Robbie Diamond, the CEO of the Electrification Coalition recently penned an opinion piece urging that the U.S. “move swiftly to electrify large sections of its vehicle fleet” by suggesting that the U.S. Postal Service fleet would be a good starting point. Mr. Diamond argues that the move is both a necessary market stimulant for the electric vehicle industry and a national security imperative as China, America’s biggest rival, currently dominates the electric battery supply chain. Give Diamond’s approach credit for one thing: It finally put forward an honest argument for vehicle electrification. His case, however, should be seen for what it is. It is not science-based but instead, purely political.
Electrification Contributes to CO2 Emissions
Global politics is a legitimate lens through which to view vehicle electrification. In the context of global warming, however, the science shows definitively that electrification –– especially for medium and heavy-duty vehicles such as school buses, port drayage and long-haul transport –– contributes more to atmospheric CO2 than vehicles powered by propane. How can this be? The electricity grid, assumed to be emissions free, is actually chock-full of carbon. Fully 60% of America’s electricity is produced by burning coal and natural gas. It’s even more distressing to know that more than 60% of the energy used for electricity generation is lost in conversion. It’s hard to believe that loss is acceptable, but it is electricity’s reality.
Propane Offers a Lower Carbon Footprint
Currently, propane fueled medium- and heavy-duty vehicles perfectly capable of delivering the mail, provide a lower carbon footprint in 38 U.S. states when compared to medium- and heavy-duty grid-charged electric vehicles. The good news applies to 50 states when renewable propane is in use. Even in an ideal scenario of a decarbonized grid and vehicles with Lithium-ion batteries manufactured with zero-carbon energy, vehicles fueled with new, novel propane blends enable a lower carbon footprint in all 50 states compared to medium-duty electric vehicles, including postal trucks.
At our nation’s ports, propane is serving as a cleaner-burning, drop-in alternative to bunker fuels, which are notorious emitters of CO2, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Propane-powered forklifts, which are much more climate-friendly than their diesel or gasoline counterparts and keep running even when the grid is down, are at work 24/7 to move products to the people.
What About Mineral-Based Energy?
For some, the future of the planet depends on switching from molecule-based energy to mineral-based. Today, however, nearly 65% of the lithium ion batteries needed to power electric vehicles come from China, so while the shift away from OPEC may seem desirable, it simply strengthens China’s hand. Further, opening American mineral production capacity is likely, as an IEA report recently detailed, to take 16 years to move any new mining project from discovery to production. Already, adversaries to prospective mines in Nevada have filed federal lawsuits to prevent lithium extraction.
All of this leads us to a singular question: Is it better to electrify with American-sourced minerals 16 years from now, or, is it better to decarbonize with clean, abundant, affordable, American-made energy like propane that is ready to deliver the mail today?