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To cut petroleum usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fuel efficiency standards are set to rise significantly by 2025 under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards—jointly administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA. However, the automotive marketplace has changed significantly since the standards were written in 2009. Sustained low gas prices and the growing popularity of trucks and SUVs have led the auto industry to claim that it will be impossible to meet both 2025 and long-term efficiency standards without significant changes to the programs. Fortunately, there is another low-cost pathway available to regulators to preserve strong fuel efficiency standards and improve fuel quality.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing examining how high-octane, low-carbon fuel can enable CAFE compliance. Research suggests that high-octane, low-carbon fuel is the lowest-cost compliance option for both consumers and the automotive industry.
Taking steps to reduce GHG and toxic emissions from the passenger vehicle fleet is critical. The U.S. transportation sector is responsible for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions as well as half of all toxic emissions in the United States. Numerous health studies have linked tailpipe exhaust to serious developmental and many chronic health conditions. While electric vehicles represent the greatest potential reduction in lifecycle and tailpipe emissions and will play an important role in decarbonizing the transportation sector, the internal combustion engine is likely to dominate vehicle sales for the next several decades. Therefore, it is important to ensure that fuel economy is addressed in these vehicles.
Higher-octane, low-carbon fuels enable greater engine efficiencies, thereby lowering GHG and toxic emissions and improving fuel economy. Automotive engineers have expressed interest in raising the octane level of gasoline, which would enable the design and sale of these more efficient engines, but the administration must act to enable a viable pathway for these fuels to enter the marketplace. A high-octane, low-carbon blend of 25 percent ethanol and 75 percent gasoline (E25), for example, would lead to fuel efficiency improvements between 5 and 10 percent, significantly reducing consumer fuel costs and harmful tailpipe emissions.