green and sustainable business

Biofuel, biomass production boosted by new ARB regs

leave a comment »

bucolicskyTwo years after Gov. Schwarzenegger issued an executive order requiring low carbon fuel standards, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) voted Thursday by an overwhelming margin to adopt a regulation implementing the governor’s initiative.

It calls for a 10 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from California’s transportation fuels by 2020.

This appears to give a big boost to alternative fuel production and distribution in the state. Regulators said they expect the new generation of fuels to come from the development of technology that uses algae, wood, agricultural waste such as straw, common invasive weeds such as switchgrass, and even from municipal solid waste.

ARB, a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency, says the new reg is aimed at “diversifying the variety of fuels used for transportation,” and will boost the market for alternative-fuel vehicles and achieve 16 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2020. (ARB by the way is also commonly referred to as CARB, but since the agency refers to itself as ARB that’s what we’ll use.)

“The new standard means we can begin to break our century-old dependence on petroleum and provide California with greater energy security” said ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols.

ARB’s analyses say that to produce the more than 1.5 billion gallons of the biofuels needed, more than 25 new biofuel facilities will have to be built and will create more than 3,000 new jobs, mostly in the state’s rural areas.

The regulation requires providers, refiners, importers and blenders to ensure that the fuels they provide for the California market meet an average declining standard of ‘carbon intensity.’ This is established by determining the sum of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, transportation and consumption of a fuel, also referred to as the fuel pathway.

“Economic mechanisms will allow the market to choose the most cost-effective clean fuels (those with the lowest carbon intensity) giving California consumers the widest variety of fuel options,” the agency says.

Seeking to enhance private sector and federal investment into alternative fuel production and distribution, California is also providing funding to assist in the early development and deployment of the most promising low-carbon fuels. The Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, managed by the California Energy Commission, will provide approximately $120 million dollars per year over seven years to deploy the cleanest fuels and vehicles.

That comes to $840 million, a very decent chunk of change.

Arnold issued the executive order requiring the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) in early 2007. The standard does not become binding until Jan. 1, 2011.

Early reaction to the regulation was a little mixed, especially from ethanol producers concerned with ARB’s controversial calculations surrounding the emission impact of its ‘indirect land use change’ on sugar and corn ethanol.

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) said sugarcane ethanol “passed a critical test” when ARB passed the LCFS. While UNICA “continues to provide evidence that sugarcane ethanol’s carbon intensity is even lower than initially calculated” by ARB, the decision “means sugarcane ethanol will be in greater demand in California in the years to come.

“The verifiable 90 percent greenhouse gas reduction delivered by sugarcane ethanol provides a source of low carbon fuel that achieves the goals of California’s ambitious regulation, with room to spare,” said UNICA President & CEO Marcos Jank following the vote in Sacramento.

“We congratulate California for leading the world in encouraging low carbon fuels. But any realistic evaluation of carbon emissions from sugarcane farming in Brazil must reflect the strict policies being implemented and action already taken to phase out sugarcane burning, increase mechanical harvesting and expand cogeneration output,” said Joel Velasco, UNICA’s chief representative in North America.

Velasco says that with CARB determined to push forward with indirect land use calculations, the best available data and research should be considered before rushing to conclusions. “Indirect land use changes must accurately represent the dynamics of Brazilian agriculture today. We are confident that a data driven analysis will conclude that indirect land use change from sugarcane cultivation in Brazil is marginal at best,” he added.

Growth Energy, a group comprised of U.S. ethanol producers, said meanwhile that ARB “voted to enact a standard that unfairly penalizes biofuels as compared to other fuels, including gasoline.”ethanol-plant

General Wesley Clark, co-chairman of Growth Energy, said, “We’re disappointed with the board’s vote. This was a poor decision, based on shaky science, not only for California, but for the nation. It is unfair to selectively single out the indirect effects of one fuel pathway while ignoring the significant indirect effects of all other fuels, including petroleum. Today’s decision puts another road block in moving away from dependence on fossil fuels and stifles development of the emerging cellulosic industry.”

Growth Energy said ARB unfairly penalizes biofuels by adding the “indirect land use change” figure to the carbon intensity of biofuels.

It argued that applying indirect effects only to biofuels set an unequal standard since other fuels also have indirect greenhouse gas emissions effects. However, Growth Energy said it is “pleased the ARB has agreed to continue its study of indirect effects, including indirect land use change as well as the indirect effects of all other transportation fuels.”

“The inclusion of an indirect land use change penalty against ethanol is not based on universally accepted science, puts our industry at an unfair disadvantage and would likely lead to increased dependence on foreign oil and stall efforts to create a greener economy,” said Tom Buis, Growth Energy’s CEO. “We’re very supportive of a low carbon fuel standard because ethanol is a low carbon fuel. Corn ethanol can thrive if all fuel pathways are calculated on a level playing field.”

My admittedly unscientific and perhaps naïve reaction to the above is that this is huge: Finally there is a decision that gives all types of biofuel some real direction and impetus. Calculating the “indirect” impact of land use on fuel pathways strikes me as inherently inexact and will always be subject to interpretation and debate. The bar has to be set somewhere and ARB has done this.

To view the regulation, all 374 pages of it, click here.


Written by William DiBenedetto

24 April, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: