California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard Takes Shape

DAVIS, California, August 3, 2007 (ENS) - Drivers will be able to keep their gasoline-powered cars for many years, as fuel providers lower the global warming effects of gasoline, according to the first detailed outline of California's new Low Carbon Fuel Standard released Thursday by University of California transportation energy experts.

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard was commissioned in January by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He asked the specialists to design a standard that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fuels by 10 percent by 2020.

Professor Alex Farrell, director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, and Professor Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis spelled out in detail how the standard will work in the second part of a two-part report.

Daniel Sperling, left, of UC Davis, and Alex Farrell of UC Berkeley (Photo by Karin Higgins, courtesy UC Davis)
"This new policy is hugely important, and has never been done before," said Sperling. "It will likely transform the energy industries. And the 10 percent reduction is just the beginning. We anticipate much greater reductions after 2020."

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard, designed to stimulate improvements in transportation fuel technologies, is expected to become the foundation for similar initiatives in other states, as well as national and international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Part 1 of the report, completed in May, Farrell and Sperling evaluated the technical feasibility of achieving the 10 percent cut by 2020.

Based on six scenarios using different technologies, they concluded that the goal is ambitious but attainable.

At the end of June, the California Air Resources Board voted to start working toward that goal. The new standard is set to take effect by January 2010.

Now, the authors detail specific policies that together can achieve the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

They recommend that the new standard require only modest reductions in carbon intensity in the early years, and greater reductions later, as innovations reach the market

Triple biofuels dispenser in Santa Fe (Photo by Charles Bensinger, Renewable Energy Partners of New Mexico)
Passenger vehicle owners will find that the Low Carbon Fuel Standard brings a greater variety of fuels to the market, they say.

"Stabilizing the climate will require major changes in the coming years, and the new fuels that will come on the market in response to the low carbon fuel standard will be an important part of that change," said Farrell.

"One of the key roles for the state agencies will be ensuring that the competition among the different fuels results in real carbon emission reductions, more consumer choice, and minimal costs," he said.

Fueling infrastructure will evolve to include E85 filling stations for the ethanol blend, dedicated electric vehicle charging stations and meters in residences, and hydrogen delivery systems.

The menu of fuel choices might vary regionally, depending on availability, so that in some areas of the state, there would be more electric vehicles, in others more hydrogen, and elsewhere more biofuel.

The report suggests that petrofuel providers would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in a variety of ways.

They can blend more biofuel with gasoline and diesel; they can buy low-carbon fuels and emissions credits from other producers; they can make refineries more efficient, and use lower carbon sources of energy to run refineries.

Hydrogen dispenser at California Fuel Cell Partnership, Sacramento, California (Photo by Leslie Eudy courtesy FEMA)
Non-liquid fuel providers, who offer natural gas, propane and hydrogen, should have the option to participate in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, most likely by selling emissions credits to petrofuel providers, said the experts.

Revenue from selling emissions credits also would help low-carbon biofuel providers, who deal in fuels from plant and animal sources, such as corn, switchgrass and food waste, recoup investments made in innovation and learning.

Under Farrell and Sperling's plan, trucking, construction and farming vehicle owners will switch to the new standard. They say the standard should apply to all gasoline and diesel used in transportation, including freight trucks and trains, and off-road machinery such as construction and agriculture equipment.

"There are opportunities for double benefits here, such as switching to electricity for freight handling or for overnight truck use, which reduces carbon emissions, air pollution and noise," the authors said.

Growing more crops as biofuel feedstocks will have "mixed effects on greenhouse-gas emissions," they predict.

If biofuels are to be cleaner than fossil fuels, they must use advanced production methods, only some of which are available now, they must be derived from feedstocks grown on degraded land, or they must be produced from solid wastes or agricultural residues.

Sperling and Farrell call on the state to ensure that sensitive lands are protected from conversion to biofuel crop production.

The California Air Resources Board will require more financial resources to develop and enforce the new standard, Sperling and Farrell emphasize.

Electric shuttle buses plug in at Los Angeles International Airport. (Photo courtesy AeroVironment)
"It is imperative that neither the state administration nor the Legislature expect Low Carbon Fuel Standard administration to be a peripheral set of duties shoehorned into current operations without explicit funding," they say.

The California Board of Equalization may play a role. The California Energy Commission will play a role - it already manages the Petroleum Industry Information Reporting Act program, which requires firms that ship, receive, store, process and sell crude oil and petroleum products in California to submit detailed, frequent reports on their activities.

And the California Public Utility Commission will have to tackle "tricky questions" of how regulated local electricity providers should compete with the unfettered global oil industry.

The report identifies many questions that require further study, and recommends periodic reviews and assessments of protocol and methods - but not of the actual emissions targets.

Further study of the sustainability impacts and lifecycle emissions of existing and new fuels will be necessary. And the authors recommend a cost analysis of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard following the cost-effectiveness approach used in evaluating the Clean Air Act.

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, the report recommends that fuel providers report on the sustainability and environmental justice implications of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

This research was supported by the Energy Foundation and conducted by a team of researchers at UC Davis and UC Berkeley, who coordinated and consulted extensively with the staffs of the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission, and the representatives of many stakeholder organizations.

To read the full text of "A Low Carbon Fuel Standard for California," Parts 1 and 2, click here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.