Leading fuels-focused groups see alternative fuels as key players in a net-zero environment.

 

By Keith Reid

The electric vehicle buzz is inescapable. From international political centers to state governments, there seems to be a rush to not only work toward low-carbon goals but to ban internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). Numerous automobile manufacturers have announced an EV-heavy to EV-exclusive vehicle strategy, with aggressive timelines. Even “oil majors” are rushing to deploy electric charging solutions—and not just at their traditional stations. Shell, for example, is looking to provide charging from the home to the street curb to “stations of the future” that resemble large, EV-heavy travel plazas.

So, what’s driving this push? Low carbon has seemingly been replaced, at least for now, by net-zero carbon. While this may be more aspirational than practical (depending on the mechanism used to balance out the “net” portion), it is driving a range of initiatives. And it has pushed EVs to the forefront of transportation’s environmental focus.

“There is the belief that we must take dramatic measures to reduce carbon emissions from transportation to prevent human influence on climate change,” said John Eichberger, Fuels Institute executive director. “Corporations are getting tons of pressure from investors that have tangible environmental, social and governance (ESG) plans to reduce carbon from the transportation space. They are getting pressure from their boards. And the governments are saying that this is what you must do to satisfy our interests. And so, they’re pushing it, and they hope to make money from it.”

This also seems to be driving one upmanship in both the corporate and political spheres. On a more practical note, automakers have realized that as EV technology matures, the cost to produce a car is going to be less because, as a recent Bloomberg article noted, EVs require one-quarter fewer employees to manufacture.

Meanwhile, the traditional fuels industry prefers that carbon goals be met with as many effective options as possible, including environmentally appropriate liquid fuels and gas products. This approach goes beyond supporting traditional member needs—it appears far more practical as well.

EVs will certainly achieve notable market penetration as the years pass, with estimates from Bloomberg that 27% of vehicles on the road in 2040 will be EVs. However, an EV-dominant transportation policy beyond that in either scope or timeframe is enormously challenging. EVs themselves are not environmentally pure from the production of the batteries to the sources of electric generation to charge them. Nor have consumers or fleet operators had a full say in the technology, as the accompanying functional and financial impacts and cultural shifts have yet to materialize in direct, real-world ways.

With that in mind, here is how some of the leading fuels-focused organizations see their solutions’ place at the table in a technology-neutral, low-carbon environment. We excluded hydrogen for this go-around, as that fuel is seen as aligning with EVs for the commercial side.

 

American Petroleum Institute

Focus: Oil and natural gas industry

Federal and state-level policy proposals promoting electric vehicles are an increasingly popular approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in U.S. transportation, but these “one-size-fits-all” potential solutions may have unintended consequences for U.S. consumers and global climate progress.

Internal combustion engine vehicles are about 99% cleaner for most tailpipe emissions compared to vehicles in 1970, and studies show that ICEVs and EVs produce comparable emissions on a life-cycle basis.

Collectively, our members have worked with automakers and invested billions of dollars to make fuels cleaner. Over the past few decades, improvements to ICEVs have contributed to carbon dioxide emissions reductions from the transportation sector, and the fuel economy of new vehicles has increased 29% since 2004. There continues to be room for major improvements to ICEV efficiency for years to come.

As the energy and transportation sectors continue to innovate, consumers must continue to be able to choose the vehicles that meet their range, flexibility and cargo capacity needs—and policymakers should avoid interventions that disrupt the marketplace in ways that are unfair and unhelpful.

Our shared goals for environmental progress can be best achieved through free markets as opposed to market-distorting mandates, subsidies or the imposition of unrealistic emissions or sales targets.

There is room on U.S. roadways for every type of powertrain, including EVs, to help achieve common societal goals, but the cost of mandating or subsidizing EVs and their supporting charging infrastructure, should not be passed along to everyday taxpayers and consumers who may not want to use the technology.

 

Renewable Fuels Association

Focus: Ethanol producers and distributors

Ethanol can and should play a central role in the effort to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and “net-zero” ethanol is on the way.

According to a recent life-cycle analysis, the Renewable Fuel Standard has resulted in significant GHG reductions, with cumulative CO2 savings of 980 million metric tons since 2008. These GHG reductions are due to the greater than expected savings from ethanol and other biofuels.

The Biden Administration has made it clear that low-carbon renewable fuels like ethanol have a role to play, and we’ve seen support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in several ways, especially with its attitude toward the Renewable Fuel Standard and small refinery exemptions. The fact that the EPA switched its position on the 10th Circuit Court decision limiting SREs is telling, as well as its commitment to more transparency in the waiver process.

Likewise, President Biden’s plan for re-entering the Paris Agreement includes low-carbon renewable fuels as a strategy for helping to achieve a 50-52% economy-wide reduction in net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030.

On the policy side, we work across party lines to promote legislation that recognizes the important role low-carbon ethanol can play in a net-zero future. We see the Renewable Fuel Standard as the one existing framework that has done the best in reducing GHG emissions, and we were the lead petitioner in the 10th Circuit decision against EPA to ensure the RFS would be protected from wholesale exemptions. Above and beyond the RFS, we have supported a proposed low-carbon fuel standard, like the one that has been in place in California for 10 years.

On the research side, the Renewable Fuels Association has supported research like the study noted above, tracking ethanol’s greenhouse gas reductions since the Renewable Fuel Standard was first implemented.

 

Diesel Technology Forum

Focus: Clean diesel engines, fuel and technology

Diesel is the most energy efficient internal combustion engine, and it is the dominant technology powering more than a dozen sectors of the global economy. Simply by replacing older diesel technology—particularly pre-2011 model year heavy-duty on-highway trucks—with newer diesel technology is yielding substantial environmental benefits.

Research the forum just completed shows that new technology commercial diesel trucks on the road from 2007 through 2020 reduced CO2 by 202 million tons, NOx by 27 million tons and reduced diesel consumption by 19.8 billion gallons. Last year, 500,000 new commercial trucks went into operation with the majority of these being diesel powered, so today 49% of all commercial trucks in operation are the newest, most fuel efficient and lowest emitting diesel trucks available.

Further, the use of biobased diesel fuels, which include biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel, can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, as is proven in California where biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel used in diesel vehicles reduced more than three times the greenhouse gas emissions as did electric vehicles.

Research also shows that in 11 Northeastern states, a switch to using biodiesel or renewable diesel fuels would reduce between three and 17 times as much greenhouse gas emissions than the planned introduction and uptake of zero-emissions trucks from 2020–30.

Vehicle manufacturers—both light and heavy duty—are fully embracing a zero-emissions future and are working to put in place the right mix of policies and incentives to boost the development of new fuels and technologies and incentives for customers to buy them. This means the market share for diesel technologies in the future will probably be declining in some sectors but remain dominant in others.

It is also important to highlight the forecasts showing that, in our case, diesel will continue to be the dominant technology in heavy duty trucks for at least the next two decades. That is why continued investments in diesel technology will occur and are critical to delivering sustained clean air progress.

We need to approach solving this climate change challenge as one that is so big and complex that it will take many solutions, and that includes gas and diesel improving from today and continuing to be a part of the mix, along with renewable fuels and these future technologies as they come online.

 

National Biodiesel Board

Focus: Biodiesel producers and distributors

Made from a variety of sources such as oilseed co-products, animal fats and recycled cooking oil, biodiesel and renewable diesel are some of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly fuels on the planet.

A study by the U.S. Department of Energy demonstrates that the fuels reduce carbon emissions by an average of 74%. While reducing greenhouse gases helps us with our long-term climate goals, another recent study conducted by Trinity Consultants looked at the health benefits of switching to 100% biodiesel in the transportation and home heating oil sectors for 13 U.S. communities. The study found switching to biodiesel would lead to 340 fewer premature deaths, 46,000 fewer sick days and $3 billion in avoided health-care costs. Since the study examined the effect on just 13 communities, the results are truly the tip of the iceberg.

The conversation in Washington, D.C., and in statehouses is focused on reducing carbon emissions, and we continue to spread the word about the benefits of biodiesel and renewable diesel. We want policymakers to understand that our homegrown fuels are a drop-in solution that lower carbon today—not years or decades from now. And, at the same time, our fuels support domestic fuel security and are creating thousands of U.S. jobs.

As the national trade association representing the biodiesel and renewable diesel industry, we have a multiprong approach to educate the public and policymakers on the benefits our fuels offer. Our federal affairs team is in close contact with congressmembers and their staff, as well as regulators. Our state team helps to support new fuel standards like the ones passed earlier this year in Washington, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. At the same time, our technical and environmental science teams ensure that we stay on top of the latest industry developments. Most importantly, our members—farmers, fuel producers and others—hail from nearly every U.S. state and help to educate their friends, neighbors and customers about the many benefits of our fuels.

 

National Propane Gas Association

Focus: Propane retailers and the producers and marketers of propane appliances, equipment and transporters

Propane autogas is an affordable fuel playing a critical role in the low-carbon economy. This isn’t in the distant future. Conversions to propane autogas are reducing carbon emissions and preventing the release of smog-causing pollutants today. For example, since converting its Island Explorer tour buses to propane autogas two decades ago, Acadia National Park has reduced carbon emissions by 27 tons and prevented the release of 41 tons of pollutants, compared to diesel. To maximize this impact, a propane industry priority is expansion of the propane autogas market. Steve Kaminski, NPGA president and CEO, sees opportunity in the current bipartisan congressional infrastructure legislation.

Across the country, school districts use propane autogas buses not just for environmental benefits or a quieter ride but for the affordability. Delivery trucks, police cruisers, paratransit vehicles and ambulances are all frequently fueled by propane autogas.

Worldwide, propane autogas fuels 23 million vehicles and is the most prevalent alternative fuel. Wider use of propane autogas is needed to achieve aggressive carbon reduction goals in the United States.  Currently, there are nearly 200,000 propane vehicles on American roads, including about 20,000 school buses.  By advocating for three critical programs—the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit (ATFC), National Alternative Fuels Corridors (NAFC) and Clean Corridors Program (CCP)—NPGA plans to ramp up the presence of propane autogas vehicles on the road.

ATFC is a tax incentive that makes propane autogas more affordable and encourages the long-term adoption of propane autogas vehicles. ATFC will expire at the end of 2021, but NPGA is working to secure a long-term extension to maximize the environmental and economic benefits.

NAFC requires signage along highways directing drivers to alternative fuel refueling stations. The CCP is similar, proposing grant funding for alternative refueling and charging stations along the nation’s highways.

 

NGVAmerica

Focus: Producers, distributors and marketers of natural gas and biomethane

Ultra-low NOx medium- and heavy-duty natural-gas-powered trucks and buses on our roads today perform at levels that are 95% below the federal NOx standard and 98% below the federal particulate matter standard. When fueled by renewable natural gas recovered from landfills, wastewater treatment facilities and food and agricultural waste digesters, these trucks and buses deliver carbon neutral or carbon negative emissions in even the most specialized real-world applications.

The latest data from California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program demonstrates how clean and low carbon these heavy-duty, high-fuel-use vehicles truly are. For the first time ever, last year California fleets fueled with bio-CNG were carbon negative, based on an annual average carbon intensity score of -5.845 gCO2e/MJ.

California’s RNG mix is increasingly decarbonizing. According to California Air Resources Board data, the average carbon intensity of bio-CNG sold in California in the fourth quarter of 2020 alone was -26.11, making renewable natural gas the lowest of any in use motor fuel, including fully renewable electric from wind or solar.

We believe that climate change is cumulative: The longer we wait, the harder it gets to solve, and no single solution exists that will magically fix everything. A successful green transportation strategy is one that all of America can buy into and from which every American fleet can benefit. Flexibility, commercial availability, scalability and affordability are key.

Vehicle emission regulations must be amended to recognize the benefit of combustion vehicles operating on low-carbon fuels. Current regulations make no allowance for the fact that emissions do go down when vehicles are operated on low-carbon fuels. This puts these affordable and clean technologies at a significant disadvantage to vehicles that have zero tailpipe emissions but not necessarily zero life-cycle emissions. This is unfair, unwise and must be addressed to provide a level playing field, well-to-wheel and mine-to-mile.

Combatting climate change is not an individual sport; we all contribute in some fashion, and policies must ensure that we all can be part of the solution regardless of what we do or where we live. Since fleet needs are not all the same, differing clean powertrains are required for differing real-world applications.

 

Keith Reid is editorial director of Fuels Market News and editor-in-chief of Fuels Market News Magazine. Contact him at kreid@fmnweb.com.