By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On March 23, 2017, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (ARB) announced the release of new carbon intensity pathways for fuels certified under the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) using the CA-GREET 2.0 model. Of the 18 pathways approved in March, eight are first generation biodiesel carbon intensity pathways and four are second generation renewable diesel carbon intensity pathways. A pathway for biodiesel produced from used cooking oil has been provisionally certified, as well. The approved pathways can be used for credit reporting purposes beginning with reports for Q1 2017. The LCFS regulation aims to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels sold in California by 10 percent by 2020 in line with the California Health and Safety Code mandate to reduce greenhouse gases in California.
On March 24, 2017, Neste, a member of BRAG®, announced its approval of draft proposals by the Swedish government regarding mandated reductions in traffic fuel emissions and the continued tax exemption for high-blended biofuels. By 2030, the government aims to reduce carbon emissions from transportation by 70 percent. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the ambitious targets and long-term perspective will help support innovation and investments in biofuels. Neste, which has a strong focus on developing cost-efficient technologies to convert forest residues into biofuels, stated that the substantial amount of forest-based raw materials in the country will likely play a key role in achieving the proposed goals.
On March 13, 2017, the South Dakota Farmers Union announced that the National Farmers Union had passed a resolution calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to open the market to higher blends of ethanol during its annual meeting in San Diego. The resolution, which was brought forward by the South Dakota Farmers Union delegation, promotes the use of higher blended fuels, such as E30, as a way to expand the retail fuels infrastructure and support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
In addition to passing the resolution, the National Farmers Union filed legal comments regarding EPA’s overreach in its interpretation of the Clean Air Act (CAA), which limits ethanol content to 15 percent. Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union, called on EPA and all government regulators to reverse statements and policies that unfairly limit the amount of ethanol in fuel and stated that both the state and national organization continue to seek greater market access for higher blended fuels.
On January 25, 2017, the Urban Air Initiative (UAI), along with the Energy Future Coalition and the states of Kansas and Nebraska, filed a request for correction of information petitioning EPA to correct its models on motor vehicle fuel emissions that limit the use of higher blends of ethanol. In the petition, UAI claims that EPA continues to publish inaccurate data regarding ethanol emissions that originated with its fuel effects study and vehicular emissions computer model, MOVES2014, and describes the fundamental flaws in the design of the study. UAI relied on peer reviewed scientific studies to refute EPA’s ethanol emissions estimates, and called on EPA to respond to the request within 90 days.
On January 17, 2017, Neste, a member of the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®), announced the rebranding of its “Neste Renewable Diesel” to “Neste MY Renewable Diesel,” and the updating of other names within the renewable products family to “Neste MY” brand names. Neste MY Renewable Diesel is a low-carbon drop-in renewable fuel that does not require vehicle modifications, and can be refueled into any blending ratio due to its compatibility with existing diesel fuels. Compared to conventional petroleum diesel, Neste MY Renewable Diesel enables up to 80 percent lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout the lifecycle.
On January 18, 2017, Christopher Grundler, the Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), signed a notice inviting comment on its analysis of the upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the production of sugar beets for use as biofuel feedstock. The notice describes the analysis performed, which considers the extraction of non-cellulosic beet sugar for conversion to biofuel and the use of the remaining beet pulp for animal feed, and how EPA may use the analysis to determine whether biofuels from sugar beets qualify as renewable fuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program based on the GHG emission threshold requirement. The notice states that biofuels from sugar beets could qualify as renewable fuel or advanced biofuel, depending on the type and efficiency of the fuel production process technology used. A prepublication version of the report is available now, with a final publication date to be announced. A 30 day public comment period will begin after the formal proposal is published in the Federal Register.
On January 12, 2017, USDA released a report on the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of corn ethanol, titled “A Life-Cycle Analysis of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn-Based Ethanol.” The study reviewed industry and farm sector performance over the past decade and found that in the United States corn-based ethanol generates 43 percent less GHG emissions than gasoline. Compared to previous studies, the lifecycle GHG benefits were greater due to improvements in corn production efficiency, conservation practices, and ethanol production technologies. The report also presented two projected GHG emissions profiles for corn ethanol in 2022, with one assuming a continuation of observable trends and the other analyzing additional improvements that could further reduce the GHG emissions.