7 Years Ago
        turning off you engine when in line and courtous driving are one thing, but those are the easy things that are drops in the bucket

        those are not examples of the real change that will become necessary sooner or later
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'd require compatibility with butanol and E85, but I'd ditch methanol. It's been tried before, and was found to have much bigger problems than ethanol.

      Of course, mandating butanol compatibility would first require a fair chunk of change going into researching the stuff. It's barely on the radar at this point, and more work should be done to figure out if it's really as compatible with gasoline as its proponents claim. Knowledge of butanol is probably fairly similar to that of ethanol in the '70s or '80s.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Yes. Alternative fuels, of all types and not just electrical,or bio fuels (of any root source) will get us there. I think we have all seen where over dependance on one fuel source leads us.
        • 7 Years Ago
        E85, at least currently, is a bit of a red herring in this regard because it takes more oil to produce than we get out of it.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "The corn ethanol that we use today will make little if any dent in our oil imports.

      Cellulosic ethanol, methanol and butanol do hold a lot of promise, though."

      You morons must have missed this little blurb...
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