California issues proposed regulation for LCFS

By Erin Voegele | March 05, 2009
Web exclusive posted March 11, 2009, at 3:34 p.m. CST

On March 5, the California Air Resources Board released its proposed regulation to implement a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS). The policy is an action that is called for under AB 32, which was signed into law by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. Otherwise known as California's Global Warming Solutions Act, the legislation aims to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions. The LCFS is part of the Scoping Plan to achieve the goals of AB 32.

According information released by CARB, the proposed regulation would diversify the variety of fuels and boost the market for alternative fuels. It would require providers, refiners, importers and blenders to ensure that the fuel they provide for the California market meets an average declining standard of carbon-intensity, which is determined by examining the sum of greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with the production, transportation and consumption of the fuel, also referred to as the fuel pathway. In addition, according to CARB, some fuel pathways result in the release of additional greenhouse gas emissions through the conversion of forestlands and other carbon-containing habitats.

CARB's inclusion of indirect land use effects in determining the carbon-intensity of fuel has been criticized by many in the scientific community. In March, a group of 111 scientists wrote a letter to Schwarzenegger describing some of these criticisms. According to the letter, this field of science is in its nascent stage and is controversial in much of the scientific community. The scientists also expressed concern that under the proposed LCFS, indirect land use change penalties are only being enforced against biofuels. The scientists maintained that the science is currently far too limited and uncertain for regulatory enforcement and indirect effects are often misunderstood and should not be enforced selectively.

Under proposed regulation, ethanol blended and biomass-based diesel fuels are assigned an Energy Economy Ratio (EER) of 1.0. The EER is defined as a ration of the number of miles driven per unit of energy consumed for a fuel compared to the miles driven per unit of energy for a reference fuel. The reference fuel used in the calculation is gasoline, and has been assigned an EER of 1.0. In comparison, electricity used in an electric battery or plug-in hybrid electrical vehicles and hydrogen used in a light- or medium-duty vehicle are assigned the respective EER values of 3.0 and 2.3.

In addition, the proposed regulation assigns corn-based ethanol a land use effect value of 30 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule of fuel (gCO2e/MJ). Corn-based ethanol is currently the only fuel assigned a land use effect value under the proposed legislation. Depending on the corn-based ethanol plant's location, its fuel use and distillers grains output, the resulting fuel is assigned a direct emissions value of 69.40 gCO2e/MJ to 47.44 gCO2e/MJ. The total carbon intensity values of corn-based ethanol range from 99.40 gCO2e/MJ for a Midwest 20-percent dry mill, 20-percent wet mill corn ethanol plant that produces dry distillers grains to 77.40 for a California-based dry mill corn-based ethanol plant that produces wet distillers grains and is powered by 20-percent biomass.

In comparison, standard gasoline is assigned a total carbon intensity value of 95.86 gCO2e/MJ. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is assigned a value of 73.40 gCO2e/MJ, while electricity is assigned a value ranging from 41.37 and 34.90 gCO2e/MJ. The total carbon intensity of hydrogen is valued between 61.83 and 33.09 gCO2e/MJ.

In order for the proposed regulation to take effect, the U.S. EPA must approve a waiver request allowing California to enact stricter regulations on tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions. More information on the waiver request is available on the EPA Web site.

CARB will hold a public workshop the week of March 23 to accept public comment on the proposed regulation. The notice of the public hearing can be accessed on CARB's Web site. The CARB Board Hearing to consider the LCFS regulation is scheduled for April 23.

Full text of the proposed regulation is available on CARB's Web site.