Alternative Transport Fuel Use Jumps 13%

by | Apr 10, 2013

Alternative transportation fuel consumption increased almost 13 percent in 2011 to a total of 515.9 million gasoline-equivalent gallons, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

In 2010, alternative transportation fuels totaled 457.7 million gasoline-equivalent gallons.

In alternative-fueled vehicles, consumption of ethanol jumped 52 percent from the prior year’s consumption, an increase from 90.3 million gasoline-equivalent gallons in 2010 to 137.2 million gasoline-equivalent gallons in 2011, a reflection of the increase in overall inventory of E85-capable vehicles, according to the EIA’s latest Alternative Fuel Vehicle Data. E85 is ethanol fuel blend of 85 percent denatured ethanol fuel and 15 percent gasoline or other hydrocarbon by volume.

While inventory and fuel use in automobiles continues to increase, the rise in the use of medium-duty vans had a larger impact on fuel consumption due to their higher rate of consumption and, in contrast to light-duty vehicles, they are more likely to be utilized as an alternative-fueled vehicle than a traditional gasoline-fueled vehicle, the EIA says.

Many fleets meet petroleum reduction requirements by using biodiesel rather than alternative fuels. Changes in biofuel subsidies, specifically replacement fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, affect consumption trends in the marketplace. With the reinstatement of the biodiesel tax credit and the requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard, consumption of biodiesel grew almost 240 percent between 2010 and 2011.

Consumption of ethanol in gasoline (E10) remained flat between 2010 and 2011 since almost all gasoline in the US is now blended with 10 percent ethanol. This “blend wall” — the maximum amount that can be blended into standard gasoline without requiring different equipment, warranties or infrastructure — has shifted more ethanol into the E85 sector, the EIA says.

Consumption of electricity in light-duty automobiles increased by almost 36 percent with a total of 7.6 million gasoline-equivalent gallons in 2011 compared to 4.8 million gasoline-equivalent gallons in 2010. While the majority of electric vehicles in use remains in the low-speed vehicle category (45,397 of the total 67,296 EVs in use 2011), inventory of electric automobiles increased rapidly to 10,245 automobiles in 2011, primarily in the private sector where EVs are becoming more widely available to private households.

Natural gas was the most consumed alternative fuel used by vehicles in 2011, accounting for 246,489 thousand gasoline-equivalent gallons: almost half of all alternative fuels used by vehicles in the US.

According to a report released last month by the National Research Council, the US could reduce petroleum use and cars’ greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels by using more efficient vehicles, alternative fuels and implementing strong government policies. To reach the 2050 goals, vehicles must become dramatically more efficient regardless of how they are powered, according to Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels. In addition, alternative fuels to petroleum must be readily available, cost-effective and produced with low GHG emissions, the report says.

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