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Hitting the brakes on climate change: We need all-of-the-above energy solutions

[originally published in Gannett publications]

With the climate crisis bearing down on us after the hottest year on record, it is irresponsible to limit emissions reductions efforts to a simple dichotomy between electric or fuel. The stakes are simply too high for America not to use every tool available.

Only with an all-of-the-above, inclusive climate strategy that prioritizes all carbon-reducing technologies available do we have a chance of meaningfully reducing our transportation-based carbon emissions, and avoiding siloed disruptions, as we’re now witnessing with the national rollout of electric vehicle infrastructure.

These news reports underscore the urgency to transition to low carbon solutions, yet there is growing skepticism that we could truly convert all gas-powered vehicles to electric in time to slow rising temperatures. The truth is that even if EV sales picked up tomorrow, it could be decades before they are widely adopted. Even by 2050, when EVs are projected to make up 60% of new car sales, the technology will still only make up 50% of cars on U.S. roads.

Further slowing down production, Hertz Global Holdings Inc. earlier this month announced plans to sell a third of its EV rental fleet and reinvest the profits into gas-powered cars due to weak consumer demand and high repair costs. A similar trend is underway in Europe, where EV sales in Germany — which accounts for 25% of the EU’s EV market — have almost been cut in half.

We do not have decades to address the climate emergency. That’s why we need to leverage all our available options — especially those that can operate within our current vehicle fueling infrastructure — to reduce carbon emissions from gas powered vehicles.

One proven method to achieve this goal is through low carbon liquid transportation fuels like advanced biofuels. Advanced biofuels are mandated by Congress to achieve at least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional fuels, though many achieve as much as 80% in reductions. They are compatible with combustion engines and require no change to America’s existing fueling infrastructure, presenting a valuable immediate-use opportunity to reduce transportation-based emissions.

Advanced biofuels can also help to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles that are difficult — or nearly impossible — to electrify, like heavy industrial transportation vehicles. For instance, the American Lung Association found that heavy-duty trucks generated 59% of ozone-and particle-forming NOx emissions, 55% of particle pollution, and 26% of transportation-based greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Even if all American passenger vehicles were converted to EVs tomorrow, the shipping and long-haul trucks powering our economy, for which there are no viable EV alternatives, will still generate significant carbon emissions.

To effectively combat climate change, we simply cannot prioritize one technology at the expense of another. Last Summer the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its 2023-2025 Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) that established biofuel volume requirements. While advanced biofuels represented most of the total renewable fuel, the ruling still undervalued their full potential. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that if currently planned projects are supported, renewable diesel, a type of advanced biofuels, could more than double its capacity from 2023 by the end of 2025. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to put most of its policy eggs in a strategy basket that relies almost exclusively on electrification efforts. It’s an undiversified, narrow policy approach that leaves proven technologies, like advanced biofuels, on the sidelines. With better support, advanced biofuels and other low carbon transportation fuels could bridge the “electrical gap” and start reducing transportation-based emissions immediately.

Climate change is an all-encompassing challenge. We need to adopt a similarly expansive mindset to address it. That’s why advanced biofuel and low-carbon fuel producers are working tirelessly to innovate and expand low carbon fuel technologies that can be deployed today. With policymakers’ support and by starting to look at emissions reductions holistically, rather than through the lens of false dilemma between gas or electricity, we can begin to make more meaningful progress on our carbon reductions goals by working on these goals simultaneously.

Michael McAdams is president of the Advanced Biofuel Association.