WASHINGTON — Biofuels consumed under the expanded Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) have reduced U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 354 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent since 2008, according to a new analysis conducted by California-based Life Cycle Associates. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), which sponsored the study, said the findings have important implications for both the pending final rule for 2014–2016 RFS volumes and upcoming global climate talks in Paris.
“The RFS2 has resulted in significant GHG reductions, with cumulative CO2 savings of 354 million metric tonnes over the period of implementation,” according to the report. “The GHG reductions are attributed to greater than expected savings from ethanol and other biofuels.” Specifically, the authors ascribe the larger-than-anticipated GHG emissions reductions to: technology improvements in grain ethanol production, increased consumption of low-carbon advanced biofuels, and the steadily rising carbon intensity of petroleum fuels.
Whereas the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a 2005 petroleum “baseline” for estimating RFS2 emissions impacts, the Life Cycle Associates study uses a “dynamic” petroleum baseline that reflects the true emissions impacts associated with U.S. petroleum consumption. The report, which builds on earlier work regarding marginal petroleum emissions, states that “…the advent of new crude oil extraction and processing technologies has raised the aggregate CI of petroleum fuels above the 2005 (EPA) baseline.”
The study found that conventional corn ethanol reduced emissions by an average of 29 percent when compared to the petroleum actually used in 2008, with that reduction growing to 39 percent by 2015. Importantly, these estimates include the best available estimates of prospective “indirect land use change” emissions from Argonne National Laboratory.
For context, the estimated 352 million metric tons of avoided CO2 emissions resulting from the RFS2 between 2008 and 2015 is equivalent to the annual emissions from 74 million passenger cars or 1.9 million railcars of coal burned. Looked at another way, the RFS2 emissions reductions are equal to the amount of carbon sequestered annually by nearly 300 million acres of forest.
“This report, which uses globally accepted GHG accounting methods, demonstrates that the RFS has been tremendously successful in reducing the carbon intensity of our transportation fuels. In fact, the study found the RFS has actually exceeded expectations in terms of GHG reduction,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “As the Obama Administration considers both its approach to the Paris climate talks and the 2014–2016 RFS final rule, we strongly encourage them to examine this report and think carefully about the carbon impacts of the important policy decisions they are about to make. As documented in the study, the carbon footprint of American biofuels continues to shrink, while the carbon emissions associated with petroleum continue to increase. The RFS has absolutely lived up to its promise of delivering cleaner fuels to consumers, while displacing and delaying the need for increasingly dirty sources of petroleum. Now is the time to renew our national commitment to biofuels—not to walk away from it.”
To view the report, click here.
To view RFA’s recent letter to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the Paris climate talks, click here.
To view RFA’s report on COP21 climate action plans, click here.