Oil's status as a strategic commodity - as opposed to just another commodity - derives from its virtual monopoly over transportation fuels. Contrary to popular belief, today only 2% of U.S. electricity is generated from oil, and conversely only 2% of oil demand is due to electricity generation, so changing what we generated electricity from will have very little impact on oil demand.
Neither efforts to expand petroleum supply nor those to crimp petroleum demand will be enough
to reduce America's strategic vulnerability anytime soon - both maintain oil's transportation monopoly.
Simply changing who we buy oil from will not solve our problem either, because oil is a fungible commodity. Think of the oil market as a swimming pool - producers pour oil in, consumers take oil out. We don't import all or even most of our oil from the Persian Gulf today, yet the decisions of Persian Gulf oil suppliers have a profound impact on our economy. Becoming energy independent does not entail cutting ourselves off from the world market. It does not mean supplying all of our own oil (or even all of our own energy.) Becoming energy independent means no longer needing to kowtow to the holders of the world's oil reserves - being independent of the petrocrats that control the world's oil. To achieve independence we must strip oil of its strategic value by breaking oil's monopoly in the transportation sector.
When the British Navy made the shift
from coal to oil, then Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill famously remarked, "safety and
certainty in oil lies in variety and variety alone." To diminish the strategic importance of oil to
the international system it is now critical to expand the Churchillian doctrine beyond
geographical variety to a variety of fuels and feedstocks.
Two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption is due to the transportation sector, and 97% of our transportation energy is oil based. The best way to break oil's monopoly is to transition to alternative fuels and vehicles that can utilize them, such as flexible fuel vehicles and plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. These vehicles let consumers and the market choose the winning fuels and feedstocks based on economics.
In this way, we can stop funding our adversaries, while also protecting our quality of life and economy against the effects of cuts in foreign oil supplies and the rising costs of oil.
FLEXIBLE FUEL VEHICLES (FFVs)
Flexible fuel vehicles are automobiles that can use as fuel any combination of gasoline and alcohol--such as ethanol and methanol. Methanol contains about 50% the energy of gasoline per gallon, ethanol about 67%; so both achieve lower miles per gallon than gasoline. But at current prices, they both produce more miles per dollar, and at future prices, probably much more. And they are cleaner burning.
- Ethanol: Ethanol does not just mean corn! It is also made from other agricultural products like sugar cane, and, in the future, cellulosic material like switch grass, wood chips and other agricultural residue. Sugarcane ethanol costs less to make than corn ethanol. (More)
- Methanol: Cheaper than ethanol, methanol is an alcohol fuel that can also be used in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). It's generally used as a blend of 85% methanol and 15% gasoline (M-85), but some vehicles can use up to 100% methanol. It is a high performance fuel which was used for decades by drivers at the Indy 500. (More)
For only $100 per car, automakers can build a flexible fuel engine in every car they sell – which will give every consumer a choice in fuels. The technology now exists to produce any automobile as a flexible fuel vehicle.
The only difference between a FFV and a gasoline-only car is a different control chip and some different fittings in the fuel line, since alcohol is more corrosive than gasoline.
Ninety percent of new cars sold in Brazil are FFVs. Most of the cars General Motors sells there are FFVs.
A PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) is essentially a regular hybrid with a bigger battery and an extension cord. You can fill it up at the gas station, and plug it in to any 120-volt outlet. It's like having a second fuel tank that you always use first – only you fill up at home, from an electric outlet, at an equivalent cost of under $1/gallon.
PHEVs stretch each gallon of gasoline with electricity. In this way, PHEVs achieve oil economy levels of 100 miles per gallon of gasoline without compromising the size, safety, or power of a vehicle, with a range of 20 to 60 electric miles without the use of gasoline after being charged in a standard electrical outlet. Since they also have a liquid fuel tank, if the battery is depleted PHEV can still be driven the full range of a "regular" gasoline only car.
If a PHEV is also a flexible-fuel vehicle powered by 85 percent alcohol and 15 percent gasoline, oil economy could reach over 500 miles per gallon of gasoline – each gallon of gasoline is stretched with electricity and alcohol fuel. Ideally, plug-in hybrids would be charged at night in home or apartment garages, when electric utilities have significant reserve capacity. The Department of Energy estimates that over 70 percent of the U.S. vehicle market could shift to plug-in hybrids without needing to install additional baseload electricity-generating capacity.
Breaking oil's monopoly in the transportation sector(Gal Luft's July 2008 testimony to Senate Committee on Homeland Security)
Zubrin: The Alcohol Standard
Luft and Korin: Fueled Again