Thursday, December 08, 2005
War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World
Let us be clear: We will always need oil. What we must do is reduce the strategic importance of oil to the global economy. We must shift oil from being a strategic commodity-one whose disruption can hold our economy hostage-to a commodity that is interchangeable with other energy resources.
Because two-thirds of the oil we use is consumed in the transportation sector (mostly in cars and trucks), long term security and economic prosperity require diversifying our energy sources in that sector. This can be done via a technological shift to an economy based on nonpetroleum, next generation fuels and vehicles designed to use them.
It is worth noting that diversification away from imported oil to domestic energy sources has already been accomplished in another sector of the economy-the generation of electricity. In the 1970s, nearly a third of
A number of public policy institutes, trade unions, and other organizations have joined forces under the banner of the Set America Free Coalition to advance a blueprint for effecting a similar change in the
A Program for Energy Security
The main ingredients of the Set America Free blueprint are as follows.
1. Fuel Choice
One of the highest virtues of the American way of life is freedom of choice. Think of any consumer good-from a cup of coffee to a carpet-and consider the range of choices we have. But when it comes to transportation fuel, Americans have essentially no choice. Driving into a gas station, oil based products like gasoline and diesel are the only substances with which we can fill our tanks.
The fact that a single liquid fuels virtually our entire society is a formula for disaster. If for whatever reason petroleum supplies are disrupted, we currently do not have a fallback option.
The first step to enabling fuel choice is to ensure that all new cars are flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). FFVs look and perform just like "regular" vehicles, with one difference: instead of running solely on gasoline, they are designed to burn alcohol based fuels (ethanol and methanol), gasoline, or any mixture of the two.
This is not a new technology. Henry Ford's 1908 Model T was an FFV. And some 4 million FFVs have been manufactured in the
The only difference between a gasoline only car and an FFV is that the FFV engine is equipped with a modified control chip and some different fittings in the fuel line to accommodate the characteristics of alcohol. The marginal additional cost associated with the production of a flexible fuel vehicle is currently under $150-less than the cost of a typical CD player.
That cost would be reduced further as the volume of production of such cars increases. That would be particularly true if flexible fuel designs were to become the industry standard-as they should, effective immediately.
Ethanol. Also known as grain alcohol, ethanol is a liquid that can be produced domestically from fermented agricultural products, including (but not exclusively) from corn. The
The main barrier preventing ethanol from becoming a massively used transportation fuel in the
Fortunately, there are feedstocks other than corn that can be converted to ethanol without the need for such massive government assistance. For example, a great deal of effort is being expended to develop processes for the economic conversion of cellulosic biomass into ethanol. Such processes will allow production of fuel from switch grass and other dedicated energy crops.
Until such technology becomes economical, however, there is another source of ethanol that makes economic sense and that does not require a government subsidy: sugar cane. In
To put it bluntly, we cannot hope to enjoy energy security through renewable fuels unless we are also willing to open the
Methanol. Another alcohol that can be used in flexible fuel vehicles is well known to
2. Electrify Transportation
As the price of gasoline has mounted, there has been growing consumer demand for so called hybrid vehicles. Hybrids combine a traditional internal combustion engine with an electric motor to improve gas mileage. The motor is powered by a battery, continuously recharged by capturing braking energy that would otherwise be wasted.
Hybrids get anywhere from 20 percent to more than twice the mileage of conventional gasoline engines, without compromising performance. However, their only external fuel source is gasoline. Increasing fuel choice calls for taking hybrids one step further.
Plug in hybrids. For many years, electricity has been the source of power for all our home appliances. Why not use electricity to power our cars as well? Because less than 2 percent of
During the 1980s, some auto companies put battery operated electric vehicles on the road. While these cars were generally clean, quiet, and highly efficient, they failed to achieve large scale penetration of the market. Among the stumbling blocks were the limited range (driving distance) and the reduced performance of electric only vehicles.
Plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) offer the benefits of electric vehicles without the range and performance penalties. PHEVs are souped up hybrids that can optionally be plugged in. Like first generation hybrids, plug ins have a liquid fuel tank and internal combustion engine, so they have the same driving range as a standard car. Although they look and perform much like regular hybrid cars, they can in addition be plugged into a 120 volt outlet at home (or in a parking garage) and recharged.
Plug ins can run on their batteries' stored energy for much of a typical day's driving. Depending on the size of the battery, that might be up to 60 miles per charge-far beyond the daily commute of an average American. And, when the charge is used up, the PHEV automatically switches over to run on the engine powered by its fuel tank. Someone who drives a distance shorter every day than the car's electric range could do so exclusively by recharging the battery and never having to dip into the fuel tank.
PHEVs can reach fuel economy levels of a hundred miles per gallon of gasoline consumed. Because 50 percent of cars on the road in the
Five hundred miles per gallon of gasoline performance. If, moreover, a plug-in vehicle were designed as an FFV, fueled with 80 percent alcohol and 20 percent gasoline, fuel economy could reach five hundred miles per gallon of gasoline. Notice we say "per gallon of gasoline" and not "per gallon." The object of expanding fuel choice is not to reduce the energy consumption of a vehicle. Rather, it is to shift the balance in the transportation sector away from oil to more secure energy resources, by stretching each gallon of gasoline further by substituting alcohol fuels and electricity.
Ideally, plug in hybrid vehicles would be charged in home or apartment garages at night, when electric utilities have significant excess capacity. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that up to 30 percent of the
At present, the estimated retail price of a plug in hybrid would be higher than that of corresponding conventional vehicles, because of the cost of extra batteries to extend the range in electric mode. The exact difference in price depends on the size of the battery, but, roughly speaking, every additional 10 miles of vehicle range adds about $1,000 to the cost.
This price difference is partly offset, however, by the lower operating costs of plug ins. At current gas prices, it costs well over 10 cents per mile to refuel a conventional car with gasoline, whereas refueling a plug in with electricity is only 3 cents per mile. That means that the lifetime overall cost of mass produced plug in hybrid vehicles would be equivalent to that of gasoline only vehicles.
In light of the national and energy security benefits of achieving such a dramatic reduction in demand for gasoline, the president and other officials should be doing everything possible to encourage the widest and fastest possible penetration of plug in hybrid vehicles into the market. One way of doing that would be for the difference in the up front price of PHEVs to be covered by federal and state tax credits and by rebates designed to reward consumers for reducing consumption of petroleum based fuels and emissions. This strategy is proving very effective in getting hybrid electric vehicles past the early adopter hump and into the mainstream.
3. Stretch a Gallon Still Further
The Bush administration describes conservation as one of the important elements of a sound energy policy. It notes that in the past three decades, the American economy has grown nearly five times faster than energy use-proof positive that conservation can go hand in hand with increases in productivity.
Indeed, the last time the
Individual initiatives. The most immediate measures to improve the efficiency of
" properly inflating tires " tuning the engine " maintaining air filters " removing excess weight from the trunk " driving at a steady pace " consolidating trips " choosing to take the "broadband highway" to work, using the Internet to telecommute from a home office.
Better materials. At least two-thirds of fuel use by a typical consumer vehicle is caused by its weight. Reducing the weight and drag of a vehicle need not require reducing its size or safety, but it can greatly increase gas mileage. Today, we can achieve this objective thanks to advances in both metals and plastics. Cars made from advanced composites and next generation steels can be affordably manufactured with current technologies. They can roughly halve fuel consumption without compromising size, safety, performance, or cost-effectiveness.
In fact, crash tests and race car experience have shown that these vehicles are actually safer. As a report commissioned by the Pentagon notes, "Ultra strong carbon fiber composite auto bodies can save oil and lives at the same time, and by greatly simplifying manufacturing, can give automakers a decisive competitive advantage."21
Modern diesels. Significant progress toward better efficiency can also be reached in the realm of diesel engines. Modern diesel vehicles are becoming increasingly popular in
Diesel fuels currently account for almost 20 percent of
An innovative biodiesel fuel can be commercially produced from soybeans and other vegetable oils. Such fuels are compatible with the current distribution infrastructure, and blends of up to 20 percent can be used in existing vehicles.
Needed: A New National Initiative
There is no shortage of other longer-term technological solutions to our energy problem. Although many of them hold great promise, it is not clear that they will be available by the time we need them.
After all, the average lifetime of a vehicle in the
That is why it is imperative to begin the process without delay. Every day we wait is one more day that
We have no time to wait for commercialization of promising but immature technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells, which still face significant technological barriers. Nor do we have time to wait for expensive and time consuming infrastructure change. The focus should be on using alternative approaches-like fuel choice and plug in hybrids-that can be implemented relatively quickly and that permit the maximum possible use of existing refueling facilities and automotive assembly lines.
In 1942, President Roosevelt mobilized the nation's scientific and financial resources to launch the
In 1962, President Kennedy launched the Apollo Man to the Moon Project, driven in part by mounting threats to
In 1983, President Reagan responded to the danger of Soviet ballistic missiles by unveiling the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a major program to develop the means to destroy such missiles in flight. We now know that SDI played an important part in the success of Mr. Reagan's strategy for destroying the
In all three of these historic cases, a
The truth is that the technologies that will allow us to make the leap into the post oil era are already with us. All that is needed now is leadership and the support of the American people for a national commitment to energy security. Putting the nation on a War Footing is the opportunity to bring these assets to bear and to begin weaning our country from its oil dependency and the associated vulnerabilities.
Such a leap toward energy security is a big idea-but the American people have never shied away from big ideas. During World War II, Winston Churchill observed that "Americans' national psychology is such that the bigger the idea, the more wholeheartedly and obstinately do they throw themselves into making it a success. It is an admirable characteristic, provided the idea is good."22
Breaking the hold of