Monday, September 21, 2015

California Climate Solutions: BioFuels

BioFuels Contributing to California Climate Goals

Ethanol from sugar cane and sorghum.  Diesel from waste vegetable oils.  Natural gas from food and yard waste.

These are just a few of the green fuels that are in the process of commercialization in California.

A key "pillar" in Governor Brown's California plan to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% by the year 2030 is to cut fossil fuel use in the transportation sector by 50%.  As I described in a prior blog post (California 2030 Climate Goals:  Transportation Fuel Use), the fossil fuel reduction goal is attainable with current technologies through a combination of electric/hydrogen vehicle deployment, efficiency improvements, expanded use of alternative transportation modes, and noticeable increases in the use of low carbon fuels.

Relative carbon intensity of current standard diesel fuel (ULSD) and
various substitutes.  Source:  ARB 2/19/15 Presentation

While electrification of the transportation sector remains a central policy goal of the state, there will continue to be some transportation modes that will be slower to electrify, including long haul trucks and other non-automobile vehicles and equipment.  In addition, traditional and hybrid cars will continue in use for the foreseeable future.  Vehicles that traditionally used fossil fuels can still contribute to the state climate goals through the use of renewable fuels.

For several years, the California Energy Commission (CEC) has been providing strategic grants to assist in the commercialization of alternative and renewable fuels.  The grants are a real climate success story.  With CEC assistance, many companies are now providing low-carbon fuels for direct use or to blend with existing fuels to lower the carbon intensity and climate impacts.  

Several of the projects were highlighted at a recent workshop convened by CEC Commissioner Janea A. Scott.

Harry Simpson of Crimson Renewable Energy said their facility in Bakersfield is the largest biodiesel plant in California.  They use used cooking oil, inedible corn oil from ethanol plants and animal fats as feedstock, but could use other sources in the future.  They are in the process of expanding their plant from 10 million gallons per year capacity to 22 million gallons per year.

Harry Simpson, President
Crimson Renewable Energy 9/18/15

Mr. Simpson cited state policies and incentives as key to their ability to expand production.  One of the policies is the state "Low Carbon Fuel Standard" (LCFS).  The LCFS is in the process of being renewed by the California Air Resources Board.  He also said that crops could be used as a feedstock for renewable diesel, but there are challenges assuring a consistent and adequate supply.  He said that some of these challenges could be overcome if there were a crop insurance program available for energy crops.

Susan Kennedy of South San Francisco Scavenger Company and Evan Edgar of Edgar and Associates described facilities to take food and yard waste and convert it to fuel and compost.  As the graphic below illustrates, food and yard waste would go through an anaerobic digestion facility.  Biogas would be processed and used by the trucks of the local waste company and displace traditional fossil-fuel based natural gas.  Residual material would become compost to use on farms.  The farms could grow food and the waste products from the food preparation could again be used as feedstock for fuel and compost.

Source:  Edgar/Kennedy Presentation to California Energy Commission 9/18/15

Mr. Edgar said that any community of 100,000 or more people could support an economically viable facility.  He said that the fuel used by the trucks would be "carbon-negative" based on the carbon calculation methodologies approved by the Air Resources Board.  Using the community size of 100,000 as an example, Mr. Edgar said a facility in such a community could produce enough fuel for a fleet of 35 waste/recycling trucks that would normally use about 330,000 gallons of fuel in a year.  Ms. Kennedy pointed out that, in addition to all the other benefits, their facility will help her company achieve their goal of reducing waste going to landfill.

Susan Kennedy, Evan Edgar and Paul Relis 9/18/15

Paul Relis of southern California waste management company CR&R described their anaerobic digestion facility under construction in Perris, California (Riverside County).  Their facility will be larger than the ones previously described.  The gas will be used to fuel about 70 CR&R trucks and they plan to have a system in place to clean and condition the gas so it can be injected into the local natural gas pipeline for residential and commercial use.

CR&R Faciity.  Source:  CR&R CEC Presentation 9/18/15

Projects like these benefit from a range of California policies and incentives, including the Low Carbon Fuel Standard which the Air Resources Board is scheduled to update in a few days.  The Energy Commission continues to put in about $20 million a year to support biofuels.  As of early this year, they had supported 45 projects with $135 million.  The Energy Commission expects to enter into a new funding round for projects later this year.

Source:  California Energy Commission Investment Plan Update April, 2015

BioFuel proponents are hoping for additional funds to accelerate commercialization of biofuels.  The source most often mentioned is the California Cap and Trade funds.

More Information:

California Energy Commission Renewable Fuel Program
ARB Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program
UC Davis Status Review of California LCFS
BioEnergy Association of California
California BioDiesel Alliance

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