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The glut of natural glass makes it a no-brainer.
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Yossie Hollander suggests manufacturers could locate reforming plants at the terminus of natural gas pipelines, then truck the methanol to gas stations. “It wouldn’t require any new infrastructure,” he says. “You could use the pumps and storage facilities we have now.” At current prices, methanol would sell at the equivalent of $2 per gallon. “You wouldn’t need subsidies,” he says. “The market would take care of everything.”
Is there a catch to all this? Well, yes, there is one. Currently it’s illegal. “When the EPA wrote its regulations for auto emissions it approved only one fuel — gasoline,” says Hollander. “Ethanol makes it into your gas tank because it’s classified as an ‘additive.’ The EPA could easily write new regulations for methanol or classify it as an additive. It’s just a question of getting them to do it.”
Fuel Freedom is running a very smart campaign, enlisting national security experts, free market enthusiasts and environmentalists to the cause. “Methanol burns cleaner than gasoline,” says Hollander. “It would mean a big improvement in air pollution.” With prompting, a bipartisan coalition is currently shepherding the Open Fuel Standard Act through Congress. The law would require automakers to produce cars that can run on a variety of fuels, including methanol. “Right now the auto companies could produce flex-fuel vehicles any time they want,” says Hollander. “Their answer is always that they’ve tried before and nobody wanted to buy them. That could now change.
“The pieces are all in place,” he concludes. “All that’s needed is a shove in the right direction.”
With the natural gas industry wallowing in a glut, leading drillers such as ExxonMobil and Chesapeake are pulling their rigs out of the Marcellus and sending them in search of oil. Some wells are shutting down, waiting for the price to rise again. There’s talk of exporting gas but it’s a long slog. Cheniere Energy just received permission to construct an LNG terminal in Louisiana, but the opening is at least five years away.
So with a surplus of natural gas and a $780 billion annual bill for oil imports, is there any chance that a new methanol industry might resolve both problems at once? It sure looks plausible.
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