Comments due Dec. 8 on draft California energy report

By Erin Voegele | November 26, 2014

The California Energy Commission is accepting public comments on its Draft 2014 Integrated Energy Policy Report Update through Dec. 8. The report outlines the commission’s assessments of a variety of energy issues currently impacting the state. Bioenergy and biofuels are among the topics addressed in the document.

A wide variety of issues, programs and policies are addressed in the report, including the role of transportation in meeting state climate, air quality and energy goals. It also addresses the state’s Alternative and Renewable Fuels and Vehicle Technology Program, the state of biofuels technologies over the next decade, and programs related to renewable electricity production and planning.  

A workshop was held by the commission on the draft report Nov. 24. According to a presentation made at that event by the California Energy Commission, biofuels have the potential to provide immediate emission reduction benefits in California. According to the presentation, biofuels blended with gasoline and diesel are being spurred by regulations and government incentive funding. The commission also indicated renewable diesel and biodiesel are making tremendous gains, although feedstock limitations for waste oils and greases may be a limiting factor. The presentation also addresses biogas production in California, noting challenges remain to ensure that biogas can be safely and economically injected into pipelines.

The draft report specifies biofuels will play a critical role in reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector and are a key element in the Energy Commission’s portfolio approach to a low-carbon transportation future. “Ethanol has already displaced 10 percent of petroleum fuel as a blend in the 14.5-billion-gallon-per-year, gasoline-based, light-duty passenger vehicle sector, and biodiesel and renewable diesel could increase three-to-sixfold by 2020 to displace part of the 3.6-billion-gallon-per-year diesel fuel market as a fuel blend in trucks and buses,” said the commission in the report.

The report also notes that low-carbon-intensity feedstocks have also begun to displace corn ethanol and soy diesel as sources for biofuel production. ”Large volumes of these moderate to low-carbon intensity biofuels not only displace petroleum, but offer an opportunity to reduce large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years,” said the commission in the report, adding that biofuels can be used in existing vehicles.

Over the next 10 year, the commission said biofuels have the potential to cost-effectively displace significant quantities of petroleum fuels. The report cites research completed by the UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies, which determined biomass resources could be used to produce from 1.5 billion to 2 billion gallons of diesel equivalent biofuel annually. However, nearly half that potential feedstock base consists of agricultural prunings and forest management remains for which there is not yet an economic cellulosic or gasification process technology.

Regarding challenges, the report notes that in-state biogas and landfill gas cannot be injected into California’s natural gas pipeline system until the California Public Utilities Commission completes its work on technical standards and cost recovery under Assembly Bill 1900. The Energy Commission also said the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard is contending with legal challenges and a re-adoption process, while the federal renewable fuel standard (RFS) continues to be create controversy with its biofuel categorization system and volumetric approach.

According to the report, increasing the amount of biofuels available is a key component to affecting the level of transformation needed in the transportation sector. The commission noted biofuels funding for fuel production and infrastructure comprises 29 percent of the current Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program investment portfolio.

Through $91 million in Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program funding, the Energy Commission said it is funding 33 projects that will advance process technology development and expand production capacity for second- and third-generation biofuels made from waste-based feedstocks with low carbon intensity values. About 60 percent of the funding is allocated to commercial-scale projects, while 40 percent is allocated to feasibility studies and mid-scale demonstration projects. According to the Energy Commission, 15 biomethane projects have received a combined $50.9 million, while 12 biodiesel projects received a combined $17.1 million. A total of 11 ethanol projects have received a combined $23.5 million, with five renewable diesel projects and one cellulosic ethanol project receiving $17.1million and $3.9 million, respectively.

A full copy of the report, along with presentation materials is available on the California Energy Commission website. Information on how to submit comments on the draft report is available in the agenda for the Nov. 24 meeting.