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Studies: Low-Carbon Fuel Standard, Flexible Fuel Vehicles Reduce More GHG Emissions Than Electric Vehicles

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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Two new studies commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association found higher greenhouse gas emissions reductions could be achieved by using more E85 in the existing flexible-fuel vehicle fleet, or by setting a national low-carbon fuel standard than from mandating electric vehicles. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- A pair of new studies sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association found that expanding the use of E85 in existing flexible-fuel vehicles or setting a national low-carbon fuel standard, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than the Biden administration's tailpipe emissions standards that rely on electric vehicles.

The first of two studies conducted by the Southwest Research Institute in Texas, found that a nationwide low-carbon fuel standard for light-duty vehicles would lead to "larger and faster reductions in greenhouse gas emissions" than EPA's recently finalized tailpipe emissions standards that essentially mandate the use of more electric vehicles.

"Lowering the carbon intensity of liquid fuels can reduce CO2 emissions faster than (electric) vehicles can displace the existing fleet," the study said.

With a modest fuel carbon-intensity reduction of just 1.25% per year nationwide, the study said, "the cumulative CO2 benefit from 2027 to 2032 would be 77% larger than required by the EPA standards." The study said "this CO2 benefit could be achieved with a dramatically smaller on-road BEV (battery electric vehicles) fleet" than is anticipated by EPA with the new tailpipe standards.

The study also found that if automakers rely primarily on BEVs to meet EPA's tailpipe standards and if 17 states adopt California's 'zero-emissions vehicle mandate, U.S. liquid fuel consumption in 2035 would fall 38 billion gallons compared to 2022 levels.

In addition, electricity consumption would jump 480 terawatt hours or roughly twice as much electricity as California uses annually.

"Not only are EPA's tailpipe standards based on the false premise that battery electric vehicles somehow have zero GHG emissions impacts, but the agency also failed to consider alternative solutions -- like a low carbon fuel program -- that could achieve the same goals more quickly and cost-effectively," RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper said in a news release.

"This study shows that a nationwide, technology-neutral requirement to reduce carbon intensity by just 1.25% per year would almost double the carbon savings expected by EPA under the tailpipe regulation, while allowing more light-duty vehicle and fuel options for consumers. The study also provides startling projections of the liquid fuel demand destruction and surge in electricity consumption that could result from EPA and California vehicle standards."


A second study by the same institute shows that if the existing fleet of flexible-fuel vehicles used modestly larger amounts of E85, "substantial" GHG emissions reductions could be achieved.

If those FFVs used only E85 instead of gasoline, GHG emissions would be reduced by up to 54 million metric tons per year -- equivalent to almost 40% of EPA's estimated GHG savings in 2035 from the new tailpipe standards, the study said.

"Widespread use of E85 would have significant greenhouse gas emissions benefits," the study said.

Rapid growth in E85 "could achieve a large fraction" of the expected benefit from EPA's tailpipe regulation "because E85 would improve life cycle CO2 emissions for a large fleet of existing vehicles, not just new vehicles," the study found.

The study said using E85 in FFVs, which account for more than 8% of today's on-road fleet, also would save consumers money at the pump.

"In addition to the greenhouse gas benefits, E85 generally offers a retail price advantage," the study said.

"If all FFVs nationwide consumed only E85, it would result in annual savings of over $2.2 billion," even when prices are adjusted to reflect E85's lower energy density.

"This study indicates that in the headlong rush to EVs, federal and state policymakers are overlooking an incredibly effective tool for reducing GHG emissions from the existing fleet," Cooper said.

"Nearly 21 million FFVs are already on the road today and they could produce enormous GHG emissions benefits if government leaders would simply put more emphasis and encouragement behind the use of low-carbon fuel blends like E85."

Cooper said the results of the second study underscore another important error in EPA's tailpipe regulation.

"Automakers are strongly compelled to build more BEVs because EPA's regulation assumes they have zero emissions," Cooper said.

"Yet, at the same time, EPA's regulation discourages automakers from building new E85-capable FFVs because those vehicles are assumed to offer no benefit over gasoline vehicles, even though this study -- and lots of other research -- shows E85 provides at least a 35% GHG savings."

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