The warnings being issued by scientists and a wide range of global leaders of the oncoming disasters fueled by our changing climate validates the urgent need to find solutions that can stem these damaging transformations. Serious repercussions from a changing climate are occurring now.
As a result, policy makers have an obligation to act now. The scope and magnitude of this global threat requires a multifaceted way forward that enables the widest possible range of technologies and practices that can stem climate change.
The Next Generations Fuels Act is legislation introduced this week by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), who was joined in sponsoring the measure by fellow Democratic Reps. Emmanuel Cleaver (MO) and Cynthia Axne (IA), and Republican Reps. Jason Smith (MO), James Comer (KY) and Darin LaHood (IL). The lawmakers say the bill represents a new frontier in the quest to mitigate climate change.
The legislators also say the measure will improve liquid transportation fuel quality and incentivize vehicle technologies that simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve fuel economy. The bill represents what supporters say is the first step in the legislative and regulatory process to transition our nation’s gasoline supply to higher octane fuel. It will not only reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also improve air quality and public health by replacing harmful carcinogenic compounds with cleaner renewable fuels.
The measure would establish a minimum fuel octane level of 98 Research Octane Number, or RON, an increase from today’s regular gasoline, which is 91 RON. The higher the fuel’s octane number, the more resistant it will be to knock, which is the explosively damaging and uncontrolled combustion of fuel in an engine’s combustion chambers. Higher-octane fuels allow engine manufacturers to design more powerful and fuel-efficient engines.
Blending in cleaner-burning ethanol to boost a fuel’s octane rating is far superior to using aromatics like benzene, toluene ethylbenzene and xylene, known as the BTEX complex –that come from the petroleum refinery process and are both expensive and toxic. Due to ethanol’s high-octane rating, a low carbon, high octane ethanol blend results in both additional fuel efficiency and significant GHG reduction benefits. Ethanol is also priced lower than gasoline, making it the most cost-effective octane source.
By increasing the octane rating of the nation’s fuel, automakers will be able to use advanced engine design features that increase engine performance and significantly improve vehicle fuel efficiency – from 5 to 7 percent. Improving fuel quality will also result in significantly less GHGs than unblended gasoline. The legislation would require that the sources of additional octane in the new 98 RON fuel result in at least 30 percent fewer GHGs than unblended gasoline, reducing emissions by at least 11 percent, compared to current regular gasoline.
By removing barriers to blends of ethanol up to 30 percent, the legislation harmonizes regulations to both credit the full benefits of higher ethanol blends and ensure that vehicles and fueling infrastructure are ready.
Current fuel standards limit the use of the advanced engine technologies available to improve efficiency, leaving automakers few options to meet higher fuel economy standards. Bustos’ legislation requires that the sources of additional octane in the new 98 RON fuel result in at least 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than unblended gasoline, reducing emissions by at least 11 percent, compared to current regular gasoline.
By requiring that octane come from low carbon sources, the proposed legislation further decarbonizes liquid fuels as vehicle technologies advance. The requirement, coupled with a new limit on harmful aromatics content like BTEX complex, ensures a continuation of the progress already being made to lower emissions through the replacement of harmful petroleum-based gasoline components with cleaner renewable fuels.
Recent work by Steffen Mueller, principal economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Energy Resources Center, shows that like electric vehicles (EVs), ethanol-gasoline blends provide substantial greenhouse gas reductions relative to gasoline-only vehicles. In fact, he says, high-octane fuel vehicles with ethanol provide very similar GHG savings compared to EVs for many states. Importantly, E85 and high-octane plug-in hybrids represent the lowest GHG-emitting technology as these vehicles are both able to take advantage of the low carbon intensity of ethanol in their combustion engine and the low carbon intensity of the electricity grid in hybrid mode of operation. Ethanol at high blend levels can provide immediate GHG benefits while EV adoption within the U.S. fleet increases. This nation needs forceful solutions to our climate issues. Too much time has been wasted politically vacillating on what are the obvious causes and impacts of climate change. SfL urges stakeholders to reach out to our policy makers and call upon them to embrace innovative solutions like those called for in the Next Generation Fuels Act. These are solutions that can immediately boost our environment and our public health, all while taking on our changing climate.