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Open Letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

February 6, 2013

Dear Secretary LaHood,

I admire you for your honesty and hard work in the largely unheralded area of safety. You, of course, realize that we are in a new economy. To speed up the rate of economic recovery in this new world, we need to revisit our attempts to get off oil by moving to more technically and economically feasible transportation alternatives. The problem is that the current approach has been setup to create a step function of change, using ethanol made from wastes (cellulosic ethanol) and electric vehicles. It is now clear that cellulosic ethanol has production and cost limitations; and electric vehicle sales are stunted by high cost, poor range, small vehicle size and long charging times. Both would require decades, if ever, to become mainstream, and so cannot accomplish the rapid change needed. CNG is also the wrong approach for our 135,000,000 light duty vehicles, as the excessive conversion costs for both vehicles and fueling infrastructure would be in the Trillions.

       As you have said in agreement with President Obama, we need an 'all in' approach. The answer for the (ICE) Internal Combustion Engine today, and for fuel cells down the road, are the liquid fuels ethanol and methanol (specifically methanol for fuel cells). Ethanol is already established, and methanol can be made from natural gas and/or any organic wastes (and if required, from algae). Methanol can fill the supply gap that cellulosic ethanol is unable to economically fill, and go way beyond. It can be done NOW and can be done cheaper and with less pollution, using years of proven technology. It can also become increasingly more economic and, of course green, as we make more and more bio-methanol, from our wastes. Bio-methanol is WTW CO2 neutral. It certainly appears that combined ethanol-methanol facilities can take care of the CO2 issue.

       Furthermore, as you probably know, future ICE engines, using high levels of ethanol/methanol, can be made to have diesel engine efficiencies, with just an increment in cost compared to making a diesel, and without the pollution of diesels! ¬†We will not need diesel engines, but can still achieve their 30% greater efficiency. Methanol costs less than ethanol and gasoline. It is currently made for 60 cents a gallon and sold for $1.3/gal. It pollutes less. For example: it emits no particles, and 1/2 the NOx.

      Current engines can be converted to Methanol for a few hundred dollars, vs. thousands for CNG. The corner garage mechanic can do the conversions -- think of the jobs. Detroit produced methanol ready cars can be made for even less. Methanol can be added to gasoline, as ethanol can. In fact, gasoline, ethanol and methanol mixtures work exceptionally well. It gives us a smooth transition path to a new fuel using the same basic engines and fueling infrastructure that we have today. The cheaper price and ease of use will be compelling to consumers. The jobs added, the cheaper transportation, and the fuel dollars prevented from going out of the country will give a big boost to the economy, while keeping the farmers and new cellulosic bio-fuels industry happy. But, most important, it will give America long-term energy security and pricing control with a 100% home based fuel source.

Government action in this regard will be very important. It is not subsidies that are needed, but the government leading by example and testing. We urge you to ask move the DOT to:

a) work together with the auto industry to determine what % of ethanol can be used in various models and model years of our most common "E10 vehicles". It has been found that at 20-50% ethanol, many  of these vehicles actually deliver more mileage, but it is unclear whether some of the vehicles will have higher maintenance bills. A driver equip with this info, and the presence of Blender pumps at service stations will result in more ethanol/methanol being used, less fuel overall being required and cheaper driving.

b) work together with industry to determine what the costs of modifying the production of Flex Fueled vehicles to run on any combination of methanol, ethanol and gasoline. Both vehicles to be build, and ones already one the road.

c) move the Federal fleet to the use of the Blend with the highest ratios of methanol and ethanol in the fuel to the remaining gasoline that can be economically achieved.

We encourage you to consider this approach.

Wishing you a happy retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert Falco, PhD, Director, IER
Ron Will, Senior Associate, IER