Sunday, February 05, 2006

Biofuels and Mr. Bush

I've been reading more today about green cars. Eco-friendly cars, that is. Getting ready to interview a couple of people about biofuels and alternative car technologies for the book we're working on now, The Power of Your Pocketbook: How Americans' Spending Habits Shape our Future.

It's interesting that Bush gave lip service in his state of the union address on Jan 31 to our energy dilemma. He seems to want to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, and to increase spending somewhat on renewable and sustainable sources of energy for cars.

Yet the amount he proposes to spend is a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed. If the federal government can't commit to research, development and especially putting new development into practice, then industry won't commit either.

Bush says he supports the use of waste plant matter, such as switchgrass and wood chips, to make ethanol for gasoline engines. That would be great if he really meant it. But the Department of Energy is only funding a pilot project, and has no plans to convert switchgrass or any other plant waste into ethanol on a commercial scale.

Daniel Kammen, director of the Institute of the Environment, says that a car can be converted to use ethanol with only $100. He says the demand is there, if the supply of ethanol was ready. But it's not.

Greasel is popular here in North Carolina, at least in the Triangle area, as an alternative biofuel for cars. But greasel can only be used in a vehicle that has a diesel engine. Biodiesel is another fuel option for diesel engines. Greasel is straight vegetable oil; biodiesel is vegetable oil that has been modified chemically. The nice thing about greasel is that it can be free. Using it requires first of all buying a conversion kit for your diesel engine. But after that, many greasel users get their vegetable oil from fast food restaurants that are throwing it away. Biodiesel, on the other hand, does not require the conversion kit but can be costly and hard to find.

At any rate, as I mentioned, both greasel and biodiesel are usable only in diesel engines. And very few American cars have diesel engines. So....back to ethanol, for a widespread biofuel solution. For now.

As Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club points out, the most effective thing Bush could do right now is to mandate that all new cars get better gas mileage. He could do that right now. Certainly we have the technology to make all cars get 35 or 40 miles per gallon. So, if Bush really means what he's saying, then why doesn't he do that? Why? I don't know the answer to that. I suppose he's protecting automakers' financial interests. Everything boils down to supporting big business for Mr. Bush. But I don't see the connection exactly. If someone would like to explain it to me, I'd like to hear it. Who is it that would suffer and complain if new legislation made all cars get better gas mileage?

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