Opinion: The Secret to Clean Air is No Secret. It’s Ethanol.

Source: By John Linder, NCGA President • Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The seventies are famous for bell-bottom jeans and the rise of disco. For the record, I wasn’t really a fan of either. And I’m thankful there were no smart phones back then to prove otherwise.

One song that stuck with me from that decade was “Everything Old Is New Again.” I find a lot of truth in the song’s message when I think about climate change and solutions like ethanol, which, coincidently, also took off in the seventies amid growing environmental concerns with gasoline. Compared with the ethanol from the seventies, or even from the nineties, today’s ethanol offers improved environmental benefits with the potential to achieve net zero emissions.

President-elect Joe Biden made climate change a signature issue of his campaign, with legislative action expected in the new year. While some have singled out electric vehicles, or EVs, as a solution to reducing emissions from transportation, we know a mix of options is needed to meet this challenge. The good news is we can deploy and scale current technologies to make progress toward decarbonizing our economy today, while other technologies catch up.

Instead of mandating EVs, setting a standard for carbon reduction would allow all fuels, vehicles and technologies that meet that performance standard to compete to lower emissions. A level playing field would also give consumers more choices and greater affordability.

Ethanol has proven it can decarbonize our liquid fuel supply and deliver greater environmental benefits. A 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) analysis showed that ethanol results in up to 43 percent fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than gasoline. The analysis went on to find that continued improvements in farming practices and ethanol production would result in ethanol with up to 70 percent fewer GHG emissions. Looking ahead, through expanded use of carbon capture technologies and accounting for soil carbon sequestration from corn production, ethanol has the potential to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

It’s not just USDA that sees the benefits of ethanol. According to California Air Resources Board (CARB) data, the carbon intensity of ethanol under the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is more than 30 percent lower today than it was in 2011 and at least 40 percent lower than gasoline. Depending on the power source for electricity, whether it is predominantly coal or wind power, the environmental impact of an EV is often much higher than you think.

Today, nearly 97 percent of America’s fuel supply is blended with 10 percent ethanol and use of 15 percent ethanol blends is growing. Higher blends of ethanol will produce even greater environmental benefits, especially when used with high efficiency engines designed to improve fuel economy with higher octane fuel.

So how do we do that? We start with the Next Generation Fuels Act, legislation from Illinois Representative Cheri Bustos, to make liquid fuels more competitive for the future and increase low carbon octane for greater efficiency and lower emissions.

Americans want access to the lowest cost, most efficient, environmentally friendly, and safe motor fuels available. Corn ethanol is uniquely positioned as it is the only option that checks all these boxes today. Ethanol is a commercially available, low-carbon, affordable source of octane that stands ready to reliably supply the U.S. transportation market with a homegrown fuel.

The secret to cleaner air is no secret. It’s ethanol.