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Increase In Alternative Fuel Vehicles Doesn’t Mean That Drivers Are Using Less Gasoline

Because you can put gas in flex-fuel vehicles, and because you can’t find ethanol anywhere, just putting clean cars on the roads hasn’t meant cleaner emissions.

Governments and corporations–big entities that have to move a lot of stuff and people around–buy a lot of cars and use a lot of gas. In 2009, these U.S. fleets used 826,318 alternative fuel vehicles. That’s a 7% increase from 2008. But somehow, gasoline use hasn’t declined accordingly. Despite their good intentions (or desire to grab incentives) people aren’t taking advantage of the vehicles they’re buying

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Alternative fuel vehicles are defined broadly–they include vehicles that can be powered by electricity, natural gas, ethanol and other alcohols, propane, biodiesel, and more. So what happened? The U.S. Energy Information Administration explains in a press release: “The availability of potential AFVs does not equate to actual use of AFVs
because of uneven access to transportation fuels, specifically for
ethanol. The limited availability and economic viability of E85 fuel means that
the vast majority of AFVs owned by individuals burn traditional fuels
(gasoline and diesel).” Just because vehicles have alternative fuel capabilities doesn’t mean drivers will use them, especially if the most convenient source of fuel is gasoline.

Part of the problem is that alt-fuel vehicles have been adopted by fleets that scooped them up because of financial incentives, regulations, or a desire to look good (“Our entire fleet has biofuel capabilities!”).

Texas, for example, has a program that provides incentives to owners of large fleets to replace diesel-powered vehicles with alt-fuel capable ones. And nationally, the Clean Fleets Partnership is asking major corporations to switch to alt-fuel vehicles in exchange for the opportunity to collaborate with the DOE and use the agency’s resources.

The only way that fleets will actually use more alternative fuels is if their fueling infrastructures are built out more thoroughly. This is already starting to happen with electric vehicles–Ecotality is installing thousands of charge spots across the country. And remember, the EIA report is based on 2009 numbers, so the statistics may not be so disheartening today. Then again, traditional gas stations still greatly outnumber alt-fueling spots, and that probably won’t change anytime soon.

[Images: Wikipedia, EIA]

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Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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