OPINION: Lower carbon fuels when? How about now?

By Ron Lamberty, senior vice president, American Coalition for Ethanol | December 01, 2021

With all the talk in political circles and every kind of media about future electrification, and low carbon and zero carbon emission vehicles, there must be a lot of questions going through retail fuel location owners’ and operators’ heads. Questions like, how will I sell lower-carbon fuel? What's it going to cost for me to market lower carbon fuels? When can I start offering lower-carbon fuels? 

Well, as long as you don’t get stuck (as most people have) thinking zero-carbon equals electricity and electric charging stations, the answers to the previous questions can be 1) With the fueling equipment you've already got; 2) $0.00; and 3) Right now.

The fuel that has reduced transportation greenhouse gas emissions in California over the last 10 years under their low carbon fuel standard has primarily been ethanol – the same 10 percent ethanol blends sold out of the same equipment everybody else sells them in across the U.S. and around the world. Those same tanks, lines and dispensers can store and dispense E15 – which is a lower carbon fuel – with little or no modification in most stations (see flexfuelforward.com/flexcheck to find out where your station stands). And since most tanks and lines carry a UL listing saying they’re compatible with all blends of gas and ethanol up to 100 percent of either, with a few upgrades to the above-ground equipment, a retailer can offer E85 which is currently the lowest carbon liquid fuel out there. Because electricity is still produced in ways that produce a lot of greenhouse gasses in most of the country, a vehicle running on E85 today will have lower lifecycle GHG emissions than most electric vehicles in most parts of the U.S.

So why isn’t that being heard from politicians or all over the media? I mean, if we can have lower carbon emissions – now – without having to rebuild the entire refueling structure in the nation, why wouldn’t that be part of all these plans we're hearing? Actually, the answer to that question is frustrating – and kind of weak. Many who support electrification of transportation believe any consideration of any other alternatives will slow down or stop the move to electric vehicles.

As I’ve said to many ethanol supporters – if electricity is better, for whatever it is people want to accomplish with fuels and vehicles – it’s gonna win anyway. If it isn’t, it won’t. In reality, in some situations, electricity will be the best answer. In others, clean liquid fuel will be the choice, and then there's my personal favorite, a hybrid electric flex fuel vehicle, which offers clean electric power along with liquid fuel to eliminate range anxiety.

In the meantime, if folks are serious about reducing greenhouse gasses, lower carbon fuels can help get that job done, and are helping get that job done - right now.