CARB re-adopts state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard

By Ann Bailey | September 29, 2015

The California Air Resources Board has re-adopted a Low Carbon Fuel Standard requiring a 10 percent reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 2020.

“Unlike the EPA, California's Air Resources Board has consistently supported renewable fuels. The CARB’s modifications to the LCFS will strengthen the program,” said Lyle Schlyer president of California ethanol plant Calgren Renewable Fuels and Kansas ethanol plant Pratt Energy LLC, in an email to Ethanol Producer Magazine.  “The LCFS may be imperfect (our industry is right to criticize its treatment of indirect land use change), but overall CARB stands as a beacon of light in an otherwise somewhat desolate regulator landscape. 

“As a fuel ethanol producer, I admire CARB's conviction and I fully support their efforts to strengthen renewable fuels,” Schlyer said.

The LCFS is the pillar which supports the state’s efforts to combat climate change, according to an Air Resources Board news release. Meanwhile, the LCFS also delivers more clean fuels for California residents and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, a CARB press release said.

The re-adoption of the standards builds on years of successful implementation and will continue to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse gases in California, said Mary D. Nichols, CARB chair.

Biodiesel is at the top of the list, notably corn oil biodiesel, when it comes to efficient ways to cut carbon, said the National Biodiesel Board. The fuel is the world’s most sustainable fuel, said Don Scott, National Biodiesel Board director of sustainability. Low carbon alternatives also can be low cost, when diverse supplies of renewable resources are used, Scott said. “This validates that California’s carbon reduction goals are obtainable.”

Corn oil biodiesel has an estimated carbon intensity of 28.68 grams of CO2 equivalent per megajoule of fuel, according CARB numbers reported by the National Biodiesel Board. Only used cooking oil biodiesel, which has a carbon intensity score of 19.87 grams per megajoule, has a better carbon score. Corn ethanol has a carbon score of 79.46 grams per megajoule. (See chart.)

In contrast, CARB gave standard diesel an estimated carbon score of 102.76 grams per megajoule, and California reformulated gasoline, 99 grams per megajoule.

The LCFS program is a key part of the state’s plans to enact Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order to reduce petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030.  The program requires transportation fuels used in the state to meet a baseline target for carbon intensity. Each year the target is lower and if the product is above the annual carbon intensity target, the fuel incurs deficits. If a product is below that target, the fuel generates credits which may be used for later compliance or sold to other producers who have deficits. So far, fuel producers are exceeding compliance with the regulation.

Carbon intensity is determined by a life cycle analysis measuring the amount of carbon generated during the extraction, production, transportation and combustion of a fuel. The LCFS doesn’t require use of a specific fuel, only that regulated parties find a blend of fuels and credits that will meet the target.

In an effort to address the court’s ruling and to strengthen the program, the LCFS re-adopted the LCFS after public testimony. Modifications included in the re-adopted version of the LCFS includes streamlining the application process for alternative fuel producers seeking a carbon intensity score.

The CARB also adopted a regulation governing alternative fuels. Beginning in 2016, there will be a three-step process to create a path to cleaner diesel substitutes into the market. The regulation also puts into place requirements and fuel specifications for biodiesel to ensure the emissions of nitrogen oxides from biodiesel use won’t increase and be reduced over time. Biodiesel and other alternative diesel fuels can help producers achieve their targets under the LCFS.