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New Study: RFS2 Has Reduced GHG Emissions by 600 Million Metric Tons, Beating EPA Expectations

February 6, 2019


A new study released today finds that the expanded Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) has been a tremendous success in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with nearly 600 million metric tons of GHG reduction since 2007. Actual GHG reductions under the RFS2 have far surpassed the Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) original expectations of 422 million metric tons, according to the study. The analysis was conducted by Life Cycle Associates, a California-based scientific consulting firm, and commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Foundation (RFF).

The findings, which come as two House committees hold climate change hearings this morning, highlight the important role that ethanol and other biofuels can play in efforts to fight climate change and reduce GHG emissions.

The RFS2 has resulted in significant GHG reductions, with cumulative CO2 savings of 600 million metric tonnes over the period of implementation, according to the study. The GHG reductions are due to the greater than expected savings from ethanol and other biofuels. These emissions savings occur even though cellulosic biofuels have not met the RFS2 production targets. Biofuels have achieved and exceeded the GHG reductions estimated by EPA.

As outlined in the report, the larger-than-expected GHG reductions are due to:

  • The adoption of technology improvements in the production of corn-based ethanol, resulting in far greater GHG reductions than originally estimated by EPA;
  • The GHG emissions of petroleum are higher than the baseline estimates originally projected by EPA; and
  • Advanced biofuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel, and renewable natural gas have contributed additional GHG reductions, even though actual cellulosic biofuel production has been lower than initially projected.

Using the latest available data and modeling tools, the study found that the conventional ethanol consumed in 2018 reduced GHG emissions by 43 percent compared to petroleum, even when hypothetical land use change are included. That compares to EPAs initial projections that conventional ethanol would achieve only a 20 percent GHG reduction versus petroleum.

As this study demonstrates, renewable fuels like ethanol are an incredibly effective tool for reducing GHG emissions, said Geoff Cooper, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). And with renewable fuels, we dont need to cross our fingers and wait for the development and commercialization of a new technology. Ethanol is available here and now to help our nation decarbonize our transportation fuels in a cost effective manner. As the new Congress turns its focus to climate change and efforts to reduce GHG emissions, we encourage lawmakers to recognize and build upon the incredible success of the RFS.

The 600 million metric tons of GHG reduction achieved under the RFS is equivalent to the GHG savings that would result from removing roughly half of the nations automobiles from the road for a full year or shutting down 154 coal-fired power plants for a year, according to EPA.

A copy of the report is here.

Life Cycle Associates Managing Director Stefan Unnasch will be presenting this report on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at RFAs National Ethanol Conference in Orlando. 

Life Cycle Associates analyzes the energy and environmental impacts of fuels and energy systems. The firms work focuses on the assessment of fuel production pathways on a well to wheel basis, economic analysis of energy systems, process engineering analysis of fuel production systems, and the development of GHG reduction strategies. Life Cycle Associates has conducted studies and research for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. EPA, California Energy Commission, California Air Resources Board, the European Commission, Coordinating Research Council (CRC), Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), Federal Aviation Administration, New Fuels Alliance, Alberta Department of Energy, and many others.