Brazil is oil independent, indeed, is an oil exporter, because its consumers have a choice of fuels at the pump. Most of the cars in the country, and nearly all in urban areas, can run on anything from a 20 percent/80 percent ethanol/gasoline blend up to 100 percent ethanol. And consumers decide which blend to use at the pump. When sugar prices are high, the consumer can choose more gasoline and vice versa. To accommodate the blended fuel mandate, every major automaker builds cars for Brazil that are flex-fuel vehicles. Consequently, about half of the fuel consumed in Brazil is ethanol.
China, on the other hand, faced with a similar dependence on imported oil, increased air pollution and a vertiginous increase in demand, is turning to methanol. Methanol can be cheaply made from natural gas, biomass (including garbage) and coal. Reports say that a number of provinces and municipalities in China already use a 15 percent blend of methanol and gasoline. In the U. S., methanol prices range from $1.15 to $1.38 per gallon. Even with less energy per gallon than gasoline, methanol is much cheaper on a miles per dollar basis than gasoline. Methanol is also cleaner from a carbon and conventional pollutant standpoint and does not contain benzene, toluene or xylene, additives to gasoline, which the EPA has identified as toxic.
The U.S. has abundant supplies of natural gas, corn and cellulosic products, and can credibly be called the Saudi Arabia of garbage. Following Brazil’s and China’s examples, we could replace most, if not all, imported oil with cheaper, cleaner American-made fuels.