Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Brazil can teach us a lesson.

The NYT reports that Brazil has found a way out of its dependence on fossil fuel. For the past thirty years Brazil has been trying to get the oil monkey off their backs and they appear to have succeeded. They turn sugar cane into ethanol; a perfect renewable and cheap energy source, which also produces a lot less greenhouse gases. They can get 8 times as much energy out of sugar cane as we do out of corn and they don't have to use fossil fuel to produce it. And they don't waste anything in the process; the residue of the cane stalks is compressed into a juice which is used to generate the energy to make the ethanol and the other byproducts go into the fertilizer to grow the cane; a virtuous circle if I ever saw one.

The coolest thing about the whole thing is their "flex-fuel" motors that allow drivers to turn from ethanol to gas with the flip of a switch. 70% of all cars on the road in Brazil, 1.1 million vehicles by the end of this year, are now run by flex-fuel engines. The NYT quotes Vincente Lourenco from General Motors do Brasil as saying, "motorists liked the flex-fuel system from the start because it permits them free choice and puts them in control." Barry Engle of Ford do Brasil says, "From the consumer standpoint, it’s wonderful, because you get flexibility and you don't have to pay for it."

How about that; freedom of choice for the consumer and cheap energy that doesn't promote global warming? And an added benefit is that Brazil doesn't have to spend trillions of dollars on its military to protect its only source of energy. Why aren't we doing this?

George Bush talks a good game about our need to end our addiction to oil, but he's basically president Gas. As long as he's in office there's not a chance in hell we'll be going down the road to energy independence, but a less oil drenched president in the future might be able to get us to kick the habit. Obviously, it took the Brazilians thirty years to get to this point, but they're not the most powerful nation on Earth, either.

We spent a billion dollars in the sixties to make spaceships to go to the moon, powered by hydrogen fuel cells and computers that consisted metal wires wrapped around a tube with indentations for "on and off" (1and 0). If we could do all that with duct tape and bailing wire, we ought to be able to figure out how to run our cars on plants in this age of super computers and high-tech toothbrushes.


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