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PUMP-pic_gas station

PUMP debuts on Netflix, so stream at your leisure

PUMP the Movie is now available on Netflix, giving millions of Americans the chance to watch an important film that shows the patch forward to ending our dependence on oil.

The documentary, produced by Fuel Freedom Foundation and narrated by Jason Bateman, was originally released in theaters last September. In fact, it’s still showing on big screens around the country, as the foundation has worked with partners to host screenings on college campuses and for nonprofits.

(For a full schedule of showings, as well as movie reviews and other content, check out PUMPtheMovie.com.)

But Netflix is a whole new level. The video-on-demand service is now available in 36 percent of U.S. homes, compared with 13.5 percent for Amazon Prime and 6.5 percent for Hulu Plus. Thirty-five million people watch movies and TV shows using Netflix’s streaming service, while another 5 million still get DVDs by mail. (We have DVDs for sale too, in an attractive blue case, on our website).

PUMP charts the century-long story of oil and how it built its monopoly on the U.S. transportation-fuel industry. There are interviews with major energy and auto-industry players like John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil Company, and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk.

Much of the film is dedicated to solutions to our oil addiction: For example, ethanol, which is cheaper than gasoline and burns cleaner, with fewer toxic emissions, can be made from plenty of “feedstocks” besides corn.

Here’s a clip from the film featuring alcohol-fuels expert David Blume, telling us about the possibilities:

Another voice in that snippet belongs to Marc Rauch, editor of the Auto Channel website, who says: “Ethanol is not just any competitor [to gasoline]. It is the better fuel. It has always been the better fuel.”

The point is choice: American drivers deserve more than just one. To learn how we can achieve it, in the cars, trucks and SUVs we drive today, pick up the remote and watch PUMP.

Aaron_Walsh3

The flex-fuel Dodge Charger shows you can be both green and cool

Aaron Walsh’s first car was a 2008 Chrysler Sebring flex-fuel, meaning it could take E85 or any other ethanol blend. It was a good car.

But his new car … wow. The 2012 Dodge Charger, in Tungsten Metallic gray. Now that’s a proper car for a young man. And Walsh never would have bought it if it didn’t come in a flex-fuel version.

“That’s my biggest reason for using it,” says the student from Haslett, Mich., just east of Lansing. “I absolutely hate the petroleum industry.”

His reasons are mostly environmental: the BP spill in the Gulf, etc. “I could go into it, but it would take a long time.”

The point is, he did something about it, and that something came around the time he decided he needed a vehicle upgrade. Walsh already knew the benefits of ethanol because of his father, who works for the state of Michigan, which encourages state employees to put E85 into their flex-fuel vehicles. So right around his 21st birthday, last June, he found the Charger and its 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine.

“I wanted something that didn’t have to run on gasoline,” he said. “And the first thing I wanted was an electric; I was really into the Chevy Volt. But then I realized a college student doesn’t have $40,000. Then I looked and saw that the Charger is $24,000.”

Walsh, who attends Lansing Community College, says finding an E85 station isn’t difficult. “It keeps getting easier and easier,” he says. He posts his fill-up data to his Twitter feed, @gasisoutrageous (his account name is #Number1BigHero6Fan … hey, dude has other interests besides ethanol), and he regularly gets in the twenties for mpg. Also, E85 is a lot cheaper than regular gasoline at many stations in the Lansing-Haslett area. Nationally, E85 was only $1.86 a gallon Thursday, 23.7 percent cheaper than E10, according to E85Prices.com.

Price isn’t the only benefit to buying E85. Higher ethanol blends burn more cleanly and efficiently than E10 (what most of us call regular gas). Using more alcohol fuels displaces oil, strengthening the overall U.S. economy, creating domestic jobs; reducing oil consumption is better for our air, water and health.

But the price at the pump is still a big factor, and most Americans know this. Walsh knows it, and needs it. He works at a convenience store, and says his dad has been helping him out covering the cost of payments and upkeep. The vehicle is also not exactly ideal for the brutal Michigan winters, with is rear-wheel and slick tires.

But he loves it. Using ethanol doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your car at the same time. And that roaring engine runs great on high-octane E85.

“When I started driving, whenever I would slam on the accelerator pedal, I’d just hear dollar signs. Now I like the performance. I actually bought that car just because of the engine.”

Other posts in our “Share Your Story” series:

CNG-nozzle

10 people who turned anger into solutions for high gas prices

So we’ve heard from Americans who say high gas prices have disrupted their lives and their work. Let’s shift to the people who are more than mad as hell. They’re mad enough to turn their energy into action.

Among these 10 ideas, what’s the most practical for your life?

 

“I just ditched my old 1998 Volvo S70 for a used Prius, and it is so much more fun to fill a 10-gallon tank than an 18-gallon one. And have it last more than a week of heavy Los Angeles commuting. It’s still new to me, so I still kind of giggle every time I fill up the tank. I’m thrilled to put the money I save toward better things.”
— Jennifer

“We save a lot of money in the summer because my wife takes the bus to the south side of Madison to go to work, and I pick her up in the afternoon, about 4 miles south of our home. If I was to take her to work and pick her up, it would be 48 miles round-trip, morning and afternoon. The bus is cheaper.”
— Laverne F., Madison, Wisconsin

“As gasoline was so high for so long, I made a bio-diesel processor from a old electric water heater and made my own fuel for the oil furnace and my old 1984 GMC van with a diesel engine. I still received 21 mpg. Begging for grease was the hard part.”
— Willis W.

“I wish I had a good story for you, but my wife and I drive a plug-in Chevy Volt. We hardly ever stop at a gas station, except perhaps once every 6 weeks or while on an occasional trip. When we top the tank, it seldom takes more than 5 1/2 gallons, i.e. less than $20 worth of premium fuel. The main reason that we stop at gas stations these days is to get an automatic car wash.”
— David and Barbara G., Gaithersburg, Maryland

“Still wondering how to convert my 99 Ford Expedition to NG?”
— Gary S., Laguna Woods, California

(We’re checking around to find a SoCal CNG conversion business. Will update later.)

“I have not visited a gas station since September 2014, when I took delivery of my Tesla. However, I still pay for my daughter’s gasoline, suffer the financial cost, and contribute to the oil industry’s wanton environmental degradation. Savings at the pump could help me fund her college education.”
— Dr. George

“Go electric. I did and am receiving my Tesla next week. No more gas at all.”
— Bob

“Today we bought a 2014 Ford Focus, a flex-fuel vehicle which enables us to use E85 for fuel. A small contribution to energy independence.”
— David

“We need a blender pump [for ethanol] in every station.”
— Melvin M.

“I top off my cars with E85 when I can. I fill up once a month with a discount at Kroger. I am really pushing to get Kroger to provide ETHANOL pumps and shop at the same place!”
— Gerard R., Stone Mountain, Georgia

 

Incidentally, here’s a handy guide to flex-fuel vehicles on the market.

E85: Can it break through as an alternative fuel?

Harry_S._TrumanPresident Harry S. Truman once said, “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” Over the past few weeks, my colleagues at Fuel Freedom Foundation and I have spoken with and read about several optimistic owners of E85 fuel stations.

Our selection wasn’t random. We focused on chains or fuel stations that apparently overcame literature-defined problems in marketing E85 and, according to their owners or senior managers, were on their way to success in securing profitable market penetration. Frankly, we wanted to find sufficient cases that testify to the fact that E85 can compete successfully with gasoline. Succinctly, we wanted to respond to a question that’s frequently asked of us, which goes something like this: “Assuming no major policy and feedstock changes (at least in the near term), can E85, in light of the current price of gasoline, provide consumers and the nation with a real competitive choice of alternative fuels that are safer, environmentally better and cheaper than gasoline?”

Future articles will provide mini case studies of some of E85 retailers. But for the present, based on many phone calls and Google descriptions, we found at least four or five stations (relatively quickly) with prices ranging from 60 cents to just over a $1 below the price of gasoline, despite the current, relatively low gas prices. The lowest price described was below $1.50 a gallon. All stations seemed committed to the continued sale of E85, and each one expressed conviction that they have sufficient price flexibility to build a vehicular fuel market able to meet cash flow and profit expectations. Their optimism was based on their present sales and future forecasts of sales.

Clearly, we need to know more. But what we heard deflated (at least partially) conventional wisdom suggesting that while a large pool of newer FFVs s and older vehicles that can be converted to FFV status exists, increased sales of E85 is unlikely because of the decline in the price of gasoline.

The E85 retailers we talked to and reviewed online appear to be using some of the following strategies to take on gasoline successfully in the market place. They are paraphrased and summarized from direct quotes for brevity:

Loosen Ties with Brand Names: Loosening ties with major brand-name franchisers provides the ability to sell E85 and permits more flexibility to set prices based on market perceptions.

Share Value of RINs: RINs are tradable and are valuable, particularly when their value is high. The ability to secure RINs from members of the supply chain is an incentive. Producers and blenders have a stake in retailer success; retailers have a stake in feedstock. The RINs help make the price right at the pump.

Amend Supply Chain: By incorporating blending as a function, retailers are able to manage costs and, indeed, lower costs. By avoiding the need to contract for transferring E85 from terminal to station and doing it themselves, retailers are able to also better manage costs.

Intuitive Marketing: Choosing an easily accessible location within which there is a high density of FFVs, along with recognition that price matters, are threshold needs to penetrate the fuel market. Smaller fuel stations often make their locational decision, in part, based on intuition and not on expensive market studies. Some might do a study…but those who did appeared to keep the costs low. They saw the possibilities in diverse locations by talking to the market and marketing folks and checking available data concerning FFVs in the area, as well as watching traffic patterns. They also had a feel for the area.

Anecdotes and small samples should not generate formulaic or prescriptive “one size fits all” market or marketing strategies. Maybe we were lucky in our calls! Maybe we were fortunate to quickly find the right articles or presentations. One of my colleagues fortuitously drove by a fuel station on his way to the airport and saw a sign touting a very low E85 cost per gallon. Clearly, economic, social, environmental, political and cultural variables are different in different areas of the country, and could very well negatively affect predictability of retail success, particularly concerning location, price and consumer acceptance. Just as clearly, supply-chain differences between and among retailers in different parts of the nation could well impede or facilitate success. What is important at this stage is to recognize that there are individuals and groups out there who own or manage fuel stations, and whose early market achievements should generate a positive bet concerning their intermediate and long-term success. Borrowing from Harry Truman, they appear, at least at first glance, to be making opportunities out of what others perceive as difficulties. If they succeed and generate copycats or variations on a theme, it will be good for the nation, its communities and consumers.

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President Obama, DOE boost alternate fuels

President Obama burnished his legacy as an environmentalist last week by mandating a huge cut in greenhouse gas emissions among federal vehicles. The aim is to cut emissions for 40 percent by the year 2025.

The executive order will increase the percentage of the government’s 636,000 vehicles that run on alternative fuels. Improved gas mileage on new internal combustion engines can account for only a small fraction of the required reduction, so the only alternative will be to increase the number of non-gasoline engines in the fleet. Among the frontrunners will be cars running on compressed natural gas, electric vehicles, propane-powered cars, vehicles running on gasoline-ethanol combinations, hydrogen vehicles, and all manner of hybrid combinations of any of the above Obama’s order built on a previous executive action in 2009 that has helped reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 percent. The 40 percent reduction will be measured against levels in 2008, right before Obama took office.

As of 2013, more than 200,000 of the federal fleet of 635,748 vehicles were alternative-fuel vehicles. The most common of these were the 180,000 cars running on an ethanol-gasoline mix. But the new cars are expected to be of the more experimental variety. It is anticipated that, by 2025, half the federal vehicles will be some kind of plug-in hybrid.

The White House pointed to the efforts of large private companies such as IBM, GE, Honeywell and Walmart in meeting the same standards of switching to alternative vehicles in their fleet. The president’s spokespeople said the combined effort would be “the equivalent of taking nearly 5.5 million cars off the road.”

The president’s order was not the only effort by the federal government to increase its fleet of alternative vehicles. The Department of Energy announced a $6 million program to accelerate the alternative vehicle market. DOE said the purpose of the grants will be to get people accustomed to the idea of driving alternative vehicles. Eleven projects will be funded around the country. They will include:

  • Clean Fuels Ohio will sponsor the Midwest DRIVES initiative to make alternative fuel vehicles available to select company fleets on a short-term lease basis. The program will used data collected from these experiments to encourage other companies to lease AFVs as well.
  • Penske Truck Leasing of Reading, Pennsylvania, will make compressed natural gas heavy-duty trucks available to cross-country truck fleets on a 1-to-3-month basis. The object will be to test consumer satisfaction.
  • The Florida Office of Consumer Services, Office of Energy, will make available plug-in hybrid vehicles to car rental companies in the Orlando area. With Disney World at its doorstep, Orlando is the nation’s largest car-rental market. The idea will be to accustom renters to the advantages of plug-in hybrids.
  • The Triangle Council of Governments around Research Triangle Park will supply vehicles powered by CNG, electricity, propane, E85 and biodiesel over a three-state area that will include North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The object will be to encourage fleet purchases.
  • The Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Demonstration Program, run by ASG Renaissance of Dearborn, Michigan, will attempt to stimulate consumer awareness and demand for PHEVs by placing them in the hands of media influencers. It is hoped that a social media campaign through Facebook and Twitter will bring positive coverage.
  • The West Virginia University Research Corporation will develop a curriculum for training promoters and repair specialists for alternative vehicles. The National Alternatives Fuels Training Consortium will provide marketing and outreach for the new curriculum.
  • The National Fire Protection Association of Quincy, Massachusetts, will develop curricula for the use of alternative vehicles in fire protection, emergency services and first responders to auto accidents.
  • The North Central Texas Council of Governments will develop a curriculum for use of propane, electric and natural gas vehicles for fire marshals, code officials, mechanics and technicians, and first responders. The program will be offered in four states of the Southwest.
  • The University of Central Florida will establish a training program for the use of CNG, electric and propane vehicles by first responders, college instructors, tow-truck operators and salvage/recycling vehicles. Hands-on training will be supported by vehicles supplied the National Association of Fleet Managers.
  • The Metropolitan Energy Center of Kansas City will collaborate with State Fire & Rescue Training institutes in Kansas and Missouri to adapt existing alternative fuel safety curricula to their existing training structures.
  • The National Association of State Energy Officials will work with its network of State Energy Offices, the National Governors Association, and the International Emergency Managers Association to help incorporate alternative fuel and advanced vehicles into multiple emergency preparedness plans.

So there’s plenty going on in the advance of alternative vehicles. It will take more than a drop in the price of oil to discourage these programs.

(Photo: POET LLC)

Does the man doth protest too much? The impact of attacks on coal by oil and gas

BHP-Billiton-Middelburg-1Did you read about Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of BHP Billiton, and his plea to his colleagues in the oil and gas industry? He asked them to stop publicly asserting that natural gas and oil produce fewer carbon emissions than coal. Interpreting, liberally: You guys (a euphemism for men and women) are hurting BHP and its mining and resource development businesses, as well as the entire sector.

Mackenzie said it nicely. He suggested that they lay off the criticism. Because we live in a peaceful, collaborative, problem-solving era (you’re supposed to laugh at this point), his solution, sort of Isaiah-like, was, “Come, let us now reason together.” On behalf of BHP, a conglomerate and the biggest mining company (dollar capitalization) in the world — a company that also has big stakes in oil and gas — Mackenzie asked that fossil fuel companies break bread together and find mutually beneficial solutions to the carbon problem — assumedly consistent with their respective bottom lines. Put another more interpretive way, why should his colleagues in the industry undercut each other by demeaning each other’s products? Paraphrasing a common phrase today, Mackenzie seems to believe that we are all BHP; we are all Exxon; and we are all Texaco. We all have carbon issues and face government emission regulations.

Mackenzie called for the industry to develop carbon capture and storage solutions. His proposals can be construed as relatively company-friendly in that they start off seemingly focused on protecting the diverse resource production menu of each company, particularly, but not only, coal. They also may help each company avoid (at least initially) caps, taxes and fixed emission or production targets.

We shouldn’t be cynical. Carbon capture and storage have been, and continue to be, supported by some respected environmentalists and scientists. Both are endorsed in their many papers, speeches and media.

By his proposal, Mackenzie suggests that the resource-development industry is stronger when the companies that are in it work together. Accordingly, they should not be at each other’s throats and denigrate products of their competitors. We should have peace rather than war! The calls from oil and gas companies to switch from coal to gas, as a strategy to reduce GHG emissions, Mackenzie indicates, is a “very western, rich country solution.” People in many developing countries have easier access to coal than gas. To get out of poverty, they will need to “burn coal cleanly.” He said: “I think there is a marketing ploy, which is ‘give up coal and burn more gas.’ ” Very insightful! Wow! When did he discover this?

The transition to natural gas from coal among utilities has led to a visible reduction of GHG emissions. Natural-gas-based ethanol promises the same kind of reduction in transportation. Don’t knock competition or abort it unless his desired industry collaboration can result in something better and cheaper!

Whether Mackenzie’s thoughts generate from the public interest or the bottom line, from expiation of guilt or inner wisdom, it doesn’t really matter. The industry, as a whole, has been laggard in coming up with and carrying out proposals concerning GHG or criteria pollutants. Maybe we need an Australian-based firm to energize it to ultimately play or pay! But maybe not!

Mackenzie said: “I still accept the drift from coal to gas is a good thing, but these things happen gradually. We need the power of the whole oil and gas industry and the whole mining industry, together aligned on this agenda to move the needle.” What needle, and where is it being moved? Doing good while making money? Perhaps. But his language doesn’t quite go that far. Sounds more like making money by doing as much good as we have to do. From a business standpoint, both are consistent with the view of those that the business of business is business.

It’s hard to know, from a policy perspective, exactly what to do with Mackenzie’s industry-wide collaboration idea or his proposals. It’s not a case of like them or leave them. But caveat emptor!

Sequestration, the fancy name for what he opines as a solution to GHG emissions, is expensive, uses lots of energy, takes a lot of time to initiate, and is unsafe in some areas, depending on geology. Contrary to his words, it may not be relevant to poor nations or poor areas. Yet, on the other hand, it’s worthy of consideration by both the public and private sector because its strategic use can reduce emissions. We need to weigh relative benefits and costs of emissions-reduction strategies. Further, and most important, if public funds are sought, the opportunity costing analyses must be transparent and convincing before moving toward scale-up possibilities.

Elimination of competition within the industry could end up muting the value of alternative fuels and alternate power sources. It could be very costly to the public. Most experts indicate there is no such thing as “clean” coal. There is cleaner coal, but it’s still dirty, and oil remains a major GHG emitter and criteria pollutant. Reliance on both coal and oil, when we have access to cleaner alcohol-based transitional fuels for power, industrial plants and transportation is problematic, at best, and bad policy concerning GHG and other pollutants, at worst.

Lots of questions: Is Mackenzie an enlightened business leader or a leader mainly interested in preserving the value of his coal reserves? Is sequestration in its various forms a viable option that would allow the use of coal, and other portfolio resources, without major GHG impacts? Are there better alternatives? Since market segmentation is external and will likely result in increased sensitivity by CEOs to criticism concerning the public harm caused by multiple energy related products, will collaboration among them generate controlled energy markets and ultimately minimize efforts to reduce GHG emissions and provide a cleaner, healthier environment? Remember that the industry, particularly the companies in it that produce lots of oil, has been and remains against open fuel markets and increasing the number of flex-fuel vehicles. There are no easy answers.

Mark Twain, a great oil and gas man, once said, “It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart: the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.” Finally, borrowing and amending Shakespeare, maybe Mackenzie doth protest too much!

Photo Credit: africagreenmedia.co.za

flex fuel truck

This guy watched PUMP, got mad, and went looking for E85

Glenn Peterson watched PUMP the Movie on iTunes recently. And frankly, it made him angry. Which can be a good thing, if you take that anger and turn it into something constructive.

The part of the film that motivated Glenn to do his small part to end our oil addiction was when Jason Bateman, in that soothing voice of his, mentions that you can look on the Internet to find fueling stations that sell ethanol blends. As it happened, Glenn already owned a flex-fuel vehicle, a 2011 Chrysler Town & Country. Like 17 million other FFVs on the road in the U.S., it was made to run on E85.

Glenn went on E85Prices.com and found a Propel Fuels station about 10 miles from his home in San Diego that sells E85 (a blend that’s actually between 51 percent and 83 percent ethanol, the rest traditional gasoline).

“It was $3.06,” Glenn said, noting that regular 87-octane gas, E10, was selling for about 20 percent more. “So I filled up then, and anytime I thought of it afterwards, I would go there. It’s a little out of the way, but not that far out of the way.

“If a bunch of people do a bunch of small things, it’s like one big thing. And unfortunately … I talk to people at where I work about E85, and it’s just amazing, the misconceptions. I work with a lot of really smart computer people … it’s like they’ve got that part of their mind closed. And I don’t get it.”

Glenn, 54, bought the van in 2012, and a few months later he drove his family to his hometown of Minot, N.D., on vacation. He already knew about FFVs and E85, but even though he was on the lookout for stations that sold the fuel, he couldn’t find any. On the trip back, they pulled off I-80 in Rock Springs, Wyo., and spotted an E85 sign at a Kum & Go station.

“My wife took a picture of me fueling up. I was just so happy I finally found it!” Glenn said.

But his wife drove the van more than he did, and it was just more convenient to fill up at Costco whenever she went shopping there. Then came PUMP, and now the Petersons are an E85 family.

So what got him so angry watching it?

“I was just so mad at [Standard Oil baron John D.] Rockefeller for everything he did, to basically get us into the mess we are now. But I’ll also admit the government and … we basically let that happen to us. So we are as addicted to oil as we can be.

“And oh by the way, I called Costco. I talked the guy who runs their gas program and asked him why they didn’t have E85. He didn’t think there would be a demand. And I’m like, ‘Well, you’re mistaken, sir.”

That reminds us, Glenn: After you’re done watching PUMP and ready to get involved, one of our projects is to convince as many independent fueling retailers (the ones who aren’t obliged to sell a particular oil company’s gasoline) as possible to offer alternative fuels to their customers.

Sign our petition asking them to do just that. And keep sharing your stories about high gas prices and solutions with us! You can also join the conversation on Fuel Freedom’s Facebook page and on Twitter.

Fake and real news: Links between GHG reduction and alternative fuels

FT-emissions-graphicTurn on your local news every night and you’ll need a sleeping pill to get some rest. The format and content is the same around the country: a lot of tragic crime — ranging from sexual harassment, robbery and shootings — for about ten minutes; local sports for about 5 minutes; what seems like ten minutes of intermittent advertising; silly banter between two or more anchors for two minutes; and a human-interest story to supposedly lighten up your day at the very end of the show — likely about a dog and cat who have learned to dance together or a two-year-old child who already knows how to play Mozart. You get the picture!

Local news, as presently structured, is not about to send you to sleep feeling good about humanity, never mind your community or nation. National news is really only marginally better. Again, the first ten minutes, more often than not, are about environmental disasters in the nation or the world — hurricanes, volcanoes, cyclones and tornadoes. The second ten minutes includes maybe one or two tragically laced stories, more often than not, about fleeing refugees, suicide bombings, dope and dopes and conflict. Finally, at the end of the program, for less than a minute or two, there is generally a positive portrayal of a 95-year-old marathon runner or a self-made millionaire who is now single-handedly funding vaccinations for kids in Transylvania after inventing a three-wheeled car that will never need refueling and can seat twenty-five people.

Maybe this is how the world is! We certainly need to think about the problems and dangers faced by our communities, the nation and its citizens. Every now and then, Americans complain about the media’s emphasis on bad news. But their complaints are rarely recorded precisely in surveys of viewership. We criticize the primary emphasis on bad news, but seem to watch it more than good news. Somewhat like football, we know it causes emotional and physical injuries to players, but support it with the highest TV ratings and attendance numbers.

Jimmy Fallon, responding to the visible (but likely surface) cry for more good news, has added a section to The Tonight Show. He delivers fake, humorous news, which is, at times, an antidote to typical TV or cable news shows. Perhaps John Oliver, a rising comedian on HBO, does it even better. He takes real, serious news about human and institutional behavior that hurts the commonweal and makes us laugh. In the process, we gain insight.

This week’s news about carbon dioxide emissions “stalling” in 2014 for the first time in 40 years appeared in most newspapers (I am a newspaper junkie) led by The New York Times and the Financial Times. It seemed like good news! Heck, while the numbers don’t reflect a decline in carbon emissions, neither do they illustrate an increase. Let’s be thankful for what we got over a two-year period (in the words of scientists — stability, or 32.3bn tons a year).

But don’t submit the carbon stability numbers to Jimmy Fallon just yet. It’s much too early for a proposed new segment on The Tonight Show called “Real as Opposed to Fake, Good News.” Too much hype could convince supporters of efforts to slow down climate change that real progress is being made. We don’t know yet. Recent numbers only reflect no carbon growth from the previous year over a 12-month period. The numbers might be only temporary. They shouldnt lessen the pressure to define a meaningful fair and efficient strategy to lower GHG. If this occurs, yesterday’s good news will become a real policy and environmental problem for the U.S. and the world for many, many tomorrows.

I am concerned that the stability shown in the carbon figures may be related to factors that might be short lived. Economists and the media have attributed the 2014 plateau to decreases in the rate of growth of China’s energy consumption and new government policies, as well as regulations on economic growth in many nations (e.g., requirements for more energy-efficient buildings and the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles), the growth of the renewable energy sector and a shift to natural gas by utilities.

Truth be told, no one appears to have completed a solid factor analysis just yet. We don’t really know whether what occurred is the beginning of a continuous GHG emission slowdown and a possible important annual decrease.

Many expert commentators hailed the IEA’s finding, including its soon-to-be new director, Dr. Fatih Birol. He indicated that this is “a very welcome surprise…for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”

Yet, most expert commentators suggest we should be careful. They noted that the data, while positive, is insufficient to put all our money on a bet concerning future trends. For example, Hal Harvey, head of Energy Innovation, indicated, “one year does not a trend make.”

Many articles responding to the publication of the “carbon stall” story, either implicitly or explicitly, suggested that to sustain stability and move toward a significant downward trend requires a national, comprehensive strategy that includes the transportation sector. It accounts for approximately 17 percent of all emissions, probably higher, since other categories such as energy use, agriculture and land use have murky boundaries with respect to content. Indeed, a growing number of respected environmental leaders and policy analysts now include vehicle emissions as well as emissions from gasoline production and distribution as a “must lower” part of a needed comprehensive national, state and local set of emission reduction initiatives, particularly,if the nation is to meet temperature targets. Further, there is an admission that is becoming almost pervasive: that renewable fuels and renewable fuel powered vehicles, while supported by most of us, are not yet ready for prime time.

While ethanol, methanol and biofuels are not without criticism as fuels, they and other alternative fuels are better than gasoline with respect to emissions. For example, the GREET Model used by the federal government indicates that ethanol (E85) emits 22.4 percent less GHG emissions (grams per mile) when compared to gasoline (E10). The calculation is based on life-cycle data. Other independent studies show similar results, some a higher, others a lower percent in reductions. But the important point is that there is increased awareness that alternative fuels can play a role in the effort to tamp down GHG.

So why, at times, are some environmentalists and advocates of alternative fuels at loggerheads. I suspect that it relates to the difference between perfectibility and perfection. Apart from those in the oil industry who have a profit at stake in oil and welcome their almost-monopoly status concerning retail sales of gasoline, those who fear alternatives fuels point to the fact that they still generate GHG emissions and the assumption, that, if they become competitive, there will be less investment in research and development of renewables. Yes! Alternative fuels are not 100 percent free of emissions. No! Investment in renewables will remain significant, assuming that the American history of innovation and investment in transportation is a precursor of the future.

Putting America on the path to significant emission reduction demands a strong coalition between environmentalists and alternative fuel advocates. Commitments need to be made by public, private and nonprofit sectors to work together to implement a realistic comprehensive fuel policy; one that views alternative fuels as a transitional and replacement fuel for vehicles and that encompasses both alternative fuels and renewables. Two side of the same policy and behavior coin. President Franklin Roosevelt, speaking about the travails of the depression, once said, “All we have to fear is fear itself.” His words fit supporters of both alternative fuels and renewables. Let’s make love, not war!

Minnesota card

Minnesota, land of many lakes and E85 pumps

Minnesota is nicknamed “the Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but it actually has 11,842 of them.

The state also has a lot more ethanol pumps than most people realize: There are 292 locations in 205 cities where drivers can fill up on E85 ethanol blend, according to E85Prices.com. That’s more than any other state. By comparison, California, which has about seven times the population, has only 88 E85 stations. The state where the Los Angeles Lakers call home also has only about 3,000 lakes, but who’s counting.

It’s no accident that Minnesota is ahead of the national curve on ethanol as a gasoline alternative. The state is No. 3 in the country in corn production, behind only Iowa and Nebraska. Minnesota also produces a lot of ethanol, and several plants sell directly to retailers. The relatively short supply chain between product and consumer has made the price point for Minnesota ethanol very attractive: The average price per gallon of E85 on Wednesday was $1.95, 21.1 percent cheaper than E10.

(For drivers who place cost above all other fuel factors, E85 needs to be about 20 percent cheaper than E10 to break even, when the reduced energy content of E85 is taken into account.)

It’s not just bountiful crops and plentiful fueling stations that make E85 so prevalent in Minnesota: It’s the years of momentum built by state officials, who have made the case that ethanol is not only cost-effective, but cleaner and better for air quality and the environment than gasoline.

Robert Moffitt, communications director for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, based in St. Paul, says the chapter has been touting the health benefits of ethanol since 1998, when the Department of Energy selected the Twin Cities area, Chicago and Denver as pilot markets for E85.

“This was at a time when Minnesota had four or five E85 stations,” Moffitt said. “We really did not have a lot in those days. But they just wanted to see whether E85 was promoted in an area, would people use it? If we built it, would they come? And we found out that they would.”

Minn car3Association staffers drive around the state in two alt-fuel vehicles: A Ford Fusion flex-fuel (which is pictured as “Clean Air on a Stick,” a nod to all the foods-on-a-stick at the Minnesota State Fair) and a Ford F-150 flex-fuel. “We have never put gasoline in those vehicles. They have run exclusively on E85 ever since we got them.”

Moffitt says biofuels aren’t a partisan issue like they are in other states. Years ago, then-Gov. Jesse Ventura (the wrestler known as “Jesse the Body,” and the “Predator” actor who made the line “Ain’t got time to bleed” immortal) expressed skepticism about promoting ethanol.

“It wasn’t quite getting through to him,” Moffitt said. “And then the commissioner of agriculture told him, ‘We wouldn’t have to import nearly as much oil from the Middle East.’ And he kind of looked up and smiled and said, ‘I like that.’ That was reason enough for Jesse.”

Despite all the benefits of E85 as a way to reduce consumption of oil, Moffitt acknowledges that “price is always going to be a deciding factor for a lot of people.” But expand the argument to the overall economy, and E85 makes even more sense.

“It’s still an excellent bargain, and it’s still a fuel that helps support our local economy,” he said. “When you purchase E85 instead of gasoline, not only are you helping to prevent about, on average, 5 tons of air pollutants going into the air per year per vehicle, but more of that dollar that you spend is going back into your community, it’s going back into the farming communities, it’s going back to the local retailers, it stays here in the U.S. And of course E85 has the great ability that gasoline doesn’t: We can grow more. … it’s made right here in the Upper Midwest; it’s an American-made product. I see no reason why, if you have a flex-fuel vehicle, and this fuel is available, why you’re not using it.”

Moffitt4“Even here in Minnesota, there are those who doubt, but that’s their choice. We want to make sure they have a choice. We want to make sure that, for the first time in 100 years, Americans have a choice at the pump … if they want to stick with traditional gasoline, that is their choice. But wouldn’t it be great if we all had a choice to pick something else, something that was cleaner, made in America, and didn’t support countries that don’t like us so much?”

Ethanol can be made from many “feedstocks,” not just corn. Whatever is nearby and abundant is the best source for fuel to be made and sold domestically.

Tell us about what you’re doing to make the switch to alternative fuels: Leave a comment or e-mail us at [email protected]

Bryce (NY Times) and ethanol: The whole truth and nothing but the truth

E85 pumpWhat’s up with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research? While I often don’t agree with the scholars who write for it, I find its articles and books thoughtful and provocative.

My question concerning the Institute derives from a desire to build a now absent civil dialogue concerning policy issues affecting the U.S. The Institute, when a reasonably informed national dialogue on policy existed, was an important participant. Now, that it has been lost, the Institute’s agenda and body of work offers hope that it can be resurrected someday soon. In this context Robert Bryce’s article in today’s New York Times, “End the Ethanol Rip-Off” concerns me. His article is filled with factual and interpretative errors that skew his conclusions concerning the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Bryce asserts that corn ethanol is responsible for significant environmental problems particularly related to land use, harvesting and processing fuel. He also states that it generates higher food costs, and that it damages small engines. Finally, according to the author, ethanol’s price has been and is generally higher, much higher, than gasoline. The only thing he left out is that ethanol is the cause of global warming, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unemployment, the trial and tribulations of Miss America contests and bouffant hairstyles in Texas.

No fuel used now in America is perfect. Certainly, the DNA of gasoline, which Bryce seems to champion, is much more harmful to the environment, and the nation’s need to reduce GHG emissions. Gasoline use also reflects significantly more public health problems and continues the nation’s dependence on imported fuels.

Let me try to summarize some of the facts that Bryce overlooks or does not seem to know:

  1. Although a cleaner burning fuel, E10 (10 percent ethanol) blended with gasoline does result in a small energy content gap that requires a purchase of additional E10 gasoline to secure mileage equivalency. But, up until recently, the lower price of E10, compared to gasoline, has more than made up for mileage differentials and slowed down the upward trend of the price of gasoline and put downward pressure on prices.
  2. E85, which the author does not mention, has been approved by the EPA for certain vehicle classes. Like E10, its use does result in lower mileage per gallon when compared to gasoline and also results in more mileage per BTU. The mileage gap is lower than the gap that Bryce indicates in his article. Again, before the decline of gas prices , the gap was more than made up by the lower costs of ethanol and its’ increased efficiency.
  3. There is no real consensus on the food vs. fuel debate. The World Bank has changed its position on this globally over the years and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has suggested that if there is a negative effect on food, it is very minor. Indeed, while the food vs. fuel argument has not yet been settled, most experts agree that increased oil prices contribute to increased food prices. The food vs. fuel argument has reflected an “on the one hand, on the other hand” dialogue. Perhaps more relevant, particularly with respect to corn, there are land use and processing techniques now being introduced that would mitigate possible problems. Certainly, corn is not in short supply and the price of corn to the consumer has not spiraled up significantly.
  4. The author also neglects the fact that natural gas- and cellulosic-based ethanol (as well as other feedstocks) maybe on the horizon. Investors have delayed involvement, primarily because of uncertainty concerning the market and gasoline prices. Its advent will likely lessen food vs. fuel issues and help lesson environmental concerns.
  5. Bryce suggests that ethanol, (again, he refers to E10 in his article), has a negative effect on engines. Most of the independent analysis of the impact of ethanol on engines, E10 as well as E15 and E85, suggest differently. The EPA has approved the sale of each blend with certain vehicular limitations with respect to E 15 and E 85.

Bryce spends much time talking about the cost to the consumer of ethanol and the so-called ethanol tax. Curiously, given his location in the Manhattan Institute, he neglects to mention the significant cost to the consumer of the failure of oil companies to open up the gasoline market to alternative fuels like ethanol. Try going to a “gas” station to buy E85 or to charge your electric vehicle. Good luck finding one near your home or easily on a long trip. Through tough franchise agreements, oil companies eliminate competition around the nation. I suspect the imputed tax caused by the oil companies’ monopoly or almost-monopoly position is quite higher, much higher, than the tax that Bryce suggests results from ethanol use. The Institute should pay for a copy of Adam Smith and give it to the author.

Bryce’s article does not really contribute to a needed transparent debate over Renewable Fuel Standards or the wisdom of alternative fuels. It mixes up concepts and facts concerning energy content, car performance and efficiency. It sweeps over serious issues with respect to food vs. fuel and the environment with a broken brush or broom. Its conclusion concerning ethanol and implicitly other alternative fuels is inconsistent with his assumed anti-regulatory position and belief in the market place. We need such a debate, one that reflects a comparison between alternative fuels such as ethanol and gasoline as well as one that accommodates a needed transitional strategy between alternate and renewable fuels.

 

Photo Credit: East TN Clean Fuels Coalition