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The Race for Alt Fuel

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Report Shows How West Coast Can Cut Gasoline Use By Half

February 6th 2016

Oil well

The goal of cutting petroleum consumption in half by 2030 is within reach for the three Pacific coast states — California, Oregon and Washington — but such a plan would rely heavily on expanding the use of alternative fuels, according to a new report commissioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

With California leading the way, the states can achieve an 18 percent reduction--from about 22 billion gallons of gasoline in 2015, to 18 billion gallons by 2030--simply by following "policies and measures in place."

The rest of the heavy lifting must come through a combination of solutions: Using more alternative fuels (20 percent of the total reductions); making vehicles more efficient and adding more electrification (7 percent); and improving the range of transportation choices, along with better land-use planning (2 percent).

A component of California’s Senate Bill 350 did call for a 50-percent reduction in petroleum use by 2030, but that portion was removed from the bill before passage.

But the state's existing rules, including incentives for electric vehicles and a Low Carbon Fuel Standard that requires reductions in the carbon density of fuels and rewards the production of cellulosic ethanol and other renewable fuels, will get it 24 percent of the way toward the goal of 50 percent reduction, the report said.

The report, called "Half the Oil" and prepared by the consulting firm ICF International, indicates that Oregon and Washington have further to go: Their current regulations will produce only 8 percent reductions.

"The HtO Pathway also underscores that achieving the HtO target is more than simply ‘staying the course,' " the report states. "The pathway highlights the importance of implementing strategies as soon as possible to help achieve the 2030 target, thereby relieving pressure on technological advances or breakthroughs in one particular area or another. Furthermore, while the strategies in the HtO Pathway are similar to those in place today, they are not employed in all three states uniformly. For instance, Washington does not have an enforceable policy to promote alternative fuels such as a low carbon fuel standard or a zero emission vehicle program. As a result, it will be more challenging to achieve the HtO target in Washington than in states with such policies."

For California, the report presents multiple options (without endorsing any) for higher ethanol blends to reduce gasoline use:

  • Transitioning to E15, which is approved for vehicles 2001 model year and newer.
  • Increasing consumption of E85, which can run in 1 million flex-fuel vehicles in California, 160,000 in Oregon and 260,000 in Washington.
  • Taking advantage of mid-level ethanol blends like E20 or E30, which naturally enhance the octane rating of gasoline and “enable higher engine efciency by reducing engine knock constraints, thereby enabling the design of engines with higher compression ratios and boost levels.”

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