A panel of elected officials including State Senator Sheila Kuehl, State Assemblymember Fran Pavley, Assemblymembers Ted Lieu and Pedro Nava and Santa Monica City Councilmember Kevin McKeown held an informational hearing at SMC on “The Future of Alternative Fuels in California.”
Last year Pavley authored AB1007, which mandated that California develop a strategy to diversify its transportation fuel supply through increased use of alternative fuels in an effort to reduce oil dependency and air pollution.
Mike Smith, Director of Governmental Affairs for the California Energy Commission, noted California is the “5th largest economy in the world, the 2nd largest consumer of gasoline and diesel in the world…[and]…spends $150 million for gasoline and diesel daily.” The country as a whole is the number one consumer worldwide. Fuel price volatility due to “growing world demand for petroleum, natural disasters, political unrest, fuel/supply/refinery capacity is stretched” and limits on import capacity should all prompt California to emphasize developing alternative fuels. These fuels include biofuels – such as ethanol, renewable diesel and biomethane – and non-conventional fuels, which include natural gas, propane, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and electricity.
Smith also stated that the State’s Alternative Fuels Plan has set alternative fuels production goals for 2012, 2017 and 2022. The plan also recommended standards for fuels and vehicles to utilize them, encouragement of alternative fuel use, ensuring fueling stations are available and encouragement of the production of alternative fuel vehicles. This year’s State budget includes $25 million for alternative fuels.
Industry experts involved in the development of alternative fuels also spoke. Edward Kjaer from Southern California Edison discussed plug-in hybrid vehicles by noting most auto manufacturers “have hybrid programs today” and over the “next 20 years Hybridization will dominate powertrain development.”
Tom Koehler, the California Renewable Fuels Partnership representative, said by utilizing 10 percent ethanol blends California’s gasoline crisis would be lessened because it could add critically needed volume quickly. In addition, gasoline prices would be reduced because it costs 30 cents per gallon less than standard gasoline and the state would see reduced CO2 emissions. However, new vehicles would have to be “flex” so they could utilize ethanol fuels.
General Motors’ Robert Babik stated that in their 2007 product line they will have 14 models equipped with the option to run on Ethanol 85 (E85) fuel. They admit, however, one challenge for ethanol use is the limited availability of E85.
Lisa Mortenson, CEO Of American Biodiesel, discussed other biodiesels fuels. They are derived from agricultural products such as soybeans, mustard, safflower, sunflower palm oil or algae. Biodiesel fuel benefits include being nontoxic, biodegradable, clean burning and renewable. It has “a positive energy balance. For every unit of energy used 3.2 units of energy are produced.” Biodiesel is also cost effective, simple to use and improves car performance.
The California Fuel Cell Partnership’s Catherine Dunwoody discussed hydrogen fuel cells. “Fuel cells combine hydrogen on board the vehicle with oxygen from the air to create an electrochemical reaction that provides electricity to an electric motor.” The benefits of this fuel include excellent performance, fuel efficiency, zero tailpipe emissions, no fuel or oil spills and diverse sources of fuel. The traditional sources for hydrogen are natural gas, methane, nuclear energy and coal while the renewable sources are solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, biomass and algae.
Dunwoody pointed out, “Fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen are not yet market ready” but California is “uniquely positioned to capitalize on the investments” it has made in this technology.
Steve Ellis, representing American Honda Motor Company, mentioned that Honda’s philosophy is, “No single technology is the answer today.” Right now Honda has cars on the market that have internal combustion engines with better fuel economy and reduced emissions as well as hybrids. They have also developed the Civic GX, which uses only compressed natural gas (CNG) and has near-zero exhaust emissions. Honda is offering home refueling to increase consumer use of CNG. They are also testing a solar-powered hydrogen refueling station powered by Honda-developed thin film solar cells composed of non-silicon compound materials.
“California should be leading the way in reducing the nation’s addiction to oil,” said Pavley. “With the technological advances we have, this state could become an economic example in alternative energy sources to the rest of the world.”