Choices, Choices

New group focuses on fuel choice in the marketplace
By Kris Bevill | October 18, 2011

A coalition of biofuel producers, technology providers, cleantech investors and supporting companies have formed a new lobby campaign focused on convincing lawmakers to open the U.S. fuel market to alternative fuels. The campaign, called FuelChoiceNow, supports the deployment of technologies that will enable all types of alternative fuels the opportunity to compete in the consumer fuel space, including methanol, natural gas, electricity and biofuels.

“The only way to free the American consumer from the vicious cycle of world oil price spikes is to give them a choice at the pump,” Matt Horton, CEO of alternative fuel pump retailer Propel Fuels, says. “There are alternatives, but we need to unleash them.”

In response to the group’s introduction to the biofuels community, Advanced Biofuels USA, a biofuels education group and staunch advocate of the advanced biofuels industry, chastised FuelChoiceNow for its inclusion of fossil fuel-derived alternatives in its plan. “This organization appears to have hijacked a biofuels train for non-renewable fossil fuel cargo and has introduced more confusion to a complex topic,” Advanced Biofuels said in a statement.

But Sue Hager, vice president of corporate communications and government affairs for Qteros Inc., a member of FuelChoiceNow, says promoting one specific alternative fuel over another is not the point of the new group, and to do so would be detrimental to the overall mission. “The purpose of FuelChoiceNow is to make the transport system open and competitive to other fuel types,” she says. “By giving consumers a choice, they will pick the winners. We’re not having the right debate if we keep advocating one fuel type over the other. This is one reason for FuelChoiceNow—to elevate the conversation beyond one fuel over another and address the fact that we have a closed fuel market.”

Early this year, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., and three co-sponsors introduced the Open Fuel Standard, a bill which would require auto manufacturers to make 95 percent of the vehicles they produce flex-fuel capable by 2017. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Dick Lugar, R-Ind., introduced a similar bill to the Senate in September, calling for 80 percent of vehicles produced to be flex-fuel capable by 2018. Members of FuelChoiceNow say they agree with many of the objectives introduced in the Open Fuel Standard, but hadn’t publicly endorsed the legislation as of early October.

Brooke Coleman, director of the Advanced Ethanol Council and coordinator of FuelChoiceNow, says while vehicles are certainly key to the consumer’s ability to use alternative fuels, infrastructure is perhaps equally important, and the coalition will devote attention to the need for expanded alternative fuels infrastructure. “It’s a well-recognized chicken-and-egg problem where vehicle makers say, ‘If you make the pumps, we’ll make the vehicles,’ and station owners don’t think there are enough vehicles to change pumps,” he says. “Both arguments are somewhat reasonable. The problem is: one has to change. The easiest and cheapest way to cut that knot is to have automakers make a commitment to putting more flex-fuel vehicles into the space.”

Denmark-based enzyme producer Novozymes signed on to the coalition because it believes consumers deserve the chance to choose what fuel to use in their vehicles and because the cleantech industry will provide much needed jobs to the U.S. economy, says Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. “The formation of this new coalition proves that momentum is continuing to build behind biofuels,” he says. “Novozymes is proud to be working with these forward-thinkers to give consumers more choices when buying a car and filling it up. By freeing our country from costly foreign oil, we are helping consumers and our economy at the same time.”

Other supporters of the group include Abengoa Bioenergy, Agrivida, BlueFire Renewables Inc., Coskata Inc., Enerkem, Fulcrum Bioenergy Inc., Inbicon, Iogen Corp., Mascoma Corp., Osage Bio Energy and venture capital firms @Ventures, Advanced Technology Ventures, Battery Ventures, Craton Equity Partners, Globespan Capital Partners, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Nth Power, Paladin Capital Group and Venrock. 

—Kris Bevill