Gas prices this summer are expected to top $5.00 a gallon, meaning that it will take more than $80.00 to fill an average midsize car’s tank. And if a family has more than three children, and therefore needs a vehicle that seats more than 5 people, that single fill-up cost can run to nearly $100.00.
In response, there has been a plethora of finger pointing. Oil industry executives and elected officials battle over whether price gouging or politically motivated decisions banning domestic oil drilling are at fault for the never-ending rise in gas prices. But despite the constant rhetoric, the price keeps going up.
The debate now includes ethanol, the fuel made from corn. That discussion includes evidence that diverting the tons of corn necessary to produce adequate amounts of ethanol from food to fuel is resulting in near-starvation conditions in third-world countries.
What is missing from the public debate is a discussion of coal-generated methanol. In fact, California terminated a state-wide flex-fuel program using methanol after 25 years and 200,000,000 miles of success. This despite the fact that methanol derived from coal is priced at less than $2.00 a gallon.
The US Department of Energy has funded several projects on the feasibility of converting coal to methanol, and has been reporting success in those projects since the 1990’s. A May 2003 report by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security states that “clean coal technology processing plants, making co-products of electricity and methanol, could simultaneously meet the needs of local communities for dispersed power, transportation fuels and manufactured chemical products.”
In other words, methanol-from-coal offers a real solution to the rising cost of gasoline. The new Clean Coal technologies have already solved the pollution questions that used to surround coal-refining processes. And while there are still issues that must be addressed, such as the capital costs of creating the production facilities, the initial demonstration projects are beginning to find cost-effective solutions.
United States coal reserves, many of which are located in Pennsylvania, are estimated to be about 4 trillion tons. That means that with just United States coal, we could produce 1 million barrels of methanol EVERY DAY for the next 20,000 years, according the Governor’s Ethanol Coalition (an interesting admission since this Coalition is dedicated to promoting corn-based ethanol).
Using United States coal eliminates American dependence on foreign oil, and many of its attendant foreign policy ramifications. Coal is not a food product, so there is no “starvation” side effect. The United States could potentially be an energy supplier to the world, instead of an energy consumer.
So it would seem reasonable for a citizen to wonder why no one is hearing anything about methanol, or why California was encouraged to stop its successful methanol project in favor of the more-expensive, less-effective ethanol. It would seem reasonable for us to ask why those running for office continue to point fingers and make accusations at each other and the oil industry instead of promoting a possible and economical solution that not only addresses the cost of gasoline, but the underlying problem of American dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Given this information, a reasonable person might begin to wonder if producing abundant and economical fuel and securing American energy independence is not really the agenda.