America’s EV Future Might Be Delayed by Reality

Previewing the feature articles in the October issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine, Editor Tom Bryan questions the federal government's aggressive push for electric vehicles, a big topic at the American Coalition for Ethanol's recent conference.
By Tom Bryan | September 23, 2021

As clear-minded people continue asking fair questions about electric vehicles—starting with where all the green power will come from—the ironies of climate change and the realities of auto buying trends offer, at best, an inconsistent picture of the impending EV takeover.

As I wrote this column in early September, General Motors had announced a multi-week shutdown of its factories—save a few—due to that outrageous microchip shortage we’ve all been hearing about. GM kept four factories running in order to not further short the already scarce inventory of American-made pickups able to tow 5,000-pound surf boats, SUVs big enough for half a soccer team, and Corvettes able to go zero to whatever in five seconds. Apparently, EV manufacturing didn’t make the cut as vehicles with throaty, liquid-fueled engines are what people actually want. 

At the same time, as power outages hit Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Ida—which of course produced equally devastating torrential rains in the Northeast—more real-world EV concerns surfaced. As Forbes reported in a Sept. 5 piece titled "Electric Vehicles Powerless During Hurricanes," if there were any EV owners among the more than 1 million people that lost power after the storm, they may have been immobilized for days. Ida was yet another reminder of the ironic vulnerability of our electric grid in the era of climate change. It is fair to wonder, now, if the Biden administration’s call for a 50% transition to EV manufacturing by 2030 was responsible if it will put massive new pressure on our electric grid at a time when it is more susceptible to extreme weather than ever before. These are the types of questions Dave Sovereign and other American Coalition for Ethanol leaders posed during the association’s 34th annual conference in August, which we cover in “No Better Time than Now."

It was not our intention this month to continue covering the biofuels/EV battle for the future of low-carbon transportation energy, but the topic keeps manifesting in our pages. Our cover story, “Matching for More," is actually about ethanol blending practices, but the article is set against the backdrop of climate change, auto manufacturing and, yes, our ability to compete long-term with EVs. The story’s central character is Dean Drake, a former GM policy analyst who believes vehicles running on high-octane, low aromatic mid-level ethanol blends—like E30—can and should have a shared future with EVs.    

Producing all the ethanol needed for this envisioned future where higher ethanol blends are ubiquitous—picture 20 or 25 billion gallons per year of ethanol being produced—will demand a lot from our industry. Fortunately, production technology continues to get better over time. For example, in “Instant Intel," we talk to two providers of inline spectroscopy. While this technology is not a replacement for HPLC, it gives producers an inside look at fermentations, and actionable, real-time information for better results—which is what everyone wants.  

Enjoy the read.