Recent LCFS court ruling won't have much impact on biodiesel

By Ron Kotrba | June 07, 2013

On June 3, California’s Fifth District Court of Appeal handed down a provisional ruling in the lawsuit filed by Poet LLC against the California Air Resources Board regarding the state’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) program. According to court documents, the LCFS will continue to operate. One aspect of the court’s temporary disposition set aside CARB’s deferment of formulating mitigation measures for possible NOx increases from biodiesel, if shown to exist. It also requires CARB to commit to specific performance criteria if the formulation of any mitigation measures relating to NOx emission from biodiesel is deferred. The tentative disposition by the court also says CARB may avoid this if it can prove with substantial evidence that no mitigation measures are needed.

To the extent that violations occurred, it appears the ruling was more about technicalities than anything substantive. Since CARB will have the opportunity to address the violations without interuption to the LCFS program, sources say it should not have much impact on biodiesel. It does, however, appear to prompt CARB to act sooner rather than later on the contentious subject of biodiesel NOx emissions.

While biodiesel significantly reduces nearly all tailpipe emissions such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide compared to petroleum diesel exhaust, early EPA engine dynamometer tests showed a slight increase in NOx emissions from biodiesel. NOx consists of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which, together with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), produce smog and ground-level ozone (O3), compounds that degrade air quality and pose significant health hazards.

Years later, those same early emissions tests that showed slight NOx increases from biodiesel came under scrutiny; the tests are said to be too narrow and they do not represent the breadth of types of diesel engines, duty cycles and test loads operating in the real world. Later studies conducted by U.S. DOE, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Texas A&M University, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Navy suggest biodiesel blends such as B20 are NOx neutral.

The LCFS lawsuit was originally filed by Poet in January 2012, alleging that the environmental impacts of the LCFS were not adequately studied and, therefore, the program should be discontinued. According to the court ruling, the LCFS regulations in effect for 2013 will remain until corrective action is completed. CARB is also required to file an initial return with the superior court explaining what actions it will take to satisfy the writ’s requirements, including identifying who will act as the decision maker.

The court has invited comments or suggestions on ramifications of implementing the requirements of the writ. Responses are due by June 11.

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