Monday, January 28, 2008

Can Flex-Fuel Cars Break OPEC?

Robert Zubrin says yes.


robert merkel said...

Bob Zubrin is a clever guy. If we do a crewed Mars mission in our lifetime, it will probably be based on his ideas - which include using a nuclear reactor to synthesize fuel for the return mission out of the Martian atmosphere.

That said, I think he's probably barking up the wrong tree here.

Aside from the dubious economics, there's several technical issues which makes this alternative less likely.

If you're going to make liquid fuels from coal for OPEC-busting, the process of making diesel from coal is not very different to making methanol, and there are already car and truck engines in mass production using the stuff.

As an extra bonus, diesel engines are much more efficient than spark-ignition engines because of the much higher compression ratio.

In any case, this doesn't solve the problem of carbon dioxide emissions from combustion, which are highly likely to be the subject of regulation soon.

For what it's worth, my best guess is that plug-in hybrids with increasingly long all-electric ranges, hopefully powered by nuclear electricity, will become increasingly commonplace through the 2010s.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the flex-fuel cars use E85, which is nominally 15% gasoline (for cold start) and 85% Ethanol. But it does not matter, you can make also Ethanol or Butanol from coal, or CO2 as feedstock.
With dedicated Ethanol/Methanol engines the achievable efficiency is actually HIGHER than the efficiency of diesels.
With a high temperature reactor as process heat source the "mine to wheel" efficiency would be higher than either hydrogen fuel cell or battery electric. And it is doable with the existing liquid fuel infrastructure and without much retooling the existing car fleet.
Also gets away from the rising commodity prices for battery or fuel-cell materials.

- Klaus