|The energy storage density of liquid fuels far exceeds that of batteries and hydrogen. Source: GM. Click to enlarge.|
In a keynote presentation at the Renewable Fuel Association’s 15th Annual National Ethanol Conference, GM Vice Chairman Tom Stephens reaffirmed the company’s commitment to biofuels, asserting GM continue to believes that they are the best near-term solution to displace petroleum and to reduce the carbon footprint of driving.
While electricity and hydrogen have the potential to be important transportation fuels, and while their use will grow as advanced lithium-ion battery and fuel cell technology become more capable and affordable than they are today, Stephens said that for the foreseeable future, GM sees liquid fuels as the primary vehicle energy carriers for automobiles, based on the energy storage density of the different options.
While improvements in batteries are expected, they still have a 100x lower energy density than liquid fuels. “So, today, liquid fuels are where consumers currently get the most bang for their buck,” Stephens said.
|“We’re really excited about the complementary nature of biofuel and electric propulsion.”|
GM continues to work to expand its flex-fuel portfolio, and has committed that more than 50% of its production by 2012 will be flex-fuel capable. The company will begin introducing E-85-capable direct-injected and turbocharged powertrains. GM also plans to make the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle flex-fuel-capable about a year or so after it’s introduced.
GM, which has made investments in cellulosic ethanol producers Coskata and Mascoma, is supporting the development of third-generation renewable gasoline and diesel (i.e., drop-in bio-hydrocarbon fuels), but believes that work needs to be done in parallel with ongoing support for first- and second-generation biofuels, Stephens said.
Initiatives to expand the infrastructure for flex-fuel vehicles are extremely important, Stephens said, and that the additional pumps need to be put where the vehicles are located. While the largest concentrations of flex-fuel vehicles are found in the highest-population areas, two thirds of the current E85 stations, are in 10 Midwestern states. Ninety percent of registered flex-fuel vehicles don’t have an E85 station in their zip code, and nearly 50%, don’t have E85 in their county, Stephens said. The US will need about 10,000 more pumps to put ethanol fuel within 2 miles of customers.
Stephens said that GM strongly supports the deployment of blender pumps, which will allow retailers to put both mid- and high-level ethanol blends, into pumps, that can be used for flex-fuel vehicles. (Earlier post.) Stephens also said that GM believes it is critical to complete the planned testing of mid-level blends. Until the results of these comprehensive durability tests are fully understood, he said, GM remains concerned about customers using fuels containing more than 10% ethanol.
We have a real concern that if ethanol gets a bad name, it will be bad for everyone...This is too important to get wrong. We need the decisions on mid-level blends to be based on sound science. And, if the science supports them, so will we.
Stephens also called for Federal, state, and local governments to enable the introduction of fuels from a variety of energy sources, and said that the US needed national goals for renewable and low-carbon fuels as well as excise tax credits and loan guarantees to mitigate early commercialization risk.
The next two-to-three years is a critical time for biofuels. We must see second-generation fuels commercialized through appropriate governmental and commercial support. Partnerships involving industry, government, and academia will also need to flourish. We must all work together. And we need to get it right.