Biofuels, particularly ethanol, have been hailed as an integral part of the shift towards a sustainable transport sector, complementing electric and hydrogen-based alternatives. Given the contemporary focus on climate change mitigation, the application of ethanol in commercial fleets offers a potentially transformative route towards a low-carbon transport sector.

Ethanol: The Basics

Ethanol is a biofuel derived primarily from plant biomass, including corn, sugarcane, and wheat, through a fermentation process. This biofuel has the potential to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, thus curtailing the negative environmental effects associated with petroleum-based fuels.

Advancements in Ethanol as a Commercial Fleet Vehicle Fuel

  • Technological Advances: Modern flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) can operate on a range of ethanol-gasoline mixtures, with E85 (a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) being the most common. Technological advancements have allowed for more efficient production processes, improved vehicle fuel systems, and better adaptation to a range of ethanol mixtures.
  • Infrastructure Development: Improved fueling infrastructure has eased the transition to ethanol. The number of stations offering E85 and other high ethanol blends has steadily increased in recent years, reducing range anxiety for fleet operators.


GHG Emissions of Ethanol: Quantifying in GGE

Ethanol’s GHG emissions vary based on the feedstock used and the method of production. However, the consensus is that, on average, ethanol results in a reduction of GHG emissions compared to conventional gasoline.

On a lifecycle basis, when considering all emissions from production to combustion, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that conventional gasoline emits approximately 2,421 grams of CO2-equivalent per GGE. In contrast, corn-based ethanol emits about 1,894 grams of CO2-equivalent per GGE, a reduction of about 22%.

Ethanol and Sustainability

  • Environmental Sustainability: While ethanol production and use result in lower GHG emissions than gasoline, the overall environmental sustainability depends heavily on feedstock choice and agricultural practices. Some studies suggest that the conversion of forests or grasslands to produce biofuel crops may lead to a net increase in CO2 emissions.
  • Social Sustainability: Ethanol can contribute to social sustainability by promoting energy security and providing rural employment opportunities. However, its production may also compete with food crops, potentially raising food prices.
  • Economic Sustainability: The economic sustainability of ethanol as a fuel depends on factors like feedstock costs, production costs, and policy support. With technological advancements reducing production costs and with appropriate policy measures, ethanol can become an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels.


Forecasting the Growth Rate of Ethanol as a Commercial Vehicle Fuel

Despite the challenges, the use of ethanol as a commercial vehicle fuel is expected to grow, primarily due to policy support for biofuels and the need to reduce GHG emissions. Predicting exact growth rates is complex due to fluctuating oil prices, evolving policy landscapes, and advancements in competing technologies like electric vehicles. However, optimistic scenarios forecast a growth rate of 3-5% annually over the next decade.


While not a silver bullet, ethanol can play a significant role in decarbonizing the transport sector, especially for commercial fleets. It provides a feasible, albeit not perfect, solution for reducing GHG emissions and moving towards greater sustainability. Future advancements in production methods, improvements in vehicle technology, and supportive policies will shape the growth trajectory of ethanol as a commercial fleet vehicle fuel.