Published on April 24th, 2012 | by Glenn Meyers


The Gasoline-Free Future and How to Get There, If Ever

April 24th, 2012 by  

FFVs like the Ford Taurus ran on M85 (85 percent methanol, 15 percent gasoline) in 1996

Since I’ve been reporting on acceptable alternative fuels that smartly divert us from global dependence on nothing but fossil fuels, this recent news from MIT highlighting an auto industry perspective on the proposal for an Open Fuel Standard caught my eye. The spokesman, Toyota’s Tom Stricker, discussed a number of relevant items, including consumer acceptance of flexible-fuel vehicles and the price, the engine that drives most transportation decisions.

What follows is the published MIT story, my emphasis (bold/underline) and comments added between block quotes:

“As gasoline prices continue to remain high, with the nationwide average jumping 19 cents a gallon in March, Americans and automakers alike are investing in alternatives. But what’s the most effective way forward for the auto industry? Toyota’s Tom Stricker gave his take on Wednesday, April 18, during an event at MIT co-sponsored by the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and the MIT Energy Initiative.

“Stricker — the automaker’s vice president for technical and regulatory affairs, and energy and environmental research — focused on a proposal up for debate in Washington: the Open Fuel Standard. The bill would require automakers to phase in cars capable of running on something other than just gasoline, beginning with 50 percent in model year 2014 and reaching 95 percent by model year 2018.

“While it does not dictate what cars should run on — natural gas, electric, hydrogen, biodiesel or a flexible fuel mix — Stricker made clear that at least in the short term the flexible fuel vehicles would be the only likely scenario to meet the mandate. Such flexible fuel mixes would consist of E85 and/or M85 fuels (85 percent ethanol or methanol, respectively, and 15 percent gasoline).”

Let’s steer clear of ethanol for right now, noting this dubious fuel alternative has completely upended the way corn was once a basic food worldwide, and read more from Nobel prize chemist, George Andrew Olah, who co-authored “Beyond Oil & Gas: The Methanol Economy.”

“Advocates of the proposed mandate have claimed that the flexible fuel vehicles would cost only about $100 more per vehicle, that the infrastructure needed to make the change exists, and that we can make them quickly.

““We don’t have to wait for the perfect technology. We can turn this around right now, at little to no cost,” U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a bill co-sponsor, said when the bill was introduced.

“But Stricker believes that to make a very robust vehicle it would cost much more. Showing a page from another automaker’s owner’s manual, it said that the vehicle may not run very well using the fuel mix in cold temperatures and if that’s the case to fill up with gasoline.

“This is what you get when you pay $100 per vehicle for the system,” Stricker said. “From Toyota’s perspective, we don’t want to put products out there that we don’t think are robust and can operate problem-free under any conditions.”

“Stricker estimated the industry-wide cost to be more like $2.5 billion to $5 billion a year to produce, considering the engineering required for adding methanol capability to current flexible-fueled vehicles and meeting future emissions standards.”

Granted, our government once provided subsidies to support the capital outlay of  automobile manufacturers making FFVs for California but the contribution was nowhere even close to the billion-dollar range.

“At that price, Stricker noted, “within about a year you have reached the total investment that the automotive industry has made in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ever. And that’s a vehicle that uses no petroleum, zero emissions. It’s a lot of money and it takes away a lot of resources that could be used potentially more effectively.”

“Along with the steep price tag, Stricker believes we don’t have enough ethanol or the capacity to produce it at the levels we would need. He also said the timeline just doesn’t match up — with the first requirements needing to be phased in for 2014 model vehicles, which Toyota and the rest of the industry finished the plans for a couple years ago.”

Of course nothing has been mentioned about methanol, the fuel used at the Indianapolis 500. Get information from the Methanol Institute.

“Lawmakers and advocates have said the main purpose of the mandate would be to give consumers choices at a time when gas prices are high and will continue to be volatile.

“As any driver who has recently filled up their tank knows, gas prices are simply unsustainable,” said Open Fuel Standard bill co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), when the bill was introduced. “By requiring auto companies to convert their fleets to flex fuel vehicles, we will be giving consumers the choices they deserve.”

“Consumers do seem to like the idea of renewable fuels, with 75 percent recently polled by the Renewable Fuels Association saying they would support requiring automakers to build cars to run on fuel sources other than oil. Whether or not consumers would actually buy renewable fuels for their cars is up for debate. Sticker said no — and brought evidence to back it up. Giving the example of Minnesota — the state with the most number of E85 stations and a significant number of flex fuel cars — Stricker’s data showed that on average the use of E85 per flex fuel vehicle was only 10.3 gallons last year.”

Of note, there is no mention of M85 (85 percent methanol) here, which was regarded as a highly successful FFV program in California for 25 years until it was ended in 2005.

“This is what the real world has told us. Even when the vehicles are available, and the fuels are available, people don’t buy it. And I think the reason is pretty simple. It’s not a good deal for the customers.” Stricker said. “It’s still more expensive than gasoline, even with relatively high gasoline prices.”

California’s former FFV champions might strongly disagree with this.

“What Americans are buying, and in record numbers, are hybrids. Last month, hybrid and electric vehicles saw their greatest share yet of the U.S. auto market. Toyota’s Prius was the runaway bestseller, with the Toyota Camry hybrid coming in second.

Stricker sees these as a better deal, and said focusing on more-efficient vehicles is the number one thing automakers can do to reduce oil consumption and the greenhouse gases that go with it — rather than focusing on solutions that technology could make obsolete before they get implemented.

A lot of past plans, he noted, didn’t pan out “because there wasn’t much thought put into how to bridge that chasm between ‘this is what I think I want in the future’ and ‘this is the bin of technology that I see available today’.”

Judging from the history of the California FFV program, there was an abundance of available technology and contented drivers, even back in the 1990s.

In this era, we need to be more aggressive in demanding fueling alternatives that can blend with fossil fuels and the worldwide supply chain they support. This is really a critical issue. Gas and oil have been here such a long time, helping drive transportation technologies and infrastructures that would have otherwise been impossible. Fossil fuels might never be completely scratched from the lineup. Instead, the best term to keep in mind might be naturally occurring attrition.

Source: MIT News
Photo:  aldenjewell

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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  • Origo1

    Water is the only transportable non-carbon fuel in the world available in the quantities necessary to supplant gasoline and diesel fuel
    Economically, water requires no investment in exploration, drilling, refining, mining, transportation, service stations, and requires no disposal of nuclear waste, or coal fly ash.
    Extracting hydrogen and oxygen from water on board motor vehicles is easily possible using current technology such as photocatalysts, light, and ambient heat to power the process. I have tried to donate a water dissociation system to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy [ARPA-E] of the U.S. Department of Energy, but there is no procedure in place to accept donations, even though CFR title 48 provides for donations. ARPA-E suggested that I apply for a grant. I am a WWII veteran, too old to apply for grants to build the system.
    Readers of Clean Technica know of the progress that has been made during the past few years in generating hydrogen from water.
    Vehicles with internal combustion engines modified to use hydrogen as a fuel will have unlimited range, as will vehicles with fuel cells and electric motors. One pound of hydrogen will combine with eight pounds of oxygen to make nine pounds of water. Instead of carrying compressed hydrogen, five pounds of hydrogen can be carried in forty-five pounds of water.
    Most passenger vehicles will be able to travel one mile on the hydrogen contained in five to eight liquid ounces of water. Honda’s early fuel cell cars carried nine pounds of compressed hydrogen at 5,000-10,000 pounds per square inch [psi] that needed to be replenished after traveling approximately 270 miles. That boils down to 30 miles per pound of hydrogen, or one mile per 1/30th of a pound of hydrogen—the amount of hydrogen in 4.6 liquid ounces of water.
    Any portable water dissociation system should easily extract 1/30th of a pound of hydrogen from a few ounces of water within each mile of travel.
    My water dissociation system uses modules that contain the photocatalyst, light-carrying optical fibers, water, and the means to separate and collect the hydrogen and oxygen. An advantage of using modules is that as new and more efficient methods of generating hydrogen, such as development of more efficient photocatalysts, become available, they can be incorporated into this system simply by upgrading the modules. Most of the other components of the system can remain as they are.
    Water-splitting systems will not pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, nor will it consume atmospheric oxygen. Unlike carbon-based fuels, water is recyclable, it is non-flammable, and it is non-explosive.
    Water-splitting systems have the potential to eliminate the $1 billion dollars per day that the U.S. currently spends on foreign oil in order to run our cars and trucks.
    Water as a fuel source will substantially lower the cost of energy, thus making a positive impact on the U.S. economy. Using water as a source of hydrogen and oxygen, will make it impossible for anyone in the energy industries to hold the U.S. hostage to energy shortages.
    Water-splitting systems consumes no oxygen, and do not exhaust deadly gases. They can be used in submarines and other under-water vehicles, and in mines and subways. The U.S. military forces and civilian agencies could use these systems, without being burdened with the logistics of keeping their machines refueled.
    As nothing is vented to the atmosphere, the result is a quiet system, which is highly important for military stealth vehicles. Also, tanks and other vehicles will leave no heat signatures for an enemy to detect. Heat from hot exhaust and steam is recycled as much as possible, is used where needed, and is conserved as much as possible by the use of insulation.
    Water-splitting systems can be used in basements in homes and businesses to run electric generators. It can be used in manufacturing facilities. In the vacuum of outer space, the would have to be housed in a gas-pressurized, gas-tight container, to prevent the water from flashing into vapor and escaping.
    Those military installations, businesses, factories, hospitals, airports, water companies, schools, and individual homes that generate their own electricity will be free
    of any power outages caused by downed grid lines or grid overload, and they will be much less vulnerable to sabotage by terrorists, and less vulnerable to attacks from worldwide computer hackers.

    • Did you drive your water-powered car to Arlington and park in front of DARPA HQ? Or are you a couple atoms short of a molecule…?

  • Thanks for posting this Glenn. Are you aware of the annual Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo? It’s the largest alternative fuels and clean vehicle technologies conference in North America hapenning May 15-17. You may find it interesting. Agenda and speaker line up for the conference are at Since you mentioned the Methanol Institute in this post, they are participating in ACT Expo in addition to others from across the alternative fuels spectrum.

    Let me know if you’d like to attend and I’ll get you a media pass. Send an email to or call us at 888-993-0302.


  • Donllaw

    Lets not throw out Ethanol please see

    • Glenn R Meyers

      I will visit your gasohol site. Thanks

  • Newpapyrus

    I’m all for flex fuel vehicles but we already know how to convert methanol into gasoline which would make the purchase of such vehicles unnecessary.

  • Dcard88

    If ever”?

    Not sure what 2018 has to do with ‘ever’. The latest hybrids from Toyota are already half way there. We just need a better battery, which could take 5 years or 20 years, but it would make no sense to downplay the likelyhood that we will have acceptable batteries within some useful time frame. I’m not suggesting we wont need short term solutions, but I think next gen hybrids will be much better than some M85 or E85 fuel.
    by 2015 we will likely have cheap hybrids that get 50+ mpg.

    • Glenn R Meyers

      Talk about what non-renewable resources we will use to produce said batteries.

      • Dcard88

        Certainly another obstacle to overcome, hopefully in the near future.

      • Not quite sure what you mean, Glenn. A a solar & wind/battery/car combination will require a great deal less resources than the current oil/refinery/car combo. A carbon neutral feedstock/methanol/car will require resources to acquire feedstocks and produce and distribute methanol and due to the energy losses in making the methanol and the lower efficiency of burning methanol in an internal combustion engine as opposed to an electric motor, will require more energy input. A competitive methanol fuel cell would improve this, but still not make them equal to batteries in energy costs, and we don’t have these fuel cells yet.

  • Hah…please just ignore the complete COMMITMENT of nearly every technological nation on earth to Hydrogen Fuel Cells.

    KIA in 2012 is delivering these vehicles to Europe.

    Germany, Norway, England are building hydrogen highways.

    These countries are also generating their hydrogen renewably with solar and wind and storing it for use in the electric grid.

    The Hydrogen Economy has begun…it is the one “common language” of fuels that can be made by a guy in his garage, or a conglomerate with a solar cell farm and cost effectiveness.

    • Bob_Wallace


      Hydrogen generation is an inefficient use of electricity. EVs are extremely efficient.

      The electricity distribution system is already in place. A guy does not need to purchase and install equipment in his garage to make ‘EV fuel’; just use the outlet that is already on the wall.

      Hydrogen would mean that infrastructure would need to be created for 100% of all vehicles. We need only to install some rapid charge points along travel corridors and additional outlets at parking spaces to complete the existing electrical infrastructure,

      Unless EV batteries fail to become affordable (unlikely) and/or fuel cells become extremely inexpensive (also unlikely) then hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will not survive.

      • There is no battery infrastructure “in place”.

        There is a gas station on every corner of every major intersection, and it would be no problem to add a hydrogen pump.

        We already product enough hydrogen to power 110 million fuel cell cars!

        And unlike unworkable batteries, it takes 3 minutes, not 3 hours to refuel a hydrogen tank!

        • Ross

          The gas station doesn’t have a long term future in the urban landscape. You exaggerate the difficulties of batteries and the charge times.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Current battery technology allows for an 80% to 90% recharge in less than 20 minutes.

          Currently almost all our hydrogen comes from natural gas. That’s not the green way to go.

          To use hydrogen we would need to build an immense amount of hydrogen infrastructure. That will happen only if EV batteries don’t drop to about $250/watt and increase about 50% in capacity.

          BTW, the Honda home hydrogen generator takes about nine hours to generate enough hydrogen to drive a FCEV about 70 miles.

    • anne

      I live in Europe and I have never seen a hydrogen refueling station, nor is there any hydrogen vehicle on sale. I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but it seems you think rhetoric can compensate for the fact that the much hyped hydrogen economy is going nowhere.

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