Rather than relying on an “electrify everything” approach to decarbonization, U.S. policymakers should embrace American-made ethanol as a central strategy for transitioning the energy sector to net-zero emissions, said Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper in his keynote address today at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop.
In his presentation, Cooper outlined the goals of the global “Energy Transition” and noted that many seem to believe electrification is the only way to decarbonize the transportation sector by mid-century. “For many, the ‘Energy Transition’ is simply shorthand for ‘Universal Electrification,’” Cooper said. “But for a number of reasons, a headlong rush into electrification is shortsighted and would almost certainly fail to achieve ambitious carbon reduction goals.”
Cooper summarized many of the challenges associated with a massive, complicated transition of the transportation sector to lower-carbon energy sources. He pointed out that there are more than 278 million passenger vehicles and light trucks in the United States today, and only 3.4 million are plug-in electric vehicles—even with record EV sales in 2022.
“Americans will continue to rely upon hundreds of millions of combustion engines and hundreds of billions of gallons of liquid fuels for many decades to come, even as more EVs enter the fleet,” he said. “If we really care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, we need to start by increasing our use of lower-carbon liquid fuels.”
Cooper called on policymakers to adopt technology-neutral approaches that embrace a diverse portfolio of low-carbon transportation options. Governments and businesses should set stable, predictable long-term greenhouse gas reduction targets, create a level playing field by removing barriers that prevent competition, and then let the marketplace go to work. This sort of approach would stimulate technology innovation, spur creative solutions, and empower American consumers to make the choices that are best for them, he said.
“We are confident that under a technology-neutral carbon reduction program, ethanol and other renewable liquid fuels would flourish,” Cooper said. “Today’s corn ethanol already offers a carbon footprint that is 50 percent smaller than gasoline. And RFA’s members have committed to achieving net zero emissions for ethanol by 2050 or sooner. Ethanol is a low-cost, low-carbon solution that is available today to help kickstart the Energy Transition.”
Cooper closed by pointing out that performance-based carbon reduction policies could lead to creative market solutions like RFA’s new Ford Escape Flex Fuel EV, which was on display at the event. With a full tank of E85 and a full charge of the battery, it can travel about 430 miles, which is about double the range of a comparable battery electric vehicle. And, depending on the carbon intensity of the ethanol used, this vehicle can reduce emissions by about 80 percent compared to a Ford Escape running on gasoline.
“It is our hope that one day soon, after proving the benefits of this technology, consumers will be able to choose a true zero-emissions vehicle that meets their everyday needs and doesn’t break the bank,” he said. “And whether it is a plug-in hybrid FFV, sustainable aviation fuels, green chemicals, or fuel for heavy-duty engines, we remain very confident that ethanol can—and will—lead the Energy Transition.”