California adopts renewable fuels program

By Hope Deutscher | June 03, 2009
The California Energy Commission recently adopted the state's first Alternative and Renewable Fuels and Vehicle Technology Program Investment Plan, which will allocate $176 million over the next two years to stimulate green transportation projects and encourage innovation to help meet the state's aggressive climate change policies.

California is aggressively working to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, decrease petroleum fuel use to 15 percent below 2003 levels by 2020, and increase alternative fuel use to 20 percent of total fuel consumed by 2020. To achieve those objectives, the California Energy Commission plans to focus on new fuels and vehicle technologies.

"Vehicles are the major contributor to global warming pollution. More than 38 percent of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in California come from burning gasoline and diesel in cars and trucks," commission vice chairman James Boyd said. "The investment plan promotes sustainable development. With it, California is embarking on a fundamental transformation of its transportation system to substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum use."

The energy commission plans to invest $12 million over the next two years to advancing ethanol production facilities and increasing the number of E85 fueling stations. There are currently only 13 E85 fueling stations in California. The commission also plans to invest $3 million towards the financing of up to 20 feasibility studies of low-carbon ethanol feedstock and modifying existing plants. According to the report, the multitude of feedstocks available in California from biomass waste streams and crops such as sweet sorghum and sugarcane make expanding in-state production of ethanol a realistic goal. The emphasis will be on cellulosic technologies, but the energy commission will also consider near-term use of alternate sugar and starch feedstocks to displace imported Midwest corn as well as improve the process efficiency in existing plants. Four million dollars has also been allocated to support the construction of low-carbon ethanol production pilot plants.

The commission has also allocated $40 million for hydrogen fueling stations; $46 million for electric vehicles, public charging stations and manufacturing plants; $43 million for natural gas vehicles, fueling stations and biomethane production facilities; $6 million for advanced renewable diesel and biodiesel facilities; and $2 million for propane vehicles. An additional $27 million will go towards funding workforce training programs, research, public education and technical assistance programs.

According to the guidelines of the investment plan, existing federal, state and local funding will be leveraged with public and private cost sharing. On April 22, the California Energy Commission released its first grant solicitation, which focused on transportation projects applying under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

At least one fuel retailer has already taken measures to reduce GHG emissions from vehicles. In January, Sacramento-based Propel fuels launched a state-wide network of low-carbon fueling stations offering both E85 and biodiesel. In addition, the company recently announced a partnership formed with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to offer E85 to its rental customers. Enterprise will make flexible fuel vehicles available to its customers at all 12 of its Sacramento-area locations and will include a map to Propel's five local fueling stations in each of the vehicles.

"We continue to increase our offerings of alternative technologies and environmentally friendly vehicles, and this includes flex fuel vehicles, but up until now there were few places for our customers to purchase E85 fuel. With Propel's launch, and their plans to expand, we can now offer our customers more options and better access to low-carbon fuels," said Chris Littlejohn, Sacramento area manager of Enterprise.