DOE Official Calls on Automakers to Increase Flex-fuel Vehicle Availability
April 28, 2006
Biofuels Syposium - The Hon. Alexander Karsner
April 28, 2006
National Press Club, Washington, DC
I wont speak long today; after all, where does one begin? Not much can be added to the forcefulness and commitment and leadership that is being demonstrated by the President of the United States on the subject of biofuels.
Let me start with the Presidents pragmatism, sense of urgency, and moral clarity:AMERICA IS ADDICTED TO OIL.
If we accept the premise that addictions are unhealthy and counterproductive and a danger to our vitality, then we can realistically begin to address the core problem with seriousness and sense or national purpose and urgency the situation merits.You all understand the problem, and though you may have varying perceptions on the degree of its impacts or the depth of the addiction, it is clear that we have an obligation to aggressively seek to get beyond it.
We owe our freedom and our standard of living to the industriousness, sweat, blood and battles of generations past, and we are no less obliged, today in the face of current challenges to pass on this legacy to our children and grandchildren. I know you join me in connecting that responsibility to this challenge.
I am confident, that like most Americans, rudely awakened five years ago when those towers fell, that you took a deep breath, re-examined your priorities and your life and recommitted yourself to the important things, and a voice whisperedor perhaps even shoutedwithin; I will make a difference; this country will prevail.
Nothing contributed more to my decision to join this administration; and Ill bet few things contribute more to your attendance here and your dedicated efforts to grow this domestic fuels industry.
Petroleum is perhaps the largest global industry. And as the largest consumer in the global industry, it may perhaps seem daunting at times, that we Americans have sufficient capacity and the necessary will to diversify away from foreign sources of energy with a substantial enough effort to make a real difference.
In fact, I believe the will, if not the aspiration, has existed ever since the first Arab oil embargo and price shocks of the early 70s, awakened us to the reality that America had begun to lose its leverage over its own energy economics.
Some have become resigned to the idea that in the name of global economic interdependence, we have no choice in the matter. Indeed, they might argue that our children are destined to have their economic fate tied to the reliability of unstable regimes and extreme autocratic and theocratic ideologies.
I am not a believer that this great nations fate must be bound to the present energy paradigm of petroleums diminishing returns, and I am grateful that Americas great energy pioneers were not stuck on the present either; however compelling the status quo may seem.
Franklin and Edison and Einstein and Oppenheimer never accepted that the status quo, which served them well in their lifetimes, was best for the future; and neither must you.Creativity and agility matters.
All the more so during a time of war and this has been demonstrated time again in our national history. When the very young Teddy Roosevelt, as Secretary of the Navy sought to build the Great White Fleet, he understood that the coming petroleum economy, doubted by most, would become a decisive factor in global logistics and Americas capacity to project power and ensure continuous global trade and commerce.
When the young Churchill introduced radical ideas to retrofit and remake the British Admiralty, only a century ago - in my grandfathers lifetime - he met enormous resistance and ridicule. Yet both these men, on separate sides of the Atlantic, helped enable this new fuel source and make it commonplace; and arguably their early instincts to pursue new technology and fuels paved the way for victory in two world wars and a cold war that defined the twentieth century and ensured the prevalence of freedom in our world.
And so the President and Secretary Bodman are challenging you and me and the entire nation, in the great tradition of bringing America together around a common cause, to act on your instincts now. To exercise your professional experience for this national purpose; and to dedicate yourselves to relentless pursuit of economic viability and growth of those domestically grown sources of biofuels that will displace our dependencies and addictions with a new era of economic growth, international security; environmental health; and personal freedom.
As of today, I have been at the Department of Energy for exactly one month, and I can tell you with certainty that few things occupy my time more than addressing this issue. We approach this national addiction, knowing that its cure will ultimately emerge from the forces of free markets and free enterprise. In the case of encouraging and supporting growth of biofuels, that means focusing on producers, distributors, and vehicle manufacturers.
During my first week on the job, I traveled with Secretary Bodman to Detroit, where he addressed the leaders in the automotive industry with this direct challenge. He said, the Department of Energy will continue to convene all stakeholders (including the leaders in this room) to move forward and analyze our oil addiction with a sense of national purpose
He continued, MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE. We need to have more flex-fuel vehicles on the market of ALL vehicle types and classes. And we need to have them available from ALL manufacturers who serve the US market.
In the days since, I have met with representatives from the automotive companies that are responding to the Secretarys call to action and I am quite proud that we have begun a candid, open, and I believe sincere dialogue on how we may chart a course to a 100% flex fuel and biodiesel capable fleet of vehicles for American consumers.
While these discussions are ongoing, I want to thank both Daimler Chrysler and General Motors and Ford for being amongst the first to recognize this opportunity and indeed, this duty, to step forward and make a difference. I also recognize the strong strides Volkswagen has made on diesel engines penetrating the US market and I look forward to growing our relationship with them and other foreign car manufacturers interested in helping this country grow its biofuels economy. As their recent announcements demonstrate, these companies, and perhaps soon their counterparts, will make voluntary commitments to have an increasingly large proportion of their North American sales include flexible fuel capability to burn ethanol up to E-85, or alternatively biodiesel. Although they will be well ahead of the market penetration curve on fueling distribution, the ability to reliably be assured of a uniform, geographically distributed market for domestically produced biofuels, will provide an enormous demand pull incentive, so that government may focus more exclusively on the supply-side of the equation.
There remains more work to be done in coming weeks, and I appreciate the voluntary cooperation we are receiving to realistically plan for 100% penetration, and I want to use this occasion to cordially invite those car companies that have yet to begin thinking this way (or perhaps have yet to take as aggressive an approach) to engage the Department of Energy on this basis.
Thats a good segway to point out our top folks from my office are here and I have great confidence in my colleagues and their sense of mission and I hope you will take the opportunity to introduce yourselves to (if you dont know them already): Doug Faulkner, Richard Moore, and Doug Kaempf .
We are united on this with the Secretary and the President and we are here to serve you all as we pursue an important era of change together.
Assuming, our market for biofuels becomes universally predictable and reliable, at low cost in short order, it is both possible and predictable that our already exponential, record level of growth in bio-refining will continue and potentially accelerate its pace.
The present era of growth is marked by the fact that we are primarily exploiting corn as our feedstock and that the primary demand is for fulfilling the needs of blenders. We should expect that we will be growing to satisfy this demand on the back of historically proven, but increasingly efficient conventional ethanol for some time to come.
As you are aware, this too is an area, where the Department of Energy is applying itself, with substantial increases in investment towards research, development and deployment that will lead to alternative feedstocks being added to the fuel base with increasing levels of both capacity and efficiency in the conversion process. Cellulosic ethanol, as highlighted in the Presidents State of the Union address, means we will ultimately be able to convert wood chips, stalks, and switchgrass into advanced fuels, and the President has challenged us to make cellulosic ethanol affordable within six years.
Biodiesel is immediately available to substitute for conventional petroleum-based diesel in cars, trucks, buses, farm equipment, and earth movers. Like ethanol, it is renewable, domestic, and both stimulative and supportive towards the rural economy. We will apply our attention to better and more consistent standards and certification to amplify its growth and market acceptance.
We are working closing with our friends at the Department of Agriculture on all these issues and to explore new market-based mechanisms to invigorate the economy of the heartland with new sources of income and profitability based on growing our way to energy independence and environmental health.
Though they are still nascent, these biofuel industries are booming, with more than 35 new biorefineries under construction this year alone, and no slow down in sight. We will seek to capitalize on this trend in new production on a real time basis, and be catalytic to the market penetration rates of new outlets of distribution, involving both independents and majors downstream.
It should be our common goal that biofuels, including E85 become a nationwide fuelling option, and we in the Department of Energy will be relentless in pursuing all the possibilities of enhancing the rate of market penetration and availability of these proven options for substituting clean burning, cost-effective renewable fuels for todays unsustainable gasoline dependency.
I think of it this way: the technology, economics and opportunity across all aspects of the biofuels economy are on our side.time, however, is not.
Our obligation to you is to be committed, candid, and credible public servants; to work with you openly in the face of the great challenges that confront us.
We seek to be catalytic, iterative, and relevant to your efforts and bring the best of public-private partnerships and cooperation to the fore.
We will not in the next 32 weeks, or 32 months remaining in this administration, be able to fully unwind more than 35 years of growing dependency and oil addiction;But we will work, with urgency, as never before, and exert federal leadership in this collaboration with you, so that my children and yours may say:
At the dawn of the third American century, in the wake of greatest attack our nation has ever suffered at home; people of all professions, people of all parties, people of goodwill came together in a determined way and we made a vigorous start.