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An open-source engine?

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(Read caption) A screenshot from a video on the Set America Free Coalition's website.

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Will the American cars of the future be powered by gasoline, biofuels, natural gas, or electricity? If the Set America Free Coalition has their way, the answer will be "all of the above."

Here's how Anne Korin, the group's chair, sees it: American transportation is subject to a monopoly of oil, which gives OPEC the ability to paralyze a huge chunk of the American economy. In order for the US to be truly independent, oil, she likes to say "needs to be stripped of its strategic value."

But switching all cars to some other fuel source would just swap one monopoly for another. Run all the cars on electricity, says Ms. Korin, and a single falling tree branch could cripple transportation for an entire region. Run them all on biofuels, and a drought could send fuel prices soaring.

"You don't want to go from 100 percent of one thing to 100 percent of another thing," she told me at an energy conference in Washington, DC, Thursday. "You want a system that's resilient."

The solution: an engine that runs on multiple energy sources, an "open fuel standard" platform that allows different fuels to compete with each other.

It's a little like a computer, whose hardware was built without specifying in advance exactly what software can and cannot run on it. Want to surf the Web with Firefox? Opera? Konqueror? Amaya? Flock? It's up to you. Your hardware doesn't discriminate.

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