Although our President has tried to hold back the tide of change toward cleaner healthier energy, some things he said in his last State of the Union Address suggests that he may be changing his tune, at least for now. The oil money man said that “America is addicted to oil”, and implied that this is a bad thing.
Bush acknowledged that energy sources from solar, wind, and hydrogen not only exist, but that further support into research and development for “alternative energies” will be funded by the federal government! In his speech he declared that we have to push forward in two vital areas: how we power our homes and offices and how we power our vehicles. Following his speech, Bush even went so far as to visit a plant that produces solar panels in Michigan and make public statements about the importance of the technology.
Regarding vehicles, ethanol was mentioned specifically in the State of the Union Address. Ethanol is a fuel that can be produced from various plants and plant matter. It can be manufactured in our own backyard or rather our own rural communities, and in fact, it already is. There is a fuel available, called E85; a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, and it is used to power cars and trucks.
Car companies in the United States, namely GM and Ford, produce cars that can switch between traditional gasoline and ethanol, these cars are called “flexible fuel” or “flex fuel” cars. You might already own one and not even know it! There are 5 million flex fuel cars already on the road throughout the United States. These cars have been sold with great success in Brazil where their nationally produced sugar-based ethanol costs about $1.00 per gallon. In Europe cars can be retrofitted with ethanol tanks and ethanol stations are prevalent, with over 600 in Germany alone.
But, in the United States, there are only about 500 stations where you can buy E85 and in some states there are no stations that sell E85 at all!
An NPR report suggests that motivation for car companies to produce these flex fuel cars is not to reduce emissions, but rather because they receive a tax credit and an allowance, under a law from 1988, that they may produce fleets of cars that are less fuel efficient. So many cars that are fuel inefficient, in fact, that they negate the positive effects of having hybrid cars on the road. Regardless, unless there is a place to buy the E85, there is no point to get excited about flex fuel cars being on the road.
The good news is that states like Michigan and New York are taking independent initiative. New York has promised an ethanol pump at every station on the New York Thruway and Pataki has proposed $20 million dollar program to promote ethanol producing plants to be constructed to process switchgrass in NY State. Michigan has just announced a $2 billion dollar state-wide initiative that includes ethanol development.
But is ethanol the answer? The fuel has drawbacks, some say, because it is not so efficient, is more volatile than gasoline, and emits carbon amounts that are detrimental to the environment.
Bush’s drive “to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025” may be more rhetoric than reality (he made sure to tip his hat coal and nuclear energy in the speech), but with increased awareness, federal and state support, technology improvements, and citizen’s concern we are at least driving down the right road.