Newsweek: Imagine: 500 Miles Per Gallon
- View SourceThe 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 realityâthe 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 realitythe 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
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 methanolin 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 tirelessandd independentadvocate
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 companiesâin the oil and
automotive industryhave vested interests in not changing much. There are
transition costsgas 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
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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