July 23, 2024

Higher ethanol blends support transition to low-carbon future

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — With the “unrealistic belief” that electric vehicles will overtake gasoline vehicles in a few years, a researcher said ethanol can play a key parallel role in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Brian West shared his support of utilizing higher ethanol blends to support a low-carbon future during a recent Illinois Corn Growers Association podcast.

West worked as an automotive engineer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for 31 years, retiring at the end of 2019.

There, he served nine years as deputy director of the Fuels, Engines and Emissions Research Center and then two years as group leader for fuels and engines research. His research at ORNL has impacted national policy.

West also has received numerous awards, including the 2015 Society of Automotive Engineers Horning Award for best fuels/engines paper on the high-octane benefits of ethanol. He was also the recipient of ICGA’s Ethanol Award in 2020.

“Significant reduction of greenhouse gasses is a worldwide goal and it’s imperative that multiple parallel efforts be pursued for success,” West said.

“While electric vehicles are lauded by many for having zero tailpipe emissions, I think it’s really important to understand that there are limitations to focusing on only one technology like electric vehicles.

“What if there’s a delay in how quickly we can deploy those? What if we have challenges with lithium mining or other raw materials?

“Biofuels have already saved millions of tons of greenhouse gas in the United States and greater use of these fuels should be embraced or sustained in increased contribution to this objective.”

The United States has about 280 light-duty vehicles, consuming about 140 billion gallons of motor gasoline annually, with gasoline containing from 0% to 15% ethanol.

The vast majority of gasoline contains 10% ethanol, but there is a growing volume of gasoline with a 15% mix of ethanol.

“What we’re seeing today is an impassioned and I think is a quite unrealistic belief that electric vehicles are going to overtake gasoline vehicles in only the next few years,” West continued.

“Many regulators and vehicle manufacturers have made some very bold statements about transitioning to an all electric vehicle future, but I believe the reality is that there’s potential limitations on raw materials, charging infrastructure, consumer preferences and other factors that are going to restrain that revolution.

“About half the vehicles we buy today will still be on the road in 20 years. Americans buy 15 million to 17 million vehicles a year and last year fewer than 1 million were electric vehicles.

“I believe it’s imperative that multiple complementary technologies be utilized in parallel to help curb greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate risk associated with any single solution.

“The U.S. agriculture and ethanol industries currently produce about 16 billion gallons of ethanol a year, with recent life-cycle modeling from the Department of Energy showing that ethanol cuts greenhouse gases by 44% to 52% compared to baseline gasoline. And there are technologies under development that can take that down to 0% and possibly even make it negative.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor