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Newsweek: Imagine: 500 Miles Per Gallon

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  • Felix Kramer
    The column below by Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, is on page 27 of the current issue of the US edition of Newsweek. It s online at Newsweek
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2005
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      The column below by Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, is on
      page 27 of the current issue of the US edition of Newsweek. It's online at
      Newsweek International and I expect also in the print edition.

      It's the result of the stellar efforts on behalf of PHEVs of Gal Luft and
      others at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. They organized
      the "neocon-green" Set America Free Coalition, which just launched


      Imagine: 500 Miles Per Gallon
      There have been many calls for programs to fund research. Beneath the din
      lies a little-noticed reality—the solution is already with us.

      By Fareed Zakaria
      Newsweek March 7, 2005 issue -

      The most important statement made last week came not from Vladimir Putin or
      George W. Bush but from Ali Naimi, Saudi Arabia's shrewd oil minister.
      Naimi predicted that crude prices would stay between $40 and $50 throughout
      2005. For the last two years OPEC's official target price has been $25.
      Naimi's statement signals that Saudi Arabia now believes that current high
      prices are not a momentary thing. An Asian oil-industry executive told me
      that he expects oil to hit $75 this decade.

      We are actually very close to a solution to the petroleum problem.
      Tomorrow, President Bush could make the following speech: "We are all
      concerned that the industrialized world, and increasingly the developing
      world, draw too much of their energy from one product, petroleum, which
      comes disproportionately from one volatile region, the Middle East. This
      dependence has significant political and environmental dangers for all of
      us. But there is now a solution, one that the United States will pursue

      "It is now possible to build cars that are powered by a combination of
      electricity and alcohol-based fuels, with petroleum as only one element
      among many. My administration is going to put in place a series of policies
      that will ensure that in four years, the average new American car will get
      300 miles per gallon of petroleum. And I fully expect in this period to see
      cars in the United States that get 500 miles per gallon. This revolution in
      energy use will reduce dramatically our dependence on foreign oil and
      achieve pathbreaking reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions, far below the
      targets mentioned in the Kyoto accords."

      Ever since September 11, 2001, there have been many calls for Manhattan
      Projects and Marshall Plans for research on energy efficiency and alternate
      fuels. Beneath the din lies a little-noticed reality—the solution is
      already with us. Over the last five years, technology has matured in
      various fields, most importantly in semiconductors, to make possible cars
      that are as convenient and cheap as current ones, except that they run on a
      combination of electricity and fuel. Hybrid technology is the answer to the
      petroleum problem.

      You can already buy a hybrid car that runs on a battery and petroleum. The
      next step is "plug-in" hybrids, with powerful batteries that are recharged
      at night like laptops, cell phones and iPods. Ford, Honda and Toyota
      already make simple hybrids. Daimler Chrysler is introducing a plug-in
      version soon. In many states in the American Middle West you can buy a car
      that can use any petroleum, or ethanol, or methanol—in any combination.
      Ford, forr example, makes a number of its models with "flexible-fuel
      tanks." (Forty percent of Brazil's new cars have flexible-fuel tanks.) Put
      all this technology together and you get the car of the future, a plug-in
      hybrid with a flexible-fuel tank.

      Here's the math (thanks to Gal Luft, a tireless—andd independent—advocate
      of energy security). The current crop of hybrid cars get around 50 miles
      per gallon. Make it a plug-in and you can get 75 miles. Replace the
      conventional fuel tank with a flexible-fuel tank that can run on a
      combination of 15 percent petroleum and 85 percent ethanol or methanol, and
      you get between 400 and 500 miles per gallon of gasoline. (You don't get
      500 miles per gallon of fuel, but the crucial task is to lessen the use of
      petroleum. And ethanol and methanol are much cheaper than gasoline, so fuel
      costs would drop dramatically.)

      If things are already moving, why does the government need to do anything?
      Because this is not a pure free market. Large companies—in the oil and
      automotive industry—have vested interests in not changing much. There are
      transition costs—gas stations will need to be fitted to pump methanol and
      ethanol (at a cost of $20,000 to $60,000 per station). New technologies
      will empower new industries, few of which have lobbies in Washington.

      Besides, the idea that the government should have nothing to do with this
      problem is bizarre. It was military funding and spending that produced much
      of the technology that makes hybrids possible. (The military is actually
      leading the hybrid trend. All new naval surface ships are now
      electric-powered, as are big diesel locomotives and mining trucks.) And the
      West's reliance on foreign oil is not cost-free. Luft estimates that a
      government plan that could accelerate the move to a hybrid transport system
      would cost $12 billion dollars. That is what we spend in Iraq in about
      three months.

      Smart government intervention would include a combination of targeted
      mandates, incentives and spending. And it does not have to all happen at
      the federal level. New York City, for example, could require that all its
      new taxis be hybrids with flexible-fuel tanks. Now that's a Manhattan
      Project for the 21st century.

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