Advocates: Minnesota needs more alternative fuel

The Minnesota Legislature shows support for alternative vehicle fuel, but some think it’s not quick enough to combat climate change.

Advocates: Minnesota needs more alternative fuel

Logan Wroge

As Minnesota lawmakers push for the use of alternative fuel, some say progress should be quicker.

Changes to biofuel requirements and electric vehicle charging rates have led Minnesota’s efforts to increase alternative fuel consumption, but environmental advocates say more action is needed.

“A token amount of renewable energy isn’t going to cut it. We need a total transition,” said Simone Childs-Walker, a member of the student group Fossil Free Minnesota.

The Legislative Energy Commission met on Thursday to discuss alternative fuel sources.

Commission co-chair Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said at the meeting that Minnesota’s efforts have mostly centered on ethanol in the past.

Some say fuel sources like hydrogen or clean, renewable energy for electric vehicles offer a better solution than ethanol-based products.

University of Minnesota mechanical engineering assistant professor Will Northrop spoke at the meeting about the possibility of powering automobiles with hydrogen.

A tank of hydrogen fuel will take a vehicle about as far as a traditional gas-powered engine but is better for the environment, Northrop said.

But funding the research and infrastructure to support those vehicles, such as hydrogen-capable fueling stations, is one of the biggest disadvantages to the technology, Northrop said.

“[Hydrogen vehicles] are going to require a little bit more oomph from regulators and governments, essentially, to allow the infrastructure to happen,” he said.

Other alternative energy areas have seen more progress than hydrogen.

Among other legislative initiatives, a new state law in July bumped the amount of biofuel — fuel sourced from organic matter — required in diesel fuel from 5 percent to 10 percent.

“I would be surprised to see internal-combustion engine cars burning gasoline as a primary thing in a couple of decades,” Marty said.

Childs-Walker said she thinks the Legislature could be doing more to encourage alternative fuel and reduce carbon emissions.

As the Legislature aims to increase alternative fuel, the University has taken steps in this direction as well.

The University purchased its first hybrid car in 2001 and now has 68 hybrid vehicles in its fleet, Joseph Dahip, interim assistant director of the University’s Parking and Transportation Services, said in an email.

And 414 of the roughly 900 total vehicles in the fleet can run off E85 fuel, Dahip said.

University filling stations supplied 73,603 gallons of E85 to the fleet in the most recent fiscal year, Dahip said.

Fossil Free Minnesota would still like to see more change. The group is asking the University to divest its assets in the fossil fuel industry, Childs-Walker said.

Marty said he would like to see more emphasis on fuel produced in Minnesota, increasing employment
opportunities for the state.

“You’re buying your power from somebody producing electric power through wind generation in Minnesota,” Marty said. “That’s Minnesota jobs for Minnesota businesses.”

Although gas prices have been dropping, many agree that alternative fuel is critical to the state’s future.

“Gas is not going to be cheap forever,” Northrop said.