Since the first Model T rolled off production lines in 1908, most cars and trucks have come to run on gasoline or diesel. Both fuels come from oil, an energy-rich fossil fuel found in various forms underground.
Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns
Unfortunately, oil severely impacts our health, our security, and our climate. Fuel efficiency standards help cars and trucks use less of it, but significantly reducing U.S. oil use—halving it by 2035—requires a fundamental shift toward cleaner, safer fuels.
Those fuels are available today. Advances in electric vehicle technology, paired with an increasingly clean grid, mean electricity is now a viable clean fuel source for millions of drivers. Hundreds of thousands of electric cars are already being driven, with millions more expected in the coming years.
Biofuels are another clean fuels alternative, particularly when derived from non-food-based sources. Biofuels made from low carbon biomass, including perennial grasses and farm waste, can produce up to 90 percent fewer global warming emissions compared to gasoline. Over just the last decade, biofuels have grown by the equivalent of half a million barrels of oil a day; with new large-scale biofuels production facilities coming online every year, biofuels made from sustainable non-food based fuels resources could save an additional million barrels of oil a day by 2035.
Yet while electricity and biofuels are getting cleaner, oil is getting dirtier. Tar sands, tight oil, and other so-called “new” sources of oil are significantly more difficult and expensive to extract than conventional liquid oil. They’re also dirtier: producing a gallon of gasoline from unconventional oil can generate over twice as much pollution as it would have if produced from conventional sources.
Our decisions today matter. Drivers can go electric or drive fuel-efficient cars. Federal and state decision makers can enact strong fuels policies—such as low carbon or clean fuel standards—that encourage cleaner electricity and better biofuels. And while biofuels and electricity producers are cleaning up, the oil industry should do the same, reducing avoidable emissions, avoiding the dirtiest sources of oil, and preventing the oil we do use from getting worse.