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RFA Calls on California to Expand Flex Fuel Vehicles for Lower Costs, Cleaner Air

In comments submitted to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the Renewable Fuels Association called on the state to promote the sale of more flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) capable of running on up to 85 percent low-carbon ethanol.

“While electrification of the LDV fleet is expanding rapidly, significant volumes of liquid fuels will continue to be used for decades to come, and carbon neutrality can only be achieved by displacing a substantial share of those with low- and zero-carbon liquid fuels,” wrote RFA Chief Economist Scott Richman in the comments, which were submitted in response to the agency’s Nov. 15 Advanced Clean Cars Workshop.

Richman pointed out that E85 is proving popular with drivers in the Golden State, with sales topping 100 million gallons in 2022, up from roughly 60 million gallons in 2021. He also noted that the number of E85 retail stations in the Golden State has increased rapidly. There are currently over 400 stations offering E85 in California, with approximately another 200 in the permitting or planning process.

“E85 has consistently sold for a discount to California reformulated gasoline of between $1.50 and $2.00 per gallon, which provides a strong incentive for consumers with flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) to purchase the product,” Richman wrote. “This is evidenced by the rapid growth of E85 sales even as the number of FFVs in California has remained relatively stable or even declined.”

Likewise, the emissions reduction seen with ethanol is important. On average, the carbon intensity of ethanol sold in the state is approximately 40 percent less than the California gasoline baseline, with some ethanol sold in California approximately 70 percent lower.

In the final analysis, Richman wrote, CARB should require all new vehicles with internal combustion engines sold in the state to be flex-fuel capable, beginning as early as model year 2026.

“The recent growth in E85 sales is a prime success story of California’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions while simultaneously reducing criteria pollutants, displacing petroleum, and offering consumers an affordable, practical, and equitable option in complementing the state’s electrification goals. As part of potential amendments to the ACC regulation, a policy to require flex-fuel capability in new ICE vehicle sales in California is necessary to build on this success and can be a significant component in the state’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 and beyond.”

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