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The Hill: Biden called for US energy independence — advanced biofuels can propel us

By: Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association

It has been nearly a month since President Biden addressed the nation to announce a ban on Russian oil imports amid Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. As Biden pointed out during his speech, this moment is “a stark reminder” that the U.S. needs to be energy independent. At the time, the president made clear to the American public that gas prices, already on the rise prior to the invasion, would reach new heights as a result of U.S. sanctions. Today, we are seeing his prediction play out as gas prices have soared 48 percent year-over-year.

As Biden said, this moment “should motivate us to accelerate the transition to clean energy,” rightly touting his plan to shift the majority of passenger vehicles to electric. While the president’s commitment to transitioning the U.S. to clean energy sources is important, the siloed thinking on electrification is inadequate. Our leaders must be practical about how fast new transportation technology can be adopted, and prioritize multiple low-carbon efforts — not just electric alone. After all, fleet turnovers take decades — not years.

The Biden administration aspires to electrify 50% of our nation’s passenger automobiles by 2030, meaning half the cars on the road by 2030 will still be powered by liquid transportation fuels. Moreover, many more of the heavy-duty vehicles reliant on combustible fuel — buses, trucks, ships, and jets powering our economy — will likewise remain on the roads, seas, and skies. Far too many of those remaining transport methods will be reliant on high-carbon fuels.

This “electrification gap” presents significant challenge and even greater opportunity to speed the transition to renewable, low-carbon fuels. Using advanced biofuels available today, the White House, Congress, and renewable energy industries can work together to dramatically lower the carbon footprint of the 50 percent of the passenger vehicles that will still operate on fuel in years to come.

According to statistics compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation industry in the U.S. accounts for 29 percent of American greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of the “electrification gap,” the 50 percent of non-electrified cars on the road and nearly all vehicles in heavy-duty industries like shipping and aviation are slated to be powered by high-emissions fossil fuels. But the president’s call for greater and cleaner energy independence, inspired by rising oil prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is an opportunity to rethink this future.

Low-carbon advanced biofuels made from renewable, non-food biomass can play an integral role in powering our nation across the “electrification gap.” By Congress’s definition, advanced biofuels must deliver at least a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and many deliver up to 80 percent — a stark contrast to first-generation biofuels like ethanol, which reduces carbon emissions by only 48 percent. Even more impressive than the emission reductions offered by advanced biofuels is the low cost required to distribute them. Advanced biofuels require almost no change to the country’s current fuel distribution infrastructure — meaning that they could be used to power trucks, planes, and shipping tankers without any significant taxpayer investment.

Not only would adopting the widespread use of advanced biofuels help create a cleaner environment and act as a bridge across the electrification gap, but it would also set the U.S. on a course toward energy independence. At a time when Russia is advancing, wielding fossil fuels as an economic weapon against other nations, the need for this freedom is as clear as ever.

The widespread adoption of advanced biofuels would help liberate Western governments from the need to negotiate with autocratic regimes — while also protecting our planet’s future. By building energy independence at home in a sustainable way, leaders in Washington and other global capitals can take a tough stance on these autocrats without creating financial pain for citizens at home via blowback at the gas pump.

Advanced biofuels can power the U.S. to a cleaner, more sustainable future by providing a lower-carbon fuel alternative to the 50 percent of trucking, shipping, and aviation engines that will remain in use for the foreseeable future.

They can also be a powerful tool in creating and sustaining a more just and peaceful world by limiting the economic leverage offered by fossil fuels to strongmen around the globe. The president is right: the U.S. must develop alternative fuels and become energy independent. Lawmakers in Washington should look to America’s burgeoning advanced biofuels industry to help build a cleaner and more just world for all.

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