California’s Governor Newsom Executive Order Requiring Zero-Emission Cars and Passenger Trucks by 2035 is Shortsighted

(Opinion) On September 23, 2020, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring all new cars and passenger trucks sold be zero-emission by 2035. In light of the devastating wildfires the West has been experiencing this season, the executive order is intended to move the state away from dependence on climate changing fossil fuels.

I fully support taking action to reduce manmade carbon dioxide production to stop the effects of climate change. I just do not think requiring zero-emission cars is a viable solution. A zero-emission vehicle does not emit any pollutants, including climate changing carbon dioxide, when in operation. Zero-emission does not mean carbon dioxide is not a byproduct of the overall energy process to operate the vehicle. For example, combustion of fossil fuels could be involved in generating electricity for an all-electric vehicle, and the all-electric vehicle is still considered zero-emission. Hydrogen powered cars are also considered zero-emission since they only emit water vapor during operation.

What is important is that we reduce our overall carbon dioxide production. There are many ways to go about this. Limiting consumer choice to just zero-emission vehicles is where I have a problem with the executive order. At this time, there are two primary options for a zero-emission vehicle: 1) all electric and 2) hydrogen powered. Zero-emission in the future will most likely be all-electric vehicles. Hydrogen powered vehicles will have a rough time establishing a foothold due to challenges associated with distribution of hydrogen fuel to pumps.

For many consumers, an all-electric vehicle will not work for them. There are two main reasons for this: 1) lack of access to charge their vehicle; and 2) time to charge the batteries. Many people do not have a garage with an outlet to park their car at night. They must park outside on the street, or in a car port without a plug nearby. And many people have jobs where they need to drive a lot; like Uber drivers or real estate agents. These people cannot wait hours for their car to recharge. I think an all-electric vehicle will work for many people, but it will be a serious problem for others. This is why consumers need more than one choice.

100% biofuel vehicles are a carbon neutral solution that needs to be on the table. A 100% biofuel vehicle is not considered zero-emission since it does emit carbon dioxide, along with other by-products of combustion. The production of biofuel absorbs carbon dioxide, and then it is re-emitted when combusted; thus, a zero-carbon life cycle. Algae is the most common plant being researched for biofuel production. The growth of algae absorbs tons of carbon dioxide before being turned into a fuel. Today, cars and trucks can run on biofuel with little modification, and they enjoy similar expected performance of range and refueling times as gas vehicles.

Biofuels are being developed not only for cars, but for our entire transportation sector. This includes jet fuel for airplanes, and fuel for cargo ships, trains, commercial trucks, farming vehicles, and construction vehicles.

This is what I think makes more sense. Things that do not move should be electrified. Things that do move should transition to biofuel or all-electric. This means our buildings need to switch to 100% electricity. Starting today, all new buildings should be all electric. Starting today, replacement of aging hardware in buildings should be all electric. This means electric heat, electric stoves, electric water heaters, electric driers, etc. There is no reason we cannot electrify our buildings starting right now.

Consumers need a choice between a 100% biofuel vehicle or an all-electric vehicle. The executive order only allows for zero-emission, and that needlessly blocks access to biofuel technology to consumers. We all know that all-electric is not going to work for jet airplanes. It is questionable for the trucking industry. All electric cargo ships probably will not happen either. Biofuels are being developed to address the needs of our entire transportation sector. The consumer transportation sector should have access to biofuel technology since biofuels will likely be a part of our green transportation future.