RFA publishes analysis of California LCFS data

By Erin Voegele | April 28, 2016

The Renewable Fuels Association has released an analysis of recently published data on California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, noting grain-based ethanol provided nearly half of the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions achieved under the first five years of the program.

The California Air Resources Board published updated quarterly LCFS data on April 15 that spans through the fourth quarter of 2015. It includes LCFS credit data related to biobased compressed natural gas (bio-CNG), biodiesel, CARBOB, biobased liquefied natural gas (bio-LNG), diesel, electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and renewable diesel. It also includes data related to feedstock.

The RFA analysis of the raw LCFS data indicates regulated parties have reduced the carbon intensity (CI) of the state’s transportation fuels by a cumulative 16.55 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases (GHGs) since LCFS enforcement began in 2011. Grain-based ethanol has generated 7.58 million metric tons of CI reductions during this time, accounting for 46 percent of total LFS credits and nearly 75 percent of credits in the gasoline pool. Sugarcane and molasses-based ethanol have resulted in 0.88 million metric tons of CI reductions, or less than 5 percent of total LCFS credits. Biodiesel has provided 2.73 million metric tons worth of LCFS credits, with biodiesel from corn distillers oil comprising approximately one-third of that total. Renewable diesel accounted for 2.76 million metric tons of credits.

Overall, the RFA points out that liquid biofuels have accounted for 87 percent of LCFS credits, including 51 percent for ethanol, and 17 percent each for renewable diesel and biodiesel. Fossil-CNG and fossil-LNG accounted for a respective 5 percent and 1 percent, while bio-CNG and bio-LNG accounted for 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively. Electricity accounted for approximately 4 percent. Other sources of fuels, including hydrogen, accounted for less than 1 percent.

According to the RFA, when CARB adopted its LCFS regulations in 2009, it expected Midwestern grain-based ethanol to make a quick exit from the California fuel market. This has not been the case. As early as 2011, CARB recognized that “the volume of lower-CI corn ethanol will far exceed the 2009 estimates” and ethanol plants “have made efficiency improvements” that CARB had initially overlooked, said the RFA. Meanwhile, as part of CARB’s LCFS “re-adoption” process in 2015, the agency also made revisions to its faulty ILUC penalty for corn ethanol, reducing it by roughly one-third. While the RFA states CARB’s ILUC penalty remains grossly exaggerated, the result of these changes is that most Midwest corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 25–35 percent compared to gasoline under the LCFS.

The RFA is calling on CARB to further revise down its CI values for grain-based ethanol based on the latest modeling, best available science, and empirical data. The trade group also said CARB should immediately begin the regulatory process to approve the use of midlevel ethanol blends.

A copy of the RFA’s white paper is available on its website