I’ve heard a lot of environmental activists advocate a “New Manhattan Project” for
finding an alternative to petroleum. It makes for a really tasty sound bite, which is why environmentalists like to swallow and regurgitate it.
But the parallel is fallacious. The original Manhattan Project had but one purpose: to build a nuclear bomb. It had already been proven on paper that such a bomb was possible; all that was missing was the technological initiative.
There is nothing on paper right now to indicate that there is any realistic substitute for petroleum. And there’s more than one speculative substitute being considered, so it would be impossible to focus on a single solution in the same way. (A better parallel to a government-subsidized alternative fuel project would be the Pentagon project to build rayguns that can be used in the battlefield. After 40 years of research, and billions of dollars, they are no closer to making that idea work.)
All over the country, research is already being done on alternative fuels. Naming this research the “New Manhattan Project” will do absolutely nothing to further its progress. And if somebody actually discovers something, it will not need any government money, because the moneymaking potential of a workable petroleum substitute will draw investment capital faster than you can say “Internet bubble.”