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Friday, June 17, 2005

Friedman makes misleading fuel claim

A piece by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman runs in today's Chronicle, claiming that 500-mile-per-gallon cars are just over the horizon:
Imagine, though, if the government encouraged, through tax policy and other incentives, every automaker to offer plug-in hybrids? We would quickly move down the innovation curve and end up with better and cheaper plug-ins for all. Then add to that flexible-fuel cars, which have a special chip and fuel line that enable them to burn alcohol (ethanol or methanol), gasoline or any mixture of the two. Some 4 million U.S. cars already come equipped this way, including from GM. It costs only about $100 a car to make it flex-fuel ready. Brazil hopes to have all its new cars flex-fuel ready by 2008. As Luft notes, if you combined a plug-in hybrid system with a flex-fuel system that burns 80 percent alcohol and 20 percent gasoline, you could end up stretching each gallon of gasoline up to 500 miles.
The extra miles, of course, come from simply replacing gasoline with alcohol. It's not as though each gallon of fuel will get you 500 miles down the road. Here's an analogy: you're running a lemonade stand. Someone tells you, "I can give you 10 gallons of lemonade out of that one lemon." Wow, that'd be cool. How do we do it? "Just squeeze the lemon into a big tub, and add 10 gallons of Country Time Lemonade." Yeah, thanks, Tom. Government mandates in favor of alcohol-based fuels would become a massive subsidy to farmers, who already make their livelihood largely on the taxpayers' nickel.

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