The Biden administration is marshaling the power of the Energy Department to find low-carbon alternatives to petroleum-based transportation fuels and chemical feedstocks for plastics and other products.
The initiative, slated to be announced on Wednesday by Secretary Jennifer Granholm at the department’s Idaho National Laboratory, seeks to create fuel alternatives for aviation, rail and other hard-to-decarbonize sources. The agency’s goal is to develop fuels with greenhouse gas emissions that are at least 85% lower than fossil-based sources by 2035.
“DOE is invested in decarbonizing the transportation and chemical industries by accelerating technologies necessary to reduce emissions from the manufacturing of fuels and chemicals,” Granholm said in a statement.
The program, dubbed the Clean Fuels and Products Shot, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050, according to the Energy Department. It’s modeled after the department’s SunShot initiative, which began in 2011 and aimed to reduce the total cost of solar power by 75% by 2020. The program hit the mark 3 years early, when the cost of utility-scale solar reached 6 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2017.
To achieve the agency’s low-emission fuel goal, the department plans to develop alternative fuels using biomass sources such as forest trimmings and municipal solid waste, said Jay Fitzgerald, the chief scientist for the department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office. He added that other options could even include waste carbon dioxide.
The program aligns with the Biden administration’s goal of getting the US to net zero emissions no later than mid-century. Transportation accounts for the largest share of US greenhouse gas emissions, and aviation, rail and shipping are among the most stubborn sources of those emissions owing to a lack of readily viable alternatives. These types of fuels have so far been costly and challenging to produce at scale. But lower-emission alternatives are needed if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5C.