Beyond the EV Hype: Embracing Ethanol as a Low-Carbon Fuel Alternative

By Former Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and former National Lab Researcher Brian West  


Electric vehicles are dominating the debate over the future of transportation, and the U.S. EPA is now increasing pressure on the auto industry to phase out gas powered cars and limit choices for American consumers.

Despite recent polling by the Pew Research Center that found most Americans oppose ending the production of gas-powered vehicles, aggressive new rules by the EPA aim for two-thirds of new passenger cars sold in the United States to be all electric by 2032.

While we all agree that electric vehicles have a role to play in reducing emissions, we can’t pretend the EV business is an entirely clean one. Many of the raw materials needed for EV production are not acquired domestically, ethically, or sustainably, and we must avoid the mistake of putting all our eggs in one basket by focusing on a singular technology.

While regulators and some vehicle manufacturers make bold statements about an all-EV future very soon, the reality is that limitations on raw materials, charging infrastructure, consumer preferences and other factors dictate that we need a wider range of options to mitigate carbon emissions and a longer, more reasonable ramp to higher EV sales.

Our opinion is not unique. The United Autoworkers, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, Toyota, and others have been outspoken in noting challenges associated with widespread EV adoption so quickly. And more than 100 trade groups representing diverse businesses across the transportation sector are encouraging the administration to preserve consumer choice and evaluate a broader range of solutions including renewable fuels.

With only 130,000 public EV charging stations in the country, the lack of available infrastructure remains a significant barrier to fast EV adoption. Even Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm experienced firsthand the challenges of publicly recharging an electric vehicle on a recent trip. That’s not to mention the fact that EVs are significantly heavier than combustion energy vehicles, raising concerns for both traffic safety and wear and tear on our roads.

America is home to over 270 million gasoline vehicles that consume about 140 billion gallons of fuel each year. Considering that half of the vehicles sold today will still be on the road in 20 years, that all-EV future may be further away than many would like. That’s why we should be focused on improving our current and near-future vehicle fleet to maximize today’s infrastructure, manufacturing capabilities, and cut our carbon usage at the same time.

The solution is not only all around us—it’s grown in our country’s own backyard. To achieve our carbon reduction goals, we should embrace increased use of low carbon liquid fuels such as American-grown ethanol, which cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 44-52 percent compared to baseline gasoline.

Strides to a cleaner future through ethanol are being made in our nation’s capital, but there’s more work to do. The bipartisan Next Generation Fuels Act – reintroduced this year in the House and the Senate – would allow automakers to produce more efficient vehicles by setting a clean, low-carbon fuel standard that requires new vehicles to accept ethanol-blended fuels.

Enabling both new and existing vehicles to power their cars with higher levels of ethanol fuel blends would yield tremendous benefits. In fact, if 90 percent of gasoline vehicles on the road today used E15, our nation would save about 40 million tons of greenhouse gases in the first year alone, equivalent to removing almost 10 million vehicles from the road. Consumers benefit, too. In the summer of 2022, E15 saved drivers nationwide an average of 16 cents per gallon compared to regular E10.

As the EPA moves forward on plans to accelerate EV use, remember a solution to saving more than a billion tons of greenhouse gases – not to mention a solution that’s easy on your wallet – is already readily available and made right here in America.

Cheri Bustos served in Congress from 2013 until 2023 from Illinois’ 17th District and was a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Brian West conducted fuels and engines research for the U.S. Department of Energy at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for over 30 years.