Tickell's New Ethanol Film Rings the Bell for Energy Freedom - Movie Review +VIDEO
Veggie Van Man Joins the Pro-Ethanol Band
By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher
THE AUTO CHANNEL
Several years ago, as we at The Auto Channel opened our eyes to the potential of alternative fuel and energy sources, we championed the entire suite of domestic solutions: wind, solar, compressed natural gas, propane, alcohol (ethanol and methanol), electric, the variety of algae-based fuels, and even some really exotic ideas such as compressed air-powered motors. We liked them all.
At the earliest stage we also subscribed to the common notion that there was not one single bullet solution to ending our energy dependency by replacing gasoline. However, as my business partner, Bob Gordon, and I delved further into our studies on the issues we realized two key things: First, that maturation of some of the solutions, like electric, was decades away from practical reality. Moreover, battery production and the dependence upon rare earth elements from foreign sources to make the batteries left us in the same vulnerable supply position as dealing with the OPEC terrorists.
The second key point was that supporting a myriad of solutions was actually tantamount to inaction because it insured that nothing would get done. We came to understand that the main advocate for multiple solutions was the petroleum oil industry itself. If nothing would be accomplished in finding a serious alternative to gasoline it means that the oil and gasoline producers would remain in firm control of the world’s economies.
As we learned more and more we recognized that there really is one single bullet solution: alcohol. That’s right; a couple of good stiff drinks can make you forget all about the energy crisis.
Just joking. I wanted to make sure you’re paying attention.
In all seriousness, I’m referring, of course, to ethanol and/or methanol, both of which are produced by distilling alcohol. Bob and I were extremely fortunate to make the acquaintance of some very experienced and knowledgeable ethanol proponents, most notably David Blume (permaculture expert and author of “Alcohol Can Be A Gas”) and Ted Chipner, president of Ohio BioSystems Cooperative.
This isn’t to say that CNG or propane are not also important candidates in their own right to be single bullet solutions, but you have to keep in mind that even gasoline is not truly a single bullet fuel source; we still need diesel to power heavy vehicles and large stationary machines, and home heating oil or gases are needed for residential uses. So the so-called single bullet only really refers to the primary fuel used to power the overwhelming number of vehicles on the road: passenger cars, light trucks and motorcycles. And if we can decide on one fuel to replace gasoline for these vehicles then everything else would fall into place because our domestic supply of petroleum oil would be more than adequate to provide us with all the diesel we need; particularly when we add in or replace petroleum oil-based diesel with bio-diesels. And as the supply of domestic natural gas and propane increases, home heating oil becomes unnecessary.
The reason we settled into alcohol as the single bullet alternative solution is because it can be produced anywhere, by anyone from a wide assortment of raw materials, and it can be used immediately at one level or another without harm or costly engine conversions in nearly every gasoline-powered vehicle on the road today. Heck, it can even be used to power the small internal combustion engine in a Chevrolet Volt that’s used to extend the Volt’s range and provide power assist during high speed traveling. CNG and propane don’t offer this inexpensive flexibility.
Okay, so how does all the foregoing figure in to writing a review of Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s new full length motion picture about ethanol? Simple, because the story is also about Josh and Rebecca’s transformation as vegetable oil and algae biofuel prophets to ethanol enthusiasts. And the metamorphosis happened in much the same way that it did to Bob Gordon and I (as well as to well known actor-environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr.).
I first met Josh and Rebecca in September 2009, before they were married and while they were just beginning their cross-country tour to promote their first movie, “The Fuel Film.” The focus of that film was the use of algae to produce biodiesel. They converted a Toyota Prius to run on the biofuel, and used the vehicle as their prototype of what could be accomplished. This message and their stop at the California State Capitol was the subject of a full episode of our TV show “RoadTrip” (Watch the complete RoadTrip episode on The Auto Channel website).
Interestingly, while Josh and Rebecca made a very good case for using algae to produce the oil product needed to create biodiesel they didn’t discuss the possibility of using algae to create alcohol for ethanol. Their interest was biodiesel and they were sticking to it. Although we (interviewer Mark Fulmer and I) were partial to ethanol we didn’t complicate the interview with our predisposition because algae does indeed have fantastic potential for different fuel types so there was no need to rain on their parade.
Coincidentally, about two weeks after the interview with Josh and Rebecca, I received an invitation from David Blume to go down to Los Angeles to observe and then interview him and Ed Begley, Jr. as they installed an ethanol sensor kit on Ed’s Prius electric-gasoline hybrid car (thus allowing Ed to use up to 100% ethanol so that he would have a Toyota Prius capable of never needing any gasoline*).
This was rather big news because anytime that I had ever heard or videotaped Ed talking about alternative fuels at conferences and expositions he talked about electric power. In fact, the first question that I asked Ed in the interview was why he shifted from supporting electric to supporting ethanol. Ed’s honest reply was that he had previously been given bad information about ethanol. He had believed that its use could cause engine problems and that its production was causing world hunger and high food prices. However, he told me, that from what he learned from David Blume and his own independent research that those preconceptions were indeed misconceptions. (You can also watch this “RoadTrip” episode in its entirety on The Auto Channel website)
As I stated earlier, Ed Begley, Jr.’s conversion to being an ethanol exponent mirrored our change and he was a welcome addition to the pro-ethanol parade.
So you can imagine my great surprise when I received a call from Josh Tickell’s producer in late 2010, asking me if I would come down to Los Angeles to talk with Josh and Rebecca about a new movie that they were producing about ethanol. It turned out that like Ed Begley Jr. they started learning more of the truth about ethanol and their alt-fuel allegiances were being reconsidered.
Naturally, I said yes and consequently spent a few hours with them one afternoon talking about what we at The Auto Channel know about ethanol and my personal experience in using ethanol in place of gasoline in both flex fuel and non-flex fuel vehicles. We covered a lot of ground; from alcohol taxation issues, to how bootlegging resulted in the creation of stock car racing, to fuel subsidies, to the history of General Motors’ invention of leaded gasoline in the early 1920’s (which essentially ended the arm wrestling contest between ethanol and gasoline), to other and better raw materials to use to make ethanol (better that is, than corn).
At the end of the session I wished them well and hoped that they would do at least as good of a job on this film as they did on the prior movie.
Well, I am delighted to tell you that they didn’t just do as good of a job in producing “Freedom,” they took it to a whole new level. This film is terrific. Josh and Rebecca took a lengthy, complicated subject and distilled it down (pun intended) to a bit over 90-minutes. Most people - particularly the anti-ethanol crowd - believe that gasoline became the dominant engine fuel because it was more efficient or because it packed more energy per gallon. But nothing is further from the truth. Gasoline became the dominant fuel because General Motors was able to make billions from their leaded gasoline patents and because John Rockefeller spent millions to bribe politicians into voting for prohibition, which made it illegal to produce alcohol. “Freedom” tackles these points, and much more.
The film was beautifully shot and includes a number of very clear graphics to help explain many of the finer points. One of the things I liked best about the film is that they actually interviewed two of the most well known critics of ethanol, David Pimentel from Cornell University and Tim Searchinger from Princeton. These two guys have been responsible for creating some of the most egregious lies and half-truths used to deter ethanol acceptance. The film follows up by exposing the oil industry funding Messrs Pimentel and Searchinger have received in addition to providing correct information that refutes their erroneous contentions.
Similarly, Josh and Rebecca underscore the oil industry’s efforts to hire professional public relations assistance in creating information that denigrates the value and potential of ethanol. This was the most humorous part of the film. As a marketing guy with more than 40-years of experience, I have seen a lot of exaggerated promotional claims. The BS invented by the oil lobby and its PR people goes above and beyond mere competitive puffery. They have been engaging in Josef Goebbels-quality poison propaganda.
Another positive aspect of the film is that it presents interviews with individuals from all sides of the political spectrum, as it should because this is not a Republican vs. Democrat or capitalist vs. socialist issue; this is an issue of getting all of us off the addiction to petroleum oil and gasoline. It is an issue of economic health and wealth. Included are interviews and statements by Robert ‘Bud’ McFarlane, former National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan; James Woolsey, former CIA Director under Bill Clinton; Congressman Jay Inslee; Congressman Brian Bilbray; and Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and current presidential hopeful; Ed Begley, Jr. also appears in the movie.
The film begins by recapping the horrors of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster (another intended pun), and Josh explains his and Rebecca’s discovery of ethanol as the only serious near-term solution to the energy crisis. He basically repeats on film what he told me in person, and what Ed Begley, Jr. said some 15 months earlier.
Of course, as concise and comprehensive as this film is, there’s so much additional information to be learned about the benefits and potential of ethanol. However, it’s a great place to start and to get a pretty darn good overview of the subject.
If there’s one thing that I wish “Freedom” included, it is an interview with David Blume or Ted Chipner, or both. I say this not just because I feel they are entitled to a ‘tip of the hat’ for all that they’ve done to explain and promote ethanol, but because I think its important for people to know that the fight to replace gasoline with ethanol didn’t just start with the BP drilling platform explosion or this film. Virtually all of the auto industry’s early pioneers considered ethanol to be the superior fuel, including Henry Ford and the two top GM scientists who were responsible for inventing leaded gasoline. Great forces have been at work for more than 100 years to enslave us to gasoline. Breaking the chains will require the effort and determination that can only be mustered by understanding just how badly and how long we have been duped.
The Auto Channel completely endorses and recommends “Freedom” for audiences of all ages and political persuasions. “Freedom” can be purchased via many of the usual online outlets or directly from the film distributor at www.thefreedomfilm.com.
Watch the official FREEDOM film trailer