Happy Friday! Here’s my weekly take on the five most interesting developments in low carbon fuels and vehicles trends over the last week:
This week at a meeting organized by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ) Director Chris Grundler said in an interview with Bloomberg that for the U.S. to meet Paris Agreement targets agreed in December 2015 the country is going to have to accelerate carbon reductions beyond current regulations calling for average vehicle gas mileage of 50 miles per gallon by 2025. “What we know is, just from the math, if we’re going to achieve what science tells us we need to achieve by 2050, we’re going to need to see a lot of zero and near-zero emissions technology coming into the fleet,” Grundler said. “Facts are facts.”
However, what will be required post 2025 is not clear he said. “There must be a way for public policy to be as innovative as some of these things we’re seeing,” Grundler said. “I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I know for sure we need to think differently post-2025.” I wonder if what it could look like is a national ZEV mandate, modeled after California, eliminating the inconsistency in regulation between the state and federal government, a problem highlighted by the auto industry.
What’s the alternative the campaign has in mind to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS)? Reuters reported that it was the California’s Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS), which was readopted and extended to 2030 last year. The Clinton campaign has had discussions with California Air Resources Board (CARB) chairman Mary Nichols, a critic of the RFS program. Read more about it here.
This editorial makes the point that the most efficient approach to incentivize and encourage consumers to buy cleaner, more fuel efficient cars and trucks is to raise fuel taxes, citing a paper by Anna Alberini and Markus Bareit. The authors compared policy changes in Switzerland’s 26 cantons to changes in new car sales in each area between 2005 and 2011 as a natural experiment, finding that the least efficient policy was a rebate for owning a green car while raising annual registration fees on dirty cars was better, but not as good as simply raising fuel taxes. The authors found a 16% increase in petrol duty had the same effect as a 50% increase in registration fees.
Similar points have been made before, for example, in another Economist editorial from last year. The authors cited a number of issues with fuel economy standards: citing a number of issues (1) fuel economy standards encourage drivers to drive more (that did happen in Europe), (2) the standards apply only to new cars, and fleet turnover rates can be long, and (3) new technologies needed to meet fuel economy standards make cars more expensive, among other issues.
In short, fuel economy standards “are between two and ten times as expensive as a fuel tax” and that they are “so expensive that their cost to society exceeds the value of the carbon saved.” And yet, policymakers in the U.S., EU and other countries have been reluctant to raise fuel taxes. It’s a no-go politically in the U.S. right now for sure, even with the lower cost of gasoline. This week’s Economist editorial ends, “Good politics is rarely good news for the environment.” In my experience, this is sadly true.
A study released this week by ORNL showed that high-octane fuel (HOF), specifically mid-level ethanol blends (E25-E40), could offer significant benefits for the U.S., including improved in vehicle fuel efficiency in vehicles designed and dedicated to use the increased octane. The study noted that DOE and OEM data in addition to discussions with EPA:
“suggest the potential of a new [HOF] with 25–40 vol% of ethanol to assist in reaching [RFS] and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions goals. This mid-level ethanol content fuel, with a research octane number (RON) of about 100, appears to enable efficiency improvements in a suitably calibrated and designed engine/vehicle system that are sufficient to offset its lower energy density (Jung, 2013; Thomas, et al, 2015). This efficiency improvement would offset the tank mileage (range) loss typically seen for ethanol blends in conventional gasoline and flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs). The prospects for such a fuel are additionally attractive because it can be used legally in over 18 million FFVs currently on the road. Thus the legacy FFV fleet can serve as a bridge by providing a market for the new fuel immediately, so that future vehicles will have improved efficiency as the new fuel becomes widespread. In this way, HOF can simultaneously help improve fuel economy while expanding the ethanol market in the United States via a growing market for an ethanol blend higher than E10.”
The improved efficiency of 5-10% could offset the lower energy density of the increased ethanol content, resulting in volumetric fuel economy parity of E25-E40 blends with E10, according to the study. “Dedicated HOF vehicles would provide lower well-to-wheel GHG emissions from a combination of improved vehicle efficiency and increased use of ethanol. If ethanol were produced using cellulosic sources, GHG emissions would be expected to be up to 30% lower than those from E10 using conventional ethanol and gasoline”, as the graphic below shows.
The study noted regulatory uncertainty and insufficient retailing investment were considered the most likely constraints to limit the introduction of HOF. HOF also could be limited by the rate of construction of additional integrated biorefinery capacity, and poor dedicated HOF vehicle penetration would also limit the overall HOF market. Feedstock availability was not found to limit the growth of HOF, according to the study. Could this become part of the Clinton RFS fix noted above?
Chinese researchers in a paper published in the journal Energy Policy are urging policymakers to replace private cars for short trips with bicycles or public transport and commercial vehicles with rail transport to mitigate transport air pollution. “This research strongly suggests that the Chinese government should begin working on a sustainable transport strategy to encourage residents to change travel behaviors to systematically address the environmental, healthy and economic dimensions of its rapidly growing residents’ travel transport.”
Acknowledging that the government has taken a number of policy steps to deal with transport-related air pollution (including stricter emission and fuel economy standards, cleaner fuels, vehicle usage, car ownership and changing travel behaviors) it’s not enough to meet air quality standards. Moreover, “some policies don’t achieve the expected goals and some are effective only in a short-term.”
However, according to the paper, before developing and implementing new policies, policymakers need to know residents’ total travel demand and the proportion of different travel modes in light of new policies that aim to reduce harmful emissions from residents’ travel transport and also provide a relatively reliable and comprehensive reference for the world to understand China. The paper attempted to do this, finding that:
Meantime, the City of London Corporate banned the purchase of diesel vehicles for its business when older models need replacing, citing concerns about air quality. The Guardian reports that the authority has reduced the NOx emissions from its vehicles by over 40% and PM10 emissions by over 50% since 2009, largely through a reduction of the size of its fleet and the purchase of newer and cleaner vehicles and is encouraging the use of hybrid electric cars. A spokesperson noted that it’s no longer a question of “if” but “where” and “when” diesel will be banned and that such bans should be supported by a massive investment in active travel and public transport.
South Korea’s Environment Ministry also announced similar measures in June to address air quality issues, particularly in Seoul, reported by The Korea Times. Starting in 2017, diesel vehicles that were registered before 2005 weighing 2.5 tons or more will not be allowed into “low emission zones” if they are not equipped with particulate filters and if they do not go through a general inspection or have failed to obtain approval. The city of Incheon, west of Seoul, and Gyeonggi Province, surrounding the capital city, will implement similar measures in 2018.