Decarbonizing the transportation sector requires complementary solutions, including both electric vehicles and renewable fuels.

The massive increase in public and private investment in electric vehicles is being driven by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – a goal of the Biden administration.

But while much attention has been focused on electric vehicles (EVs), the movement is clouded by a host of uncertainties pertaining to the impact on the rural electric grid, applicability of EVs in rural areas, charging deserts, range anxiety and accurately measuring the environmental footprint.

“Electric vehicles alone will not get our transportation sector to net zero emissions by 2050,” said Geoff Cooper, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, during a U.S. House Agriculture Committee meeting Wednesday.

Today, there are more than 267 million light-duty vehicles in the U.S., with just less than 1% battery electric, or plug-in hybrid EVs. The Energy Information Administration projects that four out of five new vehicles sold in 2050 will still be internal combustion engines requiring liquid fuels, Cooper said.

“So, even with increased electric vehicle sales in the years ahead, it would take decades to turn over the fleet,” Cooper said. “And that means hundreds of billions of gallons of liquid fuels will continue to be burned for years for decades to come.”

Cooper, along with automobile and electrical utility industry leaders, testified during the meeting, which focused on implications of electric vehicles on the ag community.

Through increased production and use of renewable fuels like ethanol, the agriculture sector offers an effective and immediate solution for decarbonizing all segments of the transportation sector, he added.

“With increased adoption of low carbon farming practices, carbon capture, sequestration and storage and other technologies, we are well on our way to producing zero-carbon corn ethanol,” Cooper said, adding the next step is getting more ethanol into the fuel blend.

Several of the witnesses also encouraged passage of the Next Generation Fuels Act, legislation introduced this summer by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline.

“But it would require automakers to optimize their vehicles’ engines to run on high-octane, low-carbon fuel,” said Bustos, an Ag Committee member. She pointed to a recent analysis out of the University of Illinois that says the move can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 billion metric tons by 2040.

The need for fairness and consistency in how the carbon footprint of different fuels and vehicles is measured also was emphasized by meeting participants. Ethanol’s carbon footprint regulators count the emissions associated with every step in the supply chain from planting the seed all the way to delivering the fuel to the consumer at retail, while for EVs, the upstream emissions associated with electricity generation and battery manufacturing are often overlooked.

“We believe any future decarbonization policy should take a technology-neutral performance-based approach that focuses strictly on greenhouse gas emissions reduction, and increasing fuel efficiency without dictating the use of specific fuels and vehicles to achieve those reductions,” Cooper said.

A significant challenge with the EV market is consumer perception about the availability of chargers, often referred to as “range anxiety.” However, Trevor Walter, who represented the National Association of Convenience Stores, said those perceptions don’t match reality, adding 86% of those living in rural America live within 10 minutes of a convenience store.

“For our industry to play an important role and for charging to be good for consumers, the sale of electricity must be reformed,” he added. “Given the large electricity demands associated with fast chargers, these demand charges overwhelm the cost of electricity and make it impossible for retailers to sell electricity and make a profit.”

Taking advantage of the healthy competition among technologies to reduce carbon, including renewable fuels, is advantageous to the country, Walter said.

“Those renewables are responsible for some of the largest gains we have made in decarbonizing the transportation sector,” he said. “Unfortunately, some policymakers want to pick technology winners and losers, rather than allowing competing options to deliver the best environmental results they can.”