Promoting electric vehicles for the future ignores the need for cleaner fuels today

By Steve Vander Griend, director of Fuels and Combustion Research, Urban Air Initiative

Re “We can clearly see that reduced emissions should be a California goal”; Commentary, April 27, 2020

I appreciate Mike Gatto’s article regarding clean air and find multiple articles indicating people are visibly seeing a cleaner skyline or better view of the mountains.  This economic downturn that has made a visible difference should be talked about, but unfortunately, the science here is not so clear.  While electric vehicles certainly offer low emissions from the vehicle itself, other aspects still need to be considered.  

When it comes to current gasoline-powered vehicles, we know that the technology being developed will lower total emissions but that doesn’t mean the same reduction to toxic emissions or visible, harmful particulate matter.  Much of the concerns we see being reported from gasoline vehicle studies in peer reviewed papers are basically failing to identify the negative impacts on air quality by aromatic hydrocarbons, a component of gasoline manipulated to control octane.  The range of health related problems of having aromatics in our fuel is very concerning. 

First I would say that California has better fuel standards than the rest of the United States and by far, the United States is better off when it comes to gasoline fuel quality than most countries, but it could be better.  The problem we see is that regulation related to fuel quality and actual emissions from our vehicles is not based on real world fuel.  We have supported several vehicle studies with one of the studies being conducted by the University of California, Riverside.  In these referenced studies, the goal was to blend test fuels that match real world market fuels.  The conclusions are very consistent in that if aromatics are reduced from our fuel supply, air quality will improve.

To reduce emissions even more from gasoline powered vehicles, there needs to be a focus on real world fuels, especially in the U.S. EPA vehicle studies.  In defense of ethanol and for the support of higher blends of ethanol, there are just too many studies manipulated by the blending of test fuels.

The issue I see when it comes to the U.S. EPA downplaying the dangers of aromatics in our fuel supply appears to be that EPA would rather promote electric vehicles rather than promoting cleaner fuels.  This play by EPA to promote electric vehicles for the future is also ignoring the need for cleaner fuels today.

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