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July 18, 2006

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Hydrogen does not make sense, and neither does ethanol. Unsubsidized, the cost is far too high, even when produced from cellulosic sources (President Bush's 'switchgrass'). Ethanol is favorably considered because it is a liquid, and thus would not require a significant infrastructure changeover.

But if you want to obtain energy from plant matter, the only practical answer is renewable methane. We are already doing this now, just look at the network of gas pipes arranged atop our landfills. BTU for BTU, one obtains twice the energy when converting biomass to methane compared with the production of ethanol.

Methane is already a part of our infrastructure as it is the primary component of natural gas. Natural gas powered vehicles are not particularly common, but 250,000 of them are on U.S. roads today, and the technology is fully mature. Even given the extra cost and volume of compressed gas tanks, biomethane would be a much less expensive alternative than a pure or nearly pure ethanol fuel.

That and the development of plug-in hybrid vehicles could usher in a technically feasible and cost-effective vehicle that would have the performance that the consumer desires and still be able to be economically fueled from domestic sources.

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