Flipping the Script on OPEC

November 4, 2022

Bryan Sherbacow is President and CEO of Alder Fuels, while BJ Johnson is Co-Founder and CEO at ClearFlame Engine Technologies. Both companies are participants in the DriveClean Initiative, which supports a technology-neutral, national Clean Fuel Standard. 

When the President warned the OPEC cartel that high crude oil prices could “wreck economies” with continued cuts to production, it was a clear and immediate sign that action needed to be taken. 

The problem is that the President who said that was George W. Bush and it was 15 years ago, in 2007. It wasn’t the first time, or the last time, a US President and Congress found themselves in this position. So earlier this month, when OPEC again cut oil production and prices surged, American consumers rightfully asked, “haven’t we seen this movie before?” We have, dozens of times, and it’s about time Washington rewrites the script. For good. 

OPEC’s moves are dramatically weakening American and European efforts to wean themselves and their allies off Russian oil as the war in Ukraine grinds on and a brutal winter sits right over the horizon. OPEC's decision to place a choke hold on crude oil supply itself is being wielded as a weapon to threaten democracy. The message to many in Congress was clear. “With friends like OPEC, who needs enemies like Russia?”

The reaction from Capitol Hill was strong, but the fact remains, American consumers are still largely dependent on foreign oil as we were 15 years ago. President Biden’s decision last week to release 15 million more barrels of oil from the federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve only underscores the devastating economic impacts of high gasoline and diesel prices.

To change the script we need a different story line and a new cast of characters. A new coalition our companies are participating in offers one realistic solution; fueling our economy with a Clean Fuel Standard. 

A national Clean Fuel Standard would incentivize domestic production for a wide range of energy and fuel sources, creating jobs in the U.S. and reducing the need for foreign sources of energy. It’s a win-win on the climate front as well, setting a schedule for reducing the carbon intensity of transportation fuels over time to decarbonize the entire transportation sector. 

The DriveClean Initiative is a group of companies, trade associations and interested parties that have come together to ask Congress to pass a technology-neutral Clean Fuel Standard based on this set of principles, which represents an equitable and actionable mechanism for achieving measurable emissions reductions. 

That’s why DriveClean has drawn participants from a wide range of stakeholders from across the political and regional spectrum, including agriculture, environmental and non-governmental organizations, utilities, renewable fuel producers, technology firms, EV charging companies, and truck and bus manufacturers. 

Part of what makes a clean fuel standard so widely appealing is that it isn’t just about traditional automotive fuels. A fuel-agnostic standard will incentivize domestic production of home-grown fuel sources for all modes of transportation, unleashing innovation in the private sector to meet emissions reductions targets..

Both of our companies are on the forefront of technologies that have evolved over time to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions in sectors that are hard to electrify.

For example, at Alder Fuels, we make Alder Greencrude (AGC) from sustainable and globally available non-food biomass, including forest residues and agricultural waste. AGC can then be refined into low-carbon fuels, including Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and chemical products,using existing refining equipment and infrastructure. When commercially scaled up, our low-carbon fuels will be drop-in ready.

And at ClearFlame Engine Technologies, we retrofit heavy-duty trucks to use decarbonized liquid fuels instead of diesel, thereby enabling efficient and cost-effective decarbonization for the largest and most heavily polluting diesel engines.

Our companies share a passionate belief that decarbonizing transportation will require partnerships and innovations that make global OPEC dependency a thing of the past. But we also understand that there are still millions of traditional internal combustion engines on the road – along with hard-to-electrify applications as well – and we need a way to lower their emissions profiles too. After all, transportation accounted for over a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. And while the Inflation Reduction Act includes many good incentives for clean transportation, the law will have little near-term effect on transportation emissions by 2030, when U.S. emissions are supposed to be reduced to half of 2005 levels, according to a recent Rhodium Group analysis

There is a huge gap between the emissions ambition of 2030 and the policy mechanisms that are required to achieve it. A proven policy like a Clean Fuel Standard can fill that hole, freeing the U.S. from the OPEC-induced whiplash we’ve been experiencing at the pump in recent months, while powering job creation here at home and protecting our planet for future generations.