Recently, world leaders from the United States and more than 170 other countries met at the United Nations to sign an historic accord demanding urgent action to combat climate change. The landmark agreement marks a major milestone in international efforts to decarbonize the world’s energy supplies and to prevent a disastrous increase in global temperatures. To be successful, these efforts can and must address the transportation fuels that contribute a quarter of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions.
Fortunately, a decade ago Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which is an on-ramp for low-carbon fuels. Thanks to this policy, we now have the capacity to offer motorists a clean choice at the gas pump while reducing the need and the cost for imported oil. By gradually increasing the share of renewable fuel in our gas tanks, the RFS has proven to be the single most effective policy tool in our arsenal to decarbonize liquid fuels, which remain one of America’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Other policy options, including the deployment of electric vehicles, will play a major role in reducing emissions. However, even with a continuous commitment by policymakers, consumers and industry, phasing out the current fleet of internal combustion engines and building the energy infrastructure required to power a new generation of vehicles will span multiple decades. To have an immediate and lasting impact on global emissions, it is essential that policymakers embrace tools like the RFS that can go to work immediately, replacing the fuel in today’s gas tanks with sustainable, clean-burning alternatives.
Already, current U.S. blends of 10 percent ethanol allow American drivers to avoid over 40 million tons of CO2 emissions. Blends beyond 10 percent ethanol will increase these benefits. New technologies are allowing every gallon of biofuel to achieve higher carbon savings. These technologies are the direct result of investments by companies like DuPont that are working to produce clean-burning alternatives from resources such as agricultural residues and other cellulosic biomass.
Today’s corn-based ethanol already produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions over its full life cycle – from field to wheel – than regular gasoline, reducing emissions by 34 percent. Second-generation cellulosic ethanol is substantially more efficient and getting better every day. In fact, DuPont’s new plant in Iowa will produce fuel with at least 90 percent lower carbon emissions than conventional gasoline.
Accelerating this progress requires a commitment by policymakers to drive to specific goals and to implement them across large markets. These polices provide the stability and economic driver needed to decarbonize our fuel supplies. That is why entrenched interests have worked aggressively to undermine the RFS and preserve the status quo. However, relying exclusively on oil as our only source of transportation fuel will never help us reduce human-made greenhouse-gas emissions or clean our air.
The choice is clear, and it is critical that all industries work together to support all forms of low carbon transportation. Allowing those efforts to be diverted or divided will only guarantee that America misses its last, best chance to revolutionize the entire energy sector and meet the aggressive climate goals that world leaders now recognize as vital to success in the fight against climate change.
With the RFS, America has shown that it is possible to embrace alternative energy supplies without harming consumers. Science holds the answers. Biofuels are a part of the solution now, and they belong at the center of any serious plan to protect our planet for future generations.
Jan Koninckx is global business director for biofuels for DuPont Industrial Biosciences.