Friday, January 27, 2006

Hallucinogens in the Water, II

by Tom Bozzo

Thomas Friedman's recent columns highlighting the problems stemming from American oil addiction have been less annoying than usual. But really, fellow Times Select users, will Friedman really be listening for Bush to propose a real energy independence moonshot (as opposed to the rational expectation: a few bromides and more of the same-old that's passed for Bush energy policy), stiff gas tax and everything, and then announce Cheney's resignation in favor of a greener CEO?!

I was looking for the "April fool's!"

While we're at it, one thing Friedman mentions that's less helpful, and has also afflicted the NYT's editorialists, is propagating the belief that flexible-fuel vehicles — meaning, specifically, cars and trucks that can run on gasoline or a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline (E85) — is a positive step in the near term.

More efficient processes for producing biofuels may eventually improve ethanol's energy balance problem, but until then, ethanol mainly substitutes an abundant but highly polluting fuel (coal) and another expensive fuel (natural gas) for a portion of the oil in a gallon of gasoline. The real problem arises if you try to pour E85 down the gullets of the U.S. vehicle fleet in anything like its present configuration: There's only so much land for growing the plants that will be distilled into the hooch. The presence at the Detroit auto show of such woefully misguided concepts as the Ford Super Chief pickup, a monster that's mostly for show but which sports a flex-fuel V-10 engine that may see the light of day in some form, demonstrates the cognitive dissonance. If we're to be "saved" by vehicles that are lucky to make it 10 miles on a gallon of ethanol, then we're doomed.
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