Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Cellulosic ethanol's highly subsidized failure

Chart of actual vs targeted cellulosic ethanol production
Actual U.S. production of cellulosic ethanol and other cellulosic liquids compared to the targets for cellulosic biofuels specified in the Renewable Fuel Standard

Cellulosic ethanol, once a great green hope for cutting petroleum use and CO2 emissions, has been a bust. The chart above compares the volume of cellulose-based liquid biofuels (largely ethanol) actually used in the United States to the targets for such fuels set by Congress when it expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2007. Note the logarithmic scale on the vertical axis; the gap between promise and reality is so large that actual production would be barely visible on a linear scale. 

The fuel has been delivered at levels of no more than about 0.1% of (three orders of magnitude less than) the volumes on which the RFS was premised [1]. This chart does not include cellulosic biogas, which EPA re-classified to qualify for RFS compliance purposes and has seen recent production of around 500 million ethanol-equivalent gallons. However, such "renewable natural gas" is not in the spirit of the law, which envisioned liquid biofuels that could be readily used in motor vehicles. The 2019 RFS target for cellulosic biofuels was 8.5 billion gallons, set to reach 16 billion gallons by 2022. But in 2019, before the pandemic-related drop-off in 2020 for nearly all forms of energy, only 9.8 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were tallied by EPA.  

Friday, August 6, 2021

Newly proposed auto standards hold promise

The Biden Administration is clearly making good on its pledge to revisit the automobile GHG emission standards weakened by the previous administration. The notice of proposed rulemaking issued by EPA on August 5, 2021 aims to cut model year 2026 car and light truck GHG emission rates 17% compared to the recent level, from 205 grams/mile (g/mi) in 2020 to a nominal target of 171 g/mi in 2026. 

The White House announcement just prior to the EPA proposal also states an ambitious goal for EVs to comprise half of U.S. vehicle sales in 2030. This non-binding target would include plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) as well as pure zero-emission vehicles such as battery electric and fuel cell cars. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Fleetwide efficiency gains more important than electric cars over the next decade

For at least the next decade, the overall fuel economy of the entire car and light truck fleet will be more crucial for climate protection than the number of electric vehicles sold. That's the message of my recent online article in Scientific American: "Want Greener Cars? Focus on Fuel Efficiency." Read the discussion there (the article was first published in The Conversation under the title "To make the US auto fleet greener, increasing fuel efficiency matters more than selling electric vehicles").   

Friday, January 22, 2021

Personal trucks widen emissions gap over EVs

Excess carbon dioxide emissions from the rising popularity of light trucks, such as the Ram pickup, swamp many times over the potential carbon savings from increased sales of EVs, such as the Tesla Model 3, to date.  

Last fall, I posted an analysis showing that, even as electric vehicle sales had grown significantly over the past several years, the broader market shift to personal trucks (mainly SUVs and pickups) has overwhelmed the potential CO2 reductions from EV use by more than a factor of four. With the new EPA data now released, this ratio has increased to a factor of 5.6, as shown in the chart below. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

GM touts innovation while weakening regulation

My opinion piece published in The Detroit News points out the inconsistency of how some automakers have advocated for weaker fuel economy and GHG emission standards even as they promote their technology innovations. Taking General Motors' recent public statements as an example, it reminds readers that what ultimately matters for reducing emissions is the stringency of the regulations that apply across the entire vehicle fleet. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Light trucks overwhelm EVs' carbon-cutting benefits to date

Electric vehicle sales have grown rapidly over the past several years. In 2012, only about 53,000 EVs were sold in the United States, counting both battery electric and plug-in hybrid models. By 2018, the annual tally of new EVs sold in the United States reached 361,000. It then tapered to 327,000 in 2019, the last full year of data before the 2020 pandemic. The vast majority of EVs are Teslas, with the big jump in 2018 due to the introduction of the Tesla Model 3. With overall light vehicle sales on the order of 17 million per year (pre-pandemic), EVs comprised about 2% of the U.S. market as of 2019.

Friday, July 17, 2020

A missing link in green car marketing

One of the reasons why automakers have advocated weaker fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards is that lower-than-expected fuel prices have lessened consumer interest in higher fuel economy. Although insufficient consumer interest relative to environmental need is the main reason why regulations are needed, lack of consumer interest is a legitimate concern. The challenge is quite real when the market is pulling one way while regulations are pulling another.

Nevertheless, environmental need -- and indeed policy-fostering public sentiment to address global warming -- does not go down when pump prices fall.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Earth Day and auto efficiency

On Monday March 9, 2020, just before the coronavirus lockdown, I hosted a pre-Earth-Day teach-in on auto efficiency. It was part of the commererative week of action that the University of Michigan had planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Considering petroleum's grip on mobility

World petroleum consumption by region

Oil has sustained its energy dominance largely due to its convenience for supplying transportation fuels. Petroleum is largest source of CO2 emissions in the United States and second largest globally. Addressing this part of the climate problem means confronting both the market factors and market actors that determine petroleum supply and demand. 
My recent discussion paper examines this intersection of transportation, oil and climate. It traces recent trends affecting petroleum supply and demand, providing a perspective on the industry's interests and how the sector might be affected by potential demand disruptions due to policy changes and innovations in mobility systems. The pertinent aspects of energy policy reflect an ever-evolving political process that attempts to balance competing forces, including the oil industry's desire to maximize income and minimize costs, popular pressures to keep prices low, public sector needs for tax revenue and environmental concerns
These forces are now amplified by the pace of innovation. Impacts were seen first on the supply side through developments such as fracking. Next up are changes on the demand side, including new mobility options such as ridehailing, vehicle electrification and rising levels of vehicle automation. Although it is unclear whether such changes will be evolutionary or revolutionary, their net long-run effect is likely to be increased demand for mobility. Policies to address the climate concern seek to decouple transportation from oil, creating a petroleum demand destruction risk that the industry can be expected to resist.
Read the full analysis at:
DeCicco, J.M. 2019. Market Factors Related to Transportation, Oil and Climate. Discussion Paper. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Energy Institute. January.