Biofuel groups tell EPA ethanol can reduce vehicle GHG emissions

By Erin Voegele | September 27, 2021

Representatives of the U.S. ethanol industry are calling on the U.S. EPA to recognize how low-carbon, high-octane ethanol can reduce transportation greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its proposed rule to set revised GHG emissions standards for model year (MY) 2023-2026 light-duty vehicles.

The EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation on Aug. 5 released a proposed rule to set light-duty vehicle GHG emissions standards through 2026. The rulemaking does not currently address biofuels or a high-octane standard.  

The proposed rule aims to revise the SAFE Vehicles Rule finalized by the Trump administration in March 2020. That rule replaced CAFE and GHG emissions standards put in place by the Obama administration. President Biden directed the EPA and DOE’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to revise the existing CAFE and GHG emission standards through an executive order issued in January 2021. 

The proposed rule would set an industry-wide target of 171 grams of CO2 per mile, or a 52 miles per gallon (mpg) equivalent, for model year 2026 passenger cars and light trucks. That is more stringent than the 205 grams of CO2 per mile, or 43.3 mpg, standard put in place by the current SAFE rule. A previous rule put in place in 2012 would have set the standards at 177 grams of CO2 per mile, or 50.1 mpg.

Representatives of the ethanol industry called on the EPA to address high-octane, low-carbon fuels as part of the proposed rule during an Aug. 25 public hearing. Representatives of the industry also submitted written comments to the agency ahead of the Sept. 27 deadline.

In its written comments, the American Coalition for Ethanol urged the EPA to recognize ethanol’s role in reducing vehicle GHGs and improving fuel efficiency as it crafts its final rule. “ACE members believe ethanol can and should be an even bigger part of the solution to climate change, but this depends upon the Administration’s willingness to engage us on ethanol’s role as a low carbon fuel through policies such as the Renewable Fuel Standard and the topic of this request for comments; how to reduce GHG emissions from future vehicles,” wrote Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE.

“Many leading ethanol producers are on a trajectory to both net-zero and net-negative lifecycle emissions in the not-too-distant future. If the overarching goal is net-zero emissions by mid-century, let’s start making progress right now by taking full advantage of the 15 billion gallons of domestically-produced ethanol available today as an affordable way to boost octane and meaningfully reduce GHG emissions from gasoline powered engines.”     

ACE is encouraging the EPA to take four specific actions in the final rule. First, ACE is calling on the agency to establish a minimum research octane number (RON) rating for fuel in the range of 98 to 100 RON, with 25-30 percent ethanol and provide automakers with a corresponding certification fuel for engine testing purposes. Second, rather than focusing on electric vehicles (EVs), ACE wants EPA to take a technology-neutral approach that provides automakers with incentives to produce flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) and vehicles designed to achieve optimal efficiency and reduce emissions on high-octane ethanol blends. Third, ACE is asking the EPA to reinstate the 0.15 FFV multiplier or establish an incentive that is on equal footing with the EV credits in its proposal and establish a similar credit for vehicles designed to run optimally on midlevel blends of ethanol. Finally, ACE is urging the agency to adopt the latest GREET model assessment of the lifecycle GHG emissions of corn ethanol.

In its comments, Growth Energy is calling on the EPA to expand biofuels use to reduce GHG emissions. “We appreciate EPA’s work to reshape the nation’s transportation mix to make it more sustainable — this is a central driver for our industry as well,” wrote the association in its comments. “Vehicles and fuels operate as a system and liquid fuels will continue to play a dominant role in the transportation sector for decades to come, even as alternative fuels flourish. As such, it is imperative to consider the vital role that environmentally sustainable fuel options such as ethanol will play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the current and future vehicle fleet. It is also imperative to consider full lifecycle emissions of all vehicle and fuel technologies to accurately evaluate the profiles and the benefits of vehicles using different fuels and energy sources.

“Ethanol is the most available and affordable means to immediately clean up our liquid fuel supply. Recent data from Environmental Health and Engineering show today’s corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 46% compared to gasoline and can provide reductions of up to 70% with the use of readily available technologies. Ethanol’s other environmental benefits are also noteworthy. As has been researched, the use of more ethanol and ethanol-blended fuel reduces air toxics such as carbon monoxide, benzene, and other harmful particulates.”