Focus on Solutions, Not Politics

  John Eichberger |  October 2022

Americans return to the polls November 8 to cast votes for Congress, state and local officials.  It is always an interesting time, especially for this recovering lobbyist. The problem is this – political discourse seeks to simplify every issue and cast it in terms of black and white. This creates a real challenge to resolving serious issues, because most often the solution is not simple and it cannot be summarized in a political sound bite. This is especially true with regards to reducing emissions from the transportation sector and it is why the Fuels Institute does so much research into this vibrant and complex market – to help us focus on solutions, not politics.

While the Fuels Institute does not engage in advocacy for or against any policy issue, the work we are doing does offer valuable insights to help policymakers and those working with them to discover solutions that will contribute to the long-term sustainability of the transportation sector.

In reflecting on our role, I recognized that the work we do is most often released as individual reports, with some catching the attention of key stakeholders in one sector but perhaps not in others. I thought as we await the outcome of the election and subsequently handicap what it means for the transportation energy sector, I would highlight for you the relevant work we are doing and how it all ties together as part of the Fuels Institute’s mission to provide market based, peer reviewed, objective insights to help inform decision makers as they contemplate their strategic direction.

To help organize the work we are doing, for this article I have categorized our initiatives into the following three sections and present work we have recently released as well as new initiatives we are currently developing: 

I encourage you to take a look at our legacy work in the links below, but also to consider whether you might have interest in supporting the work yet to come. We would value additional insights and strongly believe that the more diverse and inclusive the stakeholders engaged in the process, the more robust and valuable the end product will be to the market.  I hope the following provides you with insights into the options available to the evolving transportation energy sector and presents you with opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions with the Fuels Institute community – and helps elevate the discussion to find solutions to the challenges we face.

Liquid Fuels and Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles

Most attention these days is directed at the emerging electric vehicle market, with policies and studies focused on supporting this direction. Today, EVs account for about 5% of all light duty vehicle sales and the forecasts range wildly concerning how fast this market share will expand. Regardless how quickly the market for EVs might develop, the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle will remain a significant component of the transportation sector for many decades. Which means that the provision of liquid fuels that can work with these engines and reduce emissions is of critical importance. For this reason, the Fuels Institute is committed to looking at all sectors of the market and evaluating the various factors that can support the improved environmental performance of transportation.

Recent Publications

  • Policy Considerations: Proposals to Ban the Sale of Internal Combustion Engine VehiclesThis short paper was drafted to simply highlight the various market elements policymakers should consider when crafting policies to ban the ICE vehicle. The Fuels Institute does not weigh in on whether such policies should or should not be pursued, but in the event they are pursued we want to ensure that they are crafted in such a way that seeks to mitigate and avoid any unintended consequences.
  • Life Cycle Analysis Comparison: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles – So often when speaking with groups about the future of the transportation sector I am asked if EVs are indeed better for the environment than ICE vehicles. This paper takes a look at the overall emissions of greenhouse gases from each vehicle, including hybrids, over their entire lifetime – from the harvesting of materials throughout operation to disposal. For the ICE vehicle, one of the key learnings was that 73% of its lifetime emissions come from the fuel combustion phase of operations. This tells us that we must focus on the carbon intensity of the fuel to deliver meaningful emissions reductions.
  • The Easiest and Hardest Commercial Vehicles to Decarbonize – Medium and heavy-duty vehicles contribute 24% of the greenhouse gases emitted by the transportation sector, yet represent only 5% of vehicles on the road. This necessitates that we pay careful attention to this sector, but it is such a complex and diverse market, serving so many disparate purposes, that no single solution will be successful.  This report dissects the market and helps us begin to segment the use cases to evaluate emission solutions that will support the needs of this market.
  • Assessment of Biofuels Policy: Effectiveness of Emissions Reductions – Our LCA study demonstrated that the fuel is the critical element to reducing emissions from ICE vehicles.  Since biofuels represent the immediate low carbon fuel option for the liquid fuels market, we published this survey of existing literature to provide a quick look at the carbon mitigation potential of biofuels and how various policies support or inhibit our ability to leverage this value.
  • Future Capabilities of Combustion Engines and Liquid Fuels – Some have declared that research and development efforts for this sector are all dried up and there are no new developments expected to move this market forward. The Fuels Institute was not so sure, so we will publish this report in November taking a high-level look at the variety of research that has been published recently on this sector.  It is just a snapshot to demonstrate that there are still opportunities to improve how fuels and ICE vehicles work together. 

New Initiatives

There remains a lot of opportunity for the fuels and combustion engine market, and the Fuels Institute Board of Advisors has directed additional research to help support the evolution of this sector of the transportation economy. Here are some of the new initiatives we are developing.

  • How to Decarbonize ICE Vehicles – This new project (commissioned in October) is looking directly at the various options available to reduce carbon emissions from the nearly 300 million light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles in the U.S. The study includes a life cycle evaluation of fuel options, a deep dive into the scalability and low carbon profile of biofuels, and a market transition evaluation to determine how to bring viable solutions to consumers efficiently and effectively.
  • Economics Associated with Biofuels Production – There has been a long-standing debate about the implications of biofuels on other sectors of the economy, such as availability and affordability of food. We will be developing a study to look at the direct economic factors that affect the production of biofuels (i.e., we heard from some that energy costs have a greater impact on economic viability than do crop prices) and how production of these fuels actually affects other segments of the economy.  Resolving these questions will be critical to discovering paths forward to benefit from lower carbon fuel options.
  • Total Cost to Owners of Commercial Vehicles of Decarbonization Strategies – So often, the cost of policies and initiatives are calculated at a market-level and often are presented in terms of billions of dollars. Individual fleet owners and operators do not make decisions at that level of evaluation, so we are developing a study that will seek to quantify the costs and benefits of different decarbonization strategies on the individual vehicle owner and operator, to identify those that are economically viable today and those that might need additional support. 

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Clearly, the electrification of the transportation sector is huge priority for many policymakers and industry stakeholders. Whether EVs gain 20%, 50% or 75% share of vehicles in operation in the future is yet to be determined, but however the market matures drivers will need access to reliable charging infrastructure.  And this is what the Electric Vehicle Council is working on. Guided by more than 60 engaged organizations, the Council is the most robust and inclusive group dedicated to helping the market transition to provide reliable and accessible chargers to the public. 

Recently we have published several documents relative to this focus and we are initiating work on a variety of additional projects.  Take a look at what we have done and then review what we now initiating. 

Recent Publications

  • Installing and Operating Public Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure – This guidebook helps interested businesses evaluate the opportunities and processes associated with offering EV charging services to their customers. From concept to execution, this report provides insight into the various decisions that must be made to achieve success.
  • Evaluation of Policies for Electric Vehicle Charging Deployment – Federal and state governments are developing and enacting programs to encourage the effective deployment of a robust charging infrastructure. We published this paper to provide guidance based upon past experience regarding what types of policies and programs have been successful in supporting EV charger installations and which have been impediments. Our thinking:  If we are creating new programs, let’s try to create ones that work well within the market to achieve the desired objectives.
  • EV Charger Deployment Optimization – The federal government has set a goal of installing 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030. This paper was developed using a granular analysis of market demand to determine how many chargers we may actually need, when and where we might need them and what type of charger capacity might be required in various use cases to support driver demand. The objective of the paper was to help guide the strategic deployment of resources where they will deliver the greatest market value.
  • A Best Practice Guide for EVSE Regulations – Stakeholders have told us repeatedly that outdated, non-EVSE specific regulatory requirements create a significant impediment to the efficient deployment of charging stations. So, we worked with these stakeholders to develop a list of best practices and priorities local regulatory officials could consider to make the process more simple and business friendly. 

New Initiatives

We have done a lot, and above is just a sampling of some reports I felt appropriate to highlight. But we are not even close to done.  Check out the new projects we are working on now:

  • ROI360-Heatmapping – One of the critical issues we are trying to help the market address is developing a business case for the investment in charging stations – how can a business generate a positive return on their investment. This initiative will obtain utilization and performance details from chargers throughout the nation and enable us to create benchmark tools to help guide the strategic development of new stations. In addition, we will create market-readiness reports to indicate where new chargers can best be supported by driver demand in order to accelerate throughput at new installations and support that business case for these sites.
  • Consumer and Site Host Insights – The consumer perspective on the EV charging market is constantly evolving, especially as the demographic profile of the EV driver changes. In addition, the experience of charger site hosts continues to develop offering new insights to improve the charging experience for drivers. This project will survey and interview consumers and site hosts in North America and Europe to obtain the latest information that can be leveraged to inform infrastructure development and execution.
  • Demand Charge Mitigation Strategies – Perhaps the greatest barrier to profitability at a charging station is the financial impact of demand charges assessed by the utility. These charges are critical to supporting the utilities’ ability to ensure adequate service is provided to support demand, yet they were originally designed for industrial users and not specifically tailored for retail transactions. Some utilities and retailers are experimenting with strategies to mitigate the negative effect these fees have on EVSE deployment. We will evaluate these strategies to determine how they ultimate affect the utility, the site hose and the driver and which seem to present the most viable, long-term solutions to support the business case of a charging station.

Future Energy and Vehicle Technologies

The race to decarbonize has inspired a variety of stakeholders to investigate alternatives to traditional energy and vehicle technologies. Some of these may have significant viability long-term, but often get overlooked because they are not immediate solutions or something that is tangible and easily understood by decision makers. For the Fuels Institute, this means that we should evaluate the viability of these new directions and ensure that decision makers have access to relevant information about their future opportunities. To this end, the Fuels Institute is developing the following projects:

  • Hydrogen 101 – The idea of using hydrogen to power vehicles has been under development for decades and there is an exhaustive library of research on the topic – which introduces one of the problems. When seeking resources to evaluate the opportunities and challenges associated with hydrogen as a fuel, whether intended for an ICE vehicle or a fuel cell electric vehicle, the number of technical reports is overwhelming. The Fuels Institute is developing a project to determine the most important questions that should be answered about the hydrogen market, identify the leading studies relevant to those questions, and then aggregate the results and present them in accessible language for non-engineers.  If were heading towards a hydrogen future, we need to better understand what is currently known about it.
  • Evaluating the Viability of Commercially Deploying E-Fuels – E-fuels, or synthetic fuels, are produced by leveraging renewable electricity with a carbon source to develop a liquid fuel. Many suggest that this fuel could emit zero carbon on a life cycle basis and be compatible with existing vehicles and distribution infrastructure. Others have dismissed the technology as too expensive and inefficient, yet there remains significant investment and interest in the potential. Therefore, the Fuels Institute is developing a research project to objectively evaluate the viability of this technology.