Frequently Asked Questions
What is Fuel Freedom Foundation, and what does it do?
Fuel Freedom Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that brings together entrepreneurs, policy and environmental experts, philanthropists and former energy-industry insiders, all mobilized behind a single mission: to break our addiction to oil and open the market to cheaper, cleaner, American made fuels. The Foundation’s strategy to achieve this goal is to drive market and policy changes that will force gasoline to compete on a level playing field with other types of transportation. You can learn more about Fuel Freedom at www.fuelfreedom.org
When you say you’re in favor of fuel choice, what does that mean?
It means that consumers should have the right to choose what fuel they put into their tanks — be it ethanol, methanol, natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells, electricity, biodiesel, or whatever — based on their vehicle and their budget. Fuel choice is only possible if we create wider access to those fuels.
Why is the price of gasoline so consistently high?
Most drivers don’t have the option to use anything other than gasoline, refined from crude oil, in their vehicles. Laws of economics show that competition in any given market drives down prices. High oil prices make recovery methods like deep-sea drilling and oil-sands extraction profitable. We might have a plentiful supply of shale oil, but it’s expensive to produce, keeping gasoline prices high. Another factor influencing the price of oil is the uncertainty of supply when there is unrest in oil-exporting countries like Iraq and Libya. This can cause the price to spike because oil-importing countries buy up more oil in anticipation of a future shortage. This cycle makes our addiction to oil more costly.
How does the high price of gas affect the overall economy?
Drivers have had to put up with the price of gas for so long they might be starting to take for granted that this is just the way life is. It’s effectively a crushing tax on working families. The high cost of gasoline eats away at household budgets, taking money away from other pursuits, like buying clothing, travel and taking the kids to the movies. When the price of gas experiences a large spike, prices for all goods as well as food and anything transported by truck rise substantially. Oil’s virtual monopoly on transportation also saps our nation’s wealth, and makes our economy vulnerable to oil-price shocks. Ten of the 11 U.S. recessions since World War II were preceded by a spike in the price of oil.
How much oil does the U.S. consume?
The United States accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume about 20 percent of the oil that’s extracted. Without it, our economy would cease to function. We consume about 19 million barrels of crude a day, roughly the same as we did before the 1973 oil crisis that created nationwide gasoline shortages. We produce about 9 million barrels a day. To make up for our shortfall, we import oil from about 80 different countries, with Canada as our top supplier. About one-third of our oil imports come from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel consisting of 12 nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Venezuela.
Aren’t we in the middle of an oil boom? And won’t that solve our oil problems?
In 2014 the United States overtook Saudi Arabia as the world’s top producer of oil and liquids separated from natural gas. Thanks to a huge jump in production in shale- oil formations in Texas and North Dakota, U.S. output now exceeds 11 million barrels a day of those products. Ultimately, however, this is just one factor in the market price for Oil. Crude is an international commodity, and the price is set on the global market. The world consumes about 90 million barrels of oil a day, and developing economies ￼like China and India demand an ever increasing share. China now has the world’s No. 1 car market, and citizens there see cars as a pathway to the middle class. In addition, the oil we’re finding at home is expensive to extract. When global demand increases and there is less cheap oil to go around, prices rise accordingly.
What about all that untapped oil in Alaska and offshore?
Untapped offshore oil costs almost $100 per barrel to extract and refine, while in Alaska the costs exceed $100 a barrel. These operations are only profitable as long as oil prices remain sky high, and will do nothing to relieve the pain Americans feel at the pump. Further, as the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico showed, the more difficult oil is to reach and extract, the higher the chance of a disaster that could cost human lives and bring extensive environmental damage.
How would reducing dependence on oil improve our national security?
Reducing our oil dependence will improve national security in three major ways: First, it will limit the need to send our sons and daughters overseas to secure oil interests in far-off and dangerous regions. Second, it will obviate the need to devote 30 percent of the U.S. defense budget to protect the flow of oil around the world. Third, it will reduce the power and influence of nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, which often exhibit values that run contrary to our own.
Can’t we solve our energy problems with solar, wind and nuclear?
Those renewable resources are used for electricity generation, to turn on lights and run appliances in homes and businesses. You can’t use solar, wind and nuclear for vehicle propulsion, unless you drive your wind-powered sailboat or nuclear-powered submarine to work.
What about electric cars?
We think plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) and gasoline-electric hybrids are great, but even with sales brisk, they represent only a fraction of the U.S. car market. If we all drove electric vehicles, we could achieve fuel freedom right away. But the EV industry is still working to build cars that have longer battery life. Also, many models are out of the price range of ordinary Americans. About 250,000 EVs have been sold domestically, 1 percent of all cars on the road here. We’re still decades away from transforming our national fleet of vehicles to all-electric. Replacement fuels are the bridge to that future because they can be used in the cars we drive now.
Do we have other options besides gasoline or electric?
Yes, lots of them. Alcohol fuels like ethanol and methanol can be made from many different feedstocks, including crops like corn and sugarcane that are grown on a mass scale. Those fuels can also be produced from biomass (algae, yard clippings, grass), waste products or natural gas. Natural gas can be a transportation fuel all on its own in the form of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Hydrogen fuel cells, propane (known as Liquefied Petroleum Gas) and biodiesel also show promise.
How are replacement fuels better for our health and the environment?
When gasoline combusts, energy is released, but other substances are emitted too, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. The average American car emits about six tons of carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas, every year. Reducing our reliance on oil by using cleaner-burning replacement fuels would result in less carbon being sent into the atmosphere. Vehicle emissions also are the prime component of air pollution, particularly in urban areas. Although air quality has improved dramatically in recent years, it’s still bad enough to elevate the risk of asthma (especially in children), as well as heart disease, preterm births and autism.
Can I run ethanol in my car right now?
Yes. In fact, you most likely have ethanol in your gas tank right now. That’s because 95 percent of gasoline sold in the United States is E10 (meaning it’s a blend of up to 10 percent ethanol and the rest gasoline). This shift began in the 1990s, when ethanol was first blended into gasoline at low levels, to improve performance and reduce emissions by raising the fuel’s octane rating. The evidence shows that blends containing higher concentrations of ethanol, including E15 and E85, can be used in the vast majority of cars and light-duty trucks from the model year 2001 and newer. And of course, all vehicles labeled flex-fuel can run on ethanol or gasoline. Find out whether your car is flex-fuel here .
What are flex-fuel vehicles?
Flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) are made to run on gasoline, ethanol, or any combination of the two fuels, up to E85 (which actually contains between 51 percent and 83 percent ethanol). You can usually tell a flex-fuel vehicle by those words printed on a badge, attached to the rear of the vehicle or a yellow gas cap. There are almost 20 million FFVs on the road in the U.S., including cars, light-duty trucks and SUVs. Many of those drivers aren’t even aware they can put ethanol blends, up to E85, in their tanks. Millions more vehicles could potentially be converted to run on ethanol blends through a simple tweak to their on-board computers, allowing the fuel systems to run efficiently on less energy-dense ethanol.
Find out whether your car is flex-fuel here .
How efficient is ethanol compared with gasoline?
Ethanol is more fuel efficient, but it produces worse mileage. No, that’s not a typo. Ethanol burns more efficiently than gasoline, meaning a higher percentage of the energy in a gallon of ethanol is used when powering the vehicle. However, ethanol has only two-thirds the energy content of gasoline, as measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). This means that, even though a larger portion of the energy in gasoline is ‘wasted’, a gallon of gasoline will still get you somewhere between 15 and 30 percent farther than the same amount of ethanol.
If I’m getting worse mileage, how is that going to save me money?
To break even buying ethanol, it really needs to be 15 to 30 percent cheaper than gasoline. Of course, ethanol is cheaper in some places than others, depending on availability and local taxes. Ethanol tends to be a lot cheaper at independent filling stations, where the owners aren’t contractually bound by a particular oil supplier, and thus have the freedom to purchase their supply from anyone. Opening the market, in which ethanol can compete freely with gasoline and is widely accessible, will help drive prices down even further.
If we already drive on E10, what is E15?
In 2011, the EPA approved E15 for sale. It is available in about 80 stations around the United States, mostly in the Midwest. Stations are not required to offer E15, but more and more are choosing to make it available for drivers who want it, and whose cars are equipped to run on it. About two-thirds of vehicles for the 2015 model year are approved to run on E15, according to the manufacturers. In order to avoid mistakenly putting E15 into an older vehicle that shouldn’t take it, pumps for E15 are labeled with clear signage, and often the meter and even the nozzle are in a different color.
Will E15 ruin my car?
The short answer is, in most cases, unequivocally no. The longer answer is slightly more complicated: The EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy dedicated countless hours and dollars toward testing the effects of E15 on engines, and the research showed that any car from model year 2001 or newer could safely run E15. However, this means that cars before model year 2001, as well as motorcycles, should not use E15. Boats, ATVs and lawn mowers should not run E15, either, because those engines are fundamentally different than a car’s. As long as your vehicle does not fall under any of those criteria, your car is not at risk with E15.
Why are motorcyclists so against E15?
The American Motorcycle Association has rallied its members to oppose making E15 available to all consumers, even those who drive cars, largely because of concern that riders will mistakenly put E15 in their tanks. There’s little evidence that E15 will ruin a motorcycle’s engine. But just to be safe, the EPA says E15 is not approved for older engines (cars or bikes), and smaller engines, like the ones that run motorcycle. As for the concern over misfueling, E15 pumps are clearly labeled, often with a different color scheme, or they’re housed in a separate “island” in the same way diesel fuel is clearly marked at stations to prevent drivers from putting it in their unleaded-only tanks.
What is ethanol made from?
Ethanol can be made from a wide variety of feedstocks, including but not limited to: biomass (sugarcane, corn, wheat), cellulose (plant residue, wood residue, waste products), and fossil fuels (natural gas and coal).
But most ethanol is made from corn, right?
Currently, the vast majority of ethanol produced in the United States is made from corn. However, in Brazil, where ethanol makes up nearly 40 percent of the fuel used in cars and trucks, sugarcane is the main feedstock. This works for Brazil because of the massive quantities of sugarcane they have at their disposal. Corn, while plentiful in the United States, is not as widely available as sugarcane in Brazil. Countries should use whatever feedstocks they have a lot of. In the U.S., that could mean producing ethanol from natural gas, a resource we have in abundance.
How can I trust what corn ethanol proponents say? Isn’t that whole industry promoted by big industrial farmers, who are generously subsidized by the government?
While it’s true that claims about a product from the industry that produces it should be weighed in context, there are two important things to remember when considering ethanol as a replacement fuel: First, Big Oil is also heavily subsidized by the government and has an interest in discrediting ethanol to maintain its share of the fuel market. Second, corn farmers aren’t the only proponents of ethanol. Sugarcane ethanol turned out to be a tremendous success story in Brazil, helping that country vastly reduce the amount of oil it had to import. In Brazil, drivers can choose whatever ethanol blend (what they call “gas” is actually E20) that best suits their vehicles and their budgets. Beyond that, around the world, independent as well as government researchers have produced numerous studies documenting the multiple benefits of ethanol use as a way to displace a portion of oil consumption. Another virtue of ethanol is that it provides better performance; that’s why race-car drivers and even some police officers love driving cars that run on it.
What about the food vs. fuel debate?
It sounds simple: The more corn we use to produce ethanol, the less there is for us to eat. But most of the corn we grow isn’t fit for human consumption anyway; it’s an inedible variety that’s used to make animal feed, ethanol, and supplements. Second, ethanol is a natural co-product of the process used to create animal feed. So if we weren’t using this variety of corn to fuel our cars and trucks, it would be going to waste. Third, for food to travel from the fields where it’s grown to the supermarket where we buy it, it needs to be harvested and transported by vehicles that run primarily on gasoline or diesel. Time and again, it’s been shown that when the cost of oil goes up, so does the cost of food — and all other consumer goods carried by vehicles that are powered by oil.
But didn’t increased ethanol production in the last decade increase food costs?
Oil-industry shills will point to the increase in food costs that occurred at roughly the same time ethanol production began ramping up, but this is an example of correlation without causation. Remember, ethanol production was increased as a response to rising gas prices. In fact, studies by the World Bank and other organizations point to high oil costs as the number one factor for rising food prices. For food to travel from the fields where it’s grown to the supermarket where we buy it, it needs to be harvested and transported by vehicles that run primarily on gasoline or diesel. Time and again, it’s been shown that when the cost of oil goes up, so does the cost of food — and all other consumer goods carried by vehicles that are powered by oil.
What is corn ethanol’s effect on the environment?
There are two aspects to this question: The first concerns the difference in emissions when we burn ethanol or gasoline in our engines. In this aspect, ethanol almost always reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants like volatile organic compounds, sulfur oxide and benzene. The second question relates to the life cycle of each fuel. For gasoline, it’s fairly simple: Petroleum is extracted from the ground and then refined. For corn ethanol, it’s a little more complicated. Corn is grown (absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), and then it’s fermented into ethanol. Over the life cycle of each fuel, the vast majority of studies done by government agencies and independent researchers show a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent or more as long as the corn remnants are properly disposed of and not left to rot in the field — which releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Ultimately, corn ethanol isn’t a perfect, environmentally friendly fuel, but if grown and cleaned up properly, it can bring a significant reduction in both greenhouse gas and toxic emissions, compared with dirtier gasoline.
Isn’t natural gas a fossil fuel too, making it just as bad for the environment?
While natural gas is indeed a fossil fuel, it burns more cleanly than oil, emitting 15 to 20 percent less of the greenhouse gases that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and cause long-term climate change. As long as natural gas is properly captured at the source, its life-cycle emissions are lower than oil as well.
What is methanol?
Methanol is an alcohol fuel that is very similar to ethanol. It’s cheaper and has superior performance to gasoline. Methanol was used in more than 15,000 vehicles in California from the 1980s through 2005, but that promising experiment ended after a sharp drop in oil prices made it temporarily no longer cost-effective. Like ethanol, methanol can be produced from natural gas, biomass and waste products.
What’s your position on fracking?
Fracking involves injecting water and chemicals under high pressure into the ground to free pockets of oil and natural gas that are trapped within layers of shale rock. Use of this technology has brought about a large increase in the volume of oil and natural gas extracted in the U.S. But fracking is controversial, because if done incorrectly, chemicals can contaminate groundwater and even trigger seismic activity. Several regulatory agencies, states where natural gas is extracted, and scientists are studying the concerns, but we need to know more to ensure public safety and health is not at risk. At this point, Fuel Freedom supports methods that allow us to utilize our country’s plentiful reserves of natural gas, but only if it is done responsibly.
Why can’t we just use natural gas itself as a vehicle fuel?
A lot of people do. Some drive cars, like the Honda Civic, that are built to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). You might have seen the telltale blue-diamond CNG sticker on the bumper. Other owners have converted their gasoline-powered cars or trucks to run on the fuel. CNG is an attractive option because it’s generally cheaper, on a gasoline-gallon equivalent basis, than gasoline or even ethanol. Also, there are more CNG filling stations out there than people realize. More and more companies and cities are switching their fleets of large vehicles, like delivery trucks or buses, to CNG because of the savings. However, converting a personal vehicle to CNG requires a new fuel-tank system that can cost thousands of dollars.
Aren’t biofuels just a pipe dream?
Right now, certain biofuels — especially the kinds made from algae or cellulosic biomass — are not economically viable. Just like any new technology, it will take time for them to come down in price enough to become practical. But opening the U.S. fuels market to competition will give these alternatives a boost. Competition always drives innovation.
Does that mean my current car can run on replacement fuels, even if it doesn’t say it?
It varies, but most cars from model year 2005 and on may be able to run on replacement fuels after a software update. Other vehicles from the past decade are likely able to run on replacement fuels as well, but might require some minor hardware changes as well.
Are there any gas stations that sell ethanol in higher concentrations than E10? And if so, how can I find them?
Currently there are more than 2,000 stations in the United States that carry E85, and they can be found using the Alternative Fuels Data Center’s Alternative Fueling Station Locator at this link: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/locator/stations. To compare prices, visit http://www.e85prices.com.
You guys sure are promoting ethanol a lot. Do you have a financial interest in the corn ethanol industry?
Hardly. We consider corn crops the feedstock of the moment, because there’s already a system in place for processing and distribution. But there are several ways to make ethanol, and ethanol is just one of the fuels we’d like to see added to our national menu of choices.
If not money, then what motivates you? And who is backing Fuel Freedom?
Fuel Freedom is a campaign founded by Yossie Hollander and Eyal Aronoff, entrepreneurs and philanthropists who made their mark in the software industry. Now they’ve devoted their passion and expertise to helping the United States — a country that gave them so much — end its crippling dependence on oil. They know that fuel choice would provide a myriad of benefits — from reducing prices, to improving health and protecting the environment to reducing the threat of terrorism around the world.
Why did you choose Josh Tickell — a vocal opponent of fracking — to produce your supposedly non-partisan documentary on fuel choice?
It’s no secret that Josh is opposed to fracking, over environmental concerns. We share those concerns but recognize that fracking is happening; it’s a reality. We might as well take advantage of the opportunities the technology provides, as long as it’s conducted safely. We chose Josh to direct our film “PUMP” because we knew he’d do a masterful job of telling the story behind the oil companies’ decades-long monopoly, and he did it: “PUMP” demonstrates that he’s an amazing artist and storyteller. But we wrote the script.
How much of an economic impact can replacement fuels really have?
The vast majority of the the easy-to-find oil has already been lifted; all that’s left, from the U.S. perspective, is hard-to-get oil in places where we might not want to be drilling, like offshore or in Arctic wildlife preserves where extraction costs hover around and above $100 a barrel, a very high price. Right now, the elevated production levels in the U.S. and elsewhere is barely allowing the world to keep pace with demand. If we can reduce oil to a cheap price and keep it there permanently, the immense power that oil companies and foreign nations have over U.S. sovereignty will dissipate. But to get to that consistently low oil price, we need to replace a portion of the expensive oil with cheaper alternatives.
Why are you making this push now?
History has presented us with a unique opportunity: Natural gas is plentiful and inexpensive. Technology, from electric-car batteries, as well as mobile units that can capture natural gas at the well and process it into fuel, has developed at breakneck speed. It’s true that the price of oil plummeted 60 percent between June 2014 and January 2015, a trend that caught experts completely by surprise. The market is volatile, and prices could easily spike again, and it’s this volatility that threatens America’s fragile economic recovery. Consumers need permanently low gasoline prices, and fuel choice is the best path to get there. Innovation and determination are American values, and they’re needed more than ever to break oil’s grip on U.S. economic life.
Will this revolution require taxpayer subsidies?
No. We’re a big believer that any solution to our oil addiction must be market-based. Such solutions have to make economic sense for suppliers to produce the fuels; for distributors to sell them; and finally for consumers to buy them. We feel that simply by introducing competition among fuels, something the United States has never really had, there will be sufficiently strong demand for the diversified system to function according to market forces. Government handouts won’t be necessary.
How do the ups and downs of gas prices affect the economy?
Various factors can cause the price of oil, and therefore gasoline, to rise and fall without warning. Political upheaval and violence in oil-producing nations, OPEC quotas and the natural laws of supply and demand dictate what the price is globally. Price shocks increase the cost of just about every kind of product that is transported in the U.S. Market volatility also wreaks havoc on family budgets, squeezing disposable income and slowing the overall economy. Consumers need consistently low fuel prices over the long term, and fuel choice can provide stability.
What is corn ethanol’s effect on the environment?
There are two aspects to this question: The first concerns the difference in emissions when we burn ethanol or gasoline in our engines. In this aspect, ethanol almost always reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants like volatile organic compounds, sulfur oxide and benzene. The second question relates to the life cycle of each fuel. For gasoline, it’s fairly simple: Petroleum is extracted from the ground and then refined. For corn ethanol, it’s a little more complicated. Corn is grown (absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), and then it’s fermented into ethanol. Over the life cycle of each fuel, the vast majority of studies done by government agencies and independent researchers show a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent or more as long as the corn remnants are properly disposed of and not left to rot in the field — which releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
Can my car run on replacement fuels, even if it doesn’t have a badge or a yellow gas cap?
It varies, but most cars from model year 2005 and on could be converted to run on replacement fuels with a simple software fix. Other vehicles from the past decade are likely able to run on replacement fuels as well, but might require an EPA-approved conversion kit or hardware modifications.
Are you saying we should stop using oil altogether?
No. We’re not alarmists, warning that the world is running out of oil. It’s not. There are enough untapped oil reserves in the earth to last many lifetimes. It’s a matter of how much is recoverable at a reasonable price. The era of cheap, easy-to-find oil may not last forever. Moving forward, oil will become more difficult and expensive to extract and, to satisfy the increasing global demand, we’ll have to drill in places where we might not want to drill. We know that oil has to be part of the solution, but an open market, in which many fuels compete equally at the pump, will lead to greater price stability for consumers and will have a positive impact on the environment and our health.