Hottest New Fuel for Cars and Light Trucks in US…You Will Never Guess

The Energy Information Administration provided an early release of their Annual Energy Outlook for 2014 in mid-December.  I have a history of taking this annual 30 year forecast and dissecting it for interesting ideas and insights that are a little more understandable than trillions of BTU’s.

Like all forecasts the EIA’s will be wrong to some degree the minute it is published and any extrapolation of current facts 30 years into the future is fraught with danger.  But they do a good job of it overall and they have the best collection of data in the world due to many of mandatory filings and reports US companies must provide.

So to my question posed in the title.  One guess as to the hottest new fuel for getting around in your car or pickup truck over the next 10, 20, or even yes 30 years?  Must be either CNG/Natural Gas or Electricity right?  Maybe that crazy Hydrogen idea we’ve been hearing about for the past 10 years?  Propane?  Nope.  Good old diesel.  Yes folks the big winner going forward to move you from home to work and back again, that new revolutionary new fuel, diesel.

Auto Fuel Demand Forecast

Now for those of you who love unit conversions you are welcome to go look at the EIA data which is presented in Trillions of BTU’s.   For those of us who would rather think in terms they can maybe get their head around I have converted the demand forecast into gasoline gallons using a standard energy value for gasoline of 118,500 BTU/gallon.

This provides a way to look at each product in one place on one scale, and yes I converted the diesel gallons to gasoline gallons for consistency.  Diesel has between 129,000 and 138,500 BTU/gallon here in the US, so we would use about 7-9% less physical gallons than the “gasoline” gallons shown in the chart.

I have removed diesel from the chart below so we can look at the other options more easily.

Automotive E85 Forecast

So that crazy squiggly green line on the chart, that is E85.  Why is it the most varied of all the alternatives?  Well because the EPA hasn’t quite figured out what we are going to do with the RFS2.  That is a whole other story that we’ll cover in the future, but suffice it to say that of all the forecast’s components that could be “wrong” that one certainly has the biggest chance of being far from the mark.

So what is the forecast for overall automotive and light duty, basically our on road fuel use as consumers, not fuel used in commercial trucking? Well demand is going to shrink overall.  The biggest reason?  Increased efficiency as we roughly double our fuel economy average of the US fleet from 25 to 50 miles per gallon.   Yes as you can see from other charts above some of that decline in gasoline use is the growth of other alternatives. That new alternative demand has an impact but by far the biggest driver is how far we go on each gallon of gas since it will be mostly gallons of gas that we use to get around.

Auto Fuel Demand Forecast Overall


  1. Hi Doug –

    I agree with much of what you highlight and agree that diesel (aka HO 2) has a bright future. I have been dedicating space in my CSP Magazine columns (recently October 2013) to alternative fuels and believe that CNG also has a bright future based on gasoline gallon equivalent energy content and price.

    1. Ken, I agree that CNG (and LNG to a lesser extent) are going to take some share and we are seeing demand from customers that exceeds these forecasts from the EIA. On the other hand we do see the diesel growth in automotive use that the forecast predicts, many more of the retailers we supply across the country are adding diesel, from Costco to the corner gas station. Diesel’s expansion with those retailers is in response to this increased demand.

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