Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Robert Zubrin's New Book: Energy Victory

Robert Zubrin is best known as the President of the Mars Society, author of The Case for Mars and the Mars Direct plan to get humans to Mars, and other space-related work. This past weekend, however, I read his new book Energy Victory, figuring that with the following technical academic qualifications it would be interesting to see what he has to say about achieving energy independence:

He holds a B.A. in Mathematics, a masters degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, a masters degree in Nuclear Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering.

(That's from the Case for Mars link above).

The book is an interesting read, and worth getting. There is a lot of Zubrin's save-the-world style that space advocates are familiar with. It doesn't just cover energy independence as it relates to defeating terrorism, but also many other political and social problems, like corruption, world poverty, global warming, the drug trade, and past wars, all from the perspective of "putting the world on the alcohol standard" instead of the oil standard. Zubrin, as usual, pulls no punches with either (or any) side of the political spectrum. His compliment for one Presidential candidate's policy is "a dwarf among Lilliputans" or something like that. When he's convinced he's right, that's that (sort of like ESAS and NASA Administrator Griffin I guess), but at least he puts up a good argument.

I read the book mainly to learn a bit about the technical side of the energy situation. Zubrin gives an easy-to-read overview of the pros and cons of ethanol and methanol, and he advocates that the U.S. mandate that all vehicles sold in the U.S. be flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) able to run with E85 (85% ethanol), M85 (85% methanol), or gasoline. He makes the case that this would be relatively easy and cheap to implement using existing technology, and would give an incentive for gas stations to offer E85 and M85 (which are currently only offered in scattered locations because most cars aren't FFVs). This would allow investment in more ethanol and methanol production and R&D from countless sources that he describes. It would also provide a lot of help in the political and social areas I mentioned above (you'll have to read the book to see how). Such is his argument, and you can get a taste of it Front Page Magazine, The New Atlantis, and Cosmic Log.

As for prizes, he describes the Set America Free Coalition, which is interested in energy independence, and advocates the House version of a bill based on SAFC ideas. It has measure similar to Zubrin's idea to enforce E85/M85/gas flexibility in vehicles. From Thomas:

(4) FLEXIBLE FUEL VEHICLE- The term `flexible fuel vehicle' means a motor vehicle warranted by its manufacturer to operate on any and all blends of gasoline, E85, and M85.
(5) FUEL CHOICE-ENABLING MOTOR VEHICLE- The term `fuel choice-enabling motor vehicle' means--
(A) a flexible fuel motor vehicle; or
(B) a vehicle warranted by its manufacturer to operate on biodiesel.

(2) SCHEDULE- Not less than 50 percent of each light-duty motor vehicles manufacturer's annual production of passenger cars manufactured on and after January 1, 2012, and before January 1, 2013, and no less than 80 percent of each manufacturer's production of passenger cars manufactured on and after January 1, 2013 shall be fuel choice enabling motor vehicles or alternative fuel automobiles.

This bill includes a series of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Prizes. From The Library of Congress (Thomas):


(a) In General- The Secretary of Energy (in this section referred to as the `Secretary') shall carry out a program to competitively award cash prizes to advance the research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology.

(b) Categories- The Secretary shall establish prizes for--
(1) batteries using nanotechnology for application in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or in plug-in hybrid fuel cell vehicles;
(2) prototypes of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that best meet or exceed objective performance criteria;

... skipping much of the prize section of the bill, including many other categories of prizes ...

(g) Authorization of Appropriations- There are authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary for carrying out this section $50,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2008 through 2011, of which no more than $1,000,000 for any fiscal year may be used for administrative expenses. Funds appropriated pursuant to this subsection shall remain available until expended.

The Senate version doesn't have the provision Zubrin is looking for, but it does have Plug-in Hybrid Electric and Hydrogen Vehicle Prizes. Again from Thomas:


Section 1008 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 16396) is amended--

(1) in subsection (c), by inserting `, including plug-in hybrid and hydrogen vehicle technologies' before the period at the end; and
(2) in subsection (e)(2)--
(A) by striking `$5,000,000' and inserting `$450,000,000'; and
(B) by inserting `, to remain available until expended' before the period at the end.

The hydrogen vehicle concept is demolished in Zubrin's book, by the way.