According to Robert Zubrin, making E85 the preferred fuel in the U.S. is as easy as mandating all cars sold in this country must be flex-fuel vehicles.
Zubrin, president of Pioneer Astronautics, spoke at the 2008 Illinois Commodity Conference in Bloomington.
To be quite frank, some of Zubrin's comments were startling. For example, Zubrin detailed something called the Takeover Threat, which really hit home with today's economy. In a nutshell, Zubrin says we are spending so much on foreign oil, what's stopping OPEC from purchasing a large chunk of corporate America. Think it's far-fetched? Consider his argument.
In 2008, OPEC will export approximately $1.5 trillion worth of oil. In September, the U.S. Fortune 500 was valued at $18 trillion. (Zubrin says $12 trillion may be realistic today.) Just a few years of OPEC savings could purchase a big chunk. In fact, Zubrin adds that Saudi Arabia currently has a $900 billion Sovereign Wealth Fund for just that purpose.
Making Sense of an FFV Mandate
With Thanksgiving this week, I'm reminded of a question I constantly get at family functions: why aren't there more E85 pumps? Zubrin breaks it down very simply with this analogy. If you were a small gas station owner with only three pumps, why would you dedicate one to E85? Currently, only 3% of automobiles are FFVs. Why dedicate one-third of your filling capacity to a fuel only 3% of motorists can use?
Zubrin's FFV mandate makes sense when you consider the market for E85 it would create. In his opinion, the market demand would create additional investment opportunities. Once the money starts flowing into research and development, he thinks the U.S. will be able to meet E85 demand and become oil independent.
While the plan makes a lot of sense, I think it will be extremely difficult to implement. Just imagine how much of the $600 billion in oil imports will be thrown to lobbying tactics and ethanol smear campaigns. Plus, Zubrin thinks OPEC would respond to a booming ethanol market by increasing production and bringing back cheap gas for an extended period of time.
For those who think it's impossible to become energy independent, Zubrin points out Brazil's situation. In 1980, Brazil imported 80% of its oil. With its booming ethanol industry, Brazil is now an oil exporter.