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RFA study shows Plug-in Hybrid Flex Fuel Vehicle has major economic, climate advantages over battery EVs

RFA study shows Plug-in Hybrid Flex Fuel Vehicle has major economic, climate advantages over battery EVs
The RFA's Ford Escape plug-in hybrid electric flex fuel vehicle (photo courtesy RFA).

In the United States (US), the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has released a study documenting the economic and environmental benefits of the world’s first plug-in electric hybrid flex fuel vehicle (PHEFFV). After rigorous emissions testing, lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis, and nearly 34,000 miles of real-world driving, the study concludes that a PHEFFV offers distinct advantages over fully electric vehicles.

Last year, RFA purchased a 2022 Ford Escape plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) and immediately converted the gasoline internal combustion engine (ICE) to a flex-fuel engine capable of operating on electricity, gasoline, and any blend of denatured ethanol up to 85 percent.

By doing so the vehicle became a plug-in hybrid electric flex fuel vehicle (PHEFFV).

With this project, we sought to demonstrate that pairing plug-in hybrid electric technology with ethanol flex fuels offers an invaluable opportunity to reduce transportation-related GHG emissions without sacrificing consumer convenience, affordability, and optionality, said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper.

After a 15-month study on the vehicle, RFA found some impressive results.

When using E85, the PHEFFV delivered:

  • Reductions in lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that rival, or outperform, the GHG reductions achievable with many battery electric vehicles (BEVs);
  • Substantial reductions when compared to gasoline-powered vehicles in emissions of harmful tailpipe pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and carbon monoxide (CO);
  • Lower cost of ownership and operation (purchase price, fuel cost per mile) than a similar BEV; and
  • No meaningful loss in fuel economy, with the Escape experiencing just a 1.5 percent reduction in miles-per-gallon (mpg) compared to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated rate using E10.

While some have suggested a massive and immediate shift to BEVs is the best solution for decarbonizing personal transportation, other solutions—like low-carbon ethanol blends—offer enormous potential to achieve meaningful GHG reductions in both the near term and the long term, Combining plug-in technology and flex-fuel capability makes this vehicle the most adaptable and flexible in the world. It can be refueled with any fuel at any time, offering optimal convenience and affordability to the consumer. The PHEFFV overcomes many of the barriers to BEV adoption commonly cited by consumers, including limited driving range, high purchase price, reliability, and lack of refueling (recharging) infrastructure, the report states.

The RFA report comes at a time when automakers and consumers are expressing increasing doubts about an all-BEV future and turning back toward plug-in hybrid and gasoline hybrid vehicles as a more practical climate solution.

The RFA report also offers several recommendations for automakers, as well as federal and state lawmakers and regulators.

Our 15-month study of the Escape shows that rather than pitting electric vehicles and internal combustion engines against each other, policymakers should be embracing market-based approaches that combine the best of both worlds. There are incredible synergies between low-carbon liquid fuels like ethanol and plug-in hybrid technology, yet today’s federal and state vehicle emissions standards actively discourage these sorts of creative solutions that put the consumer in the driver’s seat. Our hope is that policymakers look closely at the lessons learned from this study as they consider future action on tailpipe emissions standards and other regulations. Low-carbon, low-cost ethanol has an important role to play—alongside of electrification and other technology-neutral solutions—in decarbonizing our transportation sector, ended Geoff Cooper.

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