Report outlines biofuels' role in California GHG reduction goals

By Erin Voegele | June 09, 2011

A report recently released by the California Council on Science and Technology, a nonpartisan nonprofit, projects that the state's emission levels will drop to 80 percent below 1990 levels through technology and practices currently in use, available and under development. The study, titled “California’s Energy Future—The View to 2050,” looks into the future to determine what it will really take to reach the state’s emissions goals, and demonstrates the ability of cutting-edge technology to make lower emissions a reality.

According to the report, the technologies that will enable us to produce more energy with fewer resources and emissions are already in use or being demonstrated. The report addresses a wide range of emission free technologies, including efficiency standards for buildings and industry, electric vehicles, heat pumps, nuclear power, solar power, wind power, biofuels, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen production.

The report states that biofuels are an important component of California’s future fuel industry. “In 2050, even after aggressive electrification and efficiency gains, we will likely require 70 percent as much liquid and gaseous fuel as we use today,” said the authors in the report. “Current mean supply estimates of sustainable biofuels in 2050 are about 13 [billion gallons of gasoline equivalent per year (bgge/yr)], or about half of the projected 2050 residual fuel demand including heavy transport, high quality heat, and gas to produce electricity for load balancing. Even after aggressive efficiency and electrification measures have reduced fuel use as much as feasible, if just half of the estimated residual fuel demand in 2050 is still supplied by fossil fuel, the resulting emissions alone will exceed the 2050 target.”

Information included in the report estimates that resources within California could provide between 3 and 10 bgge/yr of biofuels from waste products, crop residues and marginal land. When adding in what the authors consider California’s “fair share” of world-wide biofuels via importation, the study projects that the state will have access to 13 bgge/yr of biofuel.

Regarding industrial development within California, the report estimates that producing just 5.5 bgge/yr of biofuel would require the construction of 110 plants, each with a 50 Mmgy capacity. The total investment for these assets is expected to be between $33 and $55 billion over 40 years.

However, the study also notes that the supply of biomass and decisions regarding its use will have a large impact on the green house gas (GHG) reduction benefits of resulting biofuels. The authors note this is also the case with biofuels that could be imported to California. While large quantities of bioenergy could reduce emissions significantly, the study concludes that quantities are uncertain. Furthermore, the study stresses that if biomass or biofuel becomes an energy commodity there could be serious ancillary impacts to food, water and fertilizer.

A full copy of the study can be downloaded from the CCST website


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