Friday, February 22, 2008

An open letter to Mr. Gore...

Mr Gore:

You've done a Yeoman’s job of putting forth the cause for global warming on a very large stage. Your Oscar winning film “An Inconvenient Truth” and your subsequent lectures and presentations on the same are extremely compelling and convincingly deliberative works. Heck, you've even got a Nobel prize to show for the effort.

But even with all of that, we still are in a precarious state of affairs with respect to not only carbon emissions, but also energy security. What's more, at this point, the longer we talk about the problem and waste opportunities to promote the solutions, the worse off we will be.

But there is hope.

It seems that the issue of energy security has mobilized folks from both sides of the argument.

Regardless of what camp you are in, what most Americans can agree on is that we must break free from the chains of our oil addiction... and fast. It just so happens that the act of displacing petroleum and reducing carbon emissions are “Conveniently” linked.

The Jihadis, inspired and funded by the oil rich despots (Chavez, Amidinajad, et al) of the world, are fond of pondering the question “What would a world look like without the Jews and Americans?” To that end, the relevant question on the minds of most Americans should be... “What would the Jihadis and oil oligarchs do without the American consumer's gas money?”

As distant as such a future might seem, it’s potentially closer than you might expect. Consider this: GM expects to sell the Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle in late 2010. Volt is an automobile that looks as aggressive as a Camaro, with 4 seats and a muscular stance, but runs solely on battery power for the first 40 miles. Toyota is also betting on battery power with a plug-in version of its popular Prius hybrid around the same time. Numerous other manufacturers are following suit with production models set to hit showrooms beginning as early as 2016.

Bolstered by advances in lithium ion battery technology, the electrification of the automobile is imminent.

From garage mechanics in California who are converting their Prius hybrids to run longer on battery power (and to recharge from standard household current), to large corporations like Toyota and GM who are in a race to put the first plug-in electric vehicles into US and International automotive showrooms, a mass effect is taking place that promises to not only revolutionize the future of automotive propulsion, but also to have a dramatic impact on petroleum imports and those who would benefit from them.

As close as these developments are, realistically it will be perhaps a decade before they have a chance to make a significant impact on our petroleum usage. What we need in the interim is a “bridge” to get us to that magical point.

Interestingly enough, we have such a technology already available – flex fuel vehicles.

There are currently over 6.5 million flex fuel vehicles on US roads today with more being sold each year (Detroit's Big 3 have committed to making half of their fleet flex fuel capable by 2012, provided Big oil will play its part and deploy the E85 pumps). The only thing that distinguishes flex fuel vehicles from their gasoline only counterparts is a small sensor in their fuel injection systems that detects the concentration of alcohol in the fuel and regulates the fuel/air mixture for maximum performance. A flex fuel vehicle can run on any combination of gasoline, ethanol or even methanol.

In the not so distant future, and with the widespread availability of flex fuel vehicles (or by adapting today's vehicles with special conversion kits from folks like, we could encourage a switch from gasoline to alcohol fuels (such as E85) thereby largely displacing our petroleum usage without significant investments in technology (it costs as little as $30 for automakers to enable a vehicle for flex fuel).

What is lacking to make this a reality is (1) the dearth of E85 pumps and (2) a significant number of flex fuel vehicles to encourage station owners to install E85 pumps. It's the classic chicken and egg dilemma.

Ah, but just as the race to electrify the automobile is imminent, so to is the chance to flex fuel it...

Although the automakers are not likely to voluntarily flex fuel enable their entire gasoline powered fleet (they've thus far used it as a bargaining chip against CAFE requirements), congress is likely to compel them to and sooner than 2012; both as a matter of national security and as a consumer choice initiative. Just as during the cold war, congress required automakers to equip every vehicle with FM radio (presumably to enable the emergency alert system in the event of nuclear war), and just as seatbelts are required for passenger safety, advocates of an “Open Fuel Standard” are pushing for legislation to require all new cars sold in the US to have flex fuel capability for some of the same reasons (in 2006 we spent nearly half as much on oil imports as we spent on our annual defense budget)

As much of a “no-brainer” as this might today's world of $3 gasoline, who would argue against choice when it comes to fuel options? There is sure to be, as there has been in the past, staunch opposition to such a measure. It's interesting to note, that during this recent phase of high gasoline prices and record oil prices, Brazil's gasoline prices have remained stable for the simple reason that the presence of a robust E85 infrastructure (every station in Brazil offers both gasoline and ethanol by law) results in a competitive marketplace that benefits the consumer. Imagine that, Brazil as the poster child for free market economy of fuels.

"It doesn't make sense hiking the price of gasoline abruptly if it will cause me a bigger loss of the market than what is already happening today," a Petrobras director told reporters in a recent interview. "It's possible that this year we'll sell more ethanol than gasoline in Brazil." (source: Reuters)
Consider this very interesting footnote on the previous attempt to create an Open Fuel Standard via flex fuel vehicles...

The 2007 Energy Bill that just passed and signed into law on December 19, 2007, had a key fuel choice provision removed as a result of strident lobbying by Nissan corporation. The provision would have called for all vehicles sold in the US to be flex fuel enabled. It's removal was a significant win for petroleum interests, and a significant defeat for Americans who remain beholden to the OPEC cartel's vertical monopoly on oil. Tracy Woodard, head of Nissan’s government affairs office, didn’t deny her firm’s role in rewriting the legislation. “We’re doing what we believe is best for our company. We’ve done better than expected, but there is still a long way to go,” she said on her efforts that led to Trent Lott's insistence that the flex fuel provision be removed from the bill.

We will watch with excitement as Detroit works to make the electrification of the automobile a reality. We will also be interested to see whether the environmental forces and the energy security forces can muster the coalition necessary to propel the Open Fuel Standard through congress amid the deep pocketed campaign that will be launched against it from the oil industry. And don't kid yourself, the Saudi's and the OPEC interests will be influencial as just might not see their fingerprints until its too late.

The kingpins of the oil industry, fresh off a string of successive record breaking quarters where they've posted the largest profits in history, stand to lose the most from an Open Fuels Standard (OFS). An OFS standard would enable consumers to choose a fuel other than gasoline for their transportation dollars and this does not sit well with those for whom our oil addiction represents quite a cash cow. As much as this possibility has the Exxon-Mobile's and Texaco's of the world in fear, its also sure to have the undivided attention of the OPEC capitals of the world...Riyad, Caracas, Tehran, et al.

So in closing Mr. Gore, I would like to suggest that you consider for your next blockbuster epic, the title, "A Convenient Truth, How the interests of the environment and national security all point to petroleum replacement". In 10 years, God willing, we will be well on our way to the electrification of automotive transport. But for the sake of the here and now, please join the folks who are pushing for fuel choice by promoting for the Open Fuel Standard.

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