Right now, 97 percent of the cars on America's roads run on gasoline. Only three percent are Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) — automobiles that can be powered by either gasoline or alcohol fuels, or any mixture of the two. The additional cost to make a new car an FFV is only about $100 per vehicle
For the sake of individual security, the government mandates that all cars have seat belts. For the sake of national security, Dr. Zubrin proposes, the government should mandate that all new cars be FFVs.
In three years, the change would put 50 million FFVs on the road. The free market would then mobilize to do what it does best: Entrepreneurs would compete to produce alternative, non-petroleum fuels for these potential customers.
Dr. Zubrin expects those fuels to be made from alcohol: ethanol and methanol. Ethanol is made from agricultural products, from plants of all kinds. Methanol can be made from biomass — even biodegradable garbage — as well as from natural gas or coal.
Ethanol can be produced right now for $1.50 a gallon; methanol for 93 cents a gallon. Dr. Zubrin expects the first generation of alternative fuels would be high alcohol-to-gasoline mixtures. These would provide better mileage while still dramatically reducing dependence on petroleum.
The key is you'd be free to choose: You could buy gasoline as you do now or you could buy fuels made mostly of alcohol, giving less money — and hence less power — to Iranian mullahs, Saudi clerics, and Venezuelan despots.