California air board adopts changes to low carbon fuel standard

By Erin Voegele | December 21, 2011

While some supporters of the biofuels industry have criticized California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) in the past for failing to account for the increased carbon value associated with the extraction of some crude oils used to produce petroleum-based transportation fuels when the carbon value of biofuels are considered on a full life-cycle basis, a recent move by the state’s Air Resources Board (CARB) seems to take steps towards rectifying that inequality. In mid-December, CARB voted to introduce changes to the regulation that improve how the LCFS regulation accounts for the carbon intensity of crude oils.

According to a statement released by CARB, the carbon intensity of crude oils can vary significantly, with heavy crudes generally having a higher carbon footprint. The amendments put forth by CARB would require that the carbon intensity of crudes be fully accounted for under the LCFS, just as they are for other fuels regulated by the program.

"The Low Carbon Fuel Standard is an essential part of California’s program to move away from dirty fuels and toward a clean energy future,” said Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols. “These changes streamline the program. They ensure that we accurately account for every gram of carbon released during the extraction and transportation of unrefined fossil fuels, no matter where they come from."

A staff report published by CARB last fall outlines the proposed amendments to the LCFS. According to the document, the amendment would make several changes to the LCFS, including to revise the carbon intensity for California Reformulated Gasoline Blendstock for Oxygenate Blending (CARBOB) and ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) due to the production and transport of crude oil to California refiners to reflect crude supplies used in 2009. It would also rescind the current approach for mitigating emissions greater than a baseline, and establish a modified approach for mitigating higher emissions attributable to increases in crude production and transport.

A public comment on the amendment filed by Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council, noted that the AEC supports proper accounting for the incremental carbon deficits from the use of high carbon intensity crude oil (HCICO). The comment states that the LCFS requires detailed documentation and regulatory accountability from the point of origin of the biofuel feedstock through the production process and path to market. “We believe the LCFS should eliminate, to the greatest degree possible, any compliance inequities that exist among the many compliance fuels relative to petroleum‐based fuels, and seek to define ‘performance’ consistently across all fuel pathways,” Coleman said in the comment. 


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