|One illustrative example of a Green Biofuels Index based on global warming impact and a feedstock rating. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are proposing a biofuels rating system—based on a full lifecycle analysis—that would reflect the positive or negative environmental impacts of a particular fuel.
Alex Farrell, Michael O’Hare and colleagues in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and in the Goldman School of Public Policy published a report—Creating Markets for Green Biofuels—on the issue to stimulate discussion on how best to formulate such a system.
The study was partially supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Science Foundation’s Climate Decision Making Center at Carnegie Mellon University.
Biofuels link markets in fuel, food and land in quite complicated ways, and there are no rules about how to judge the environmental and global warming impacts of producing and processing these fuels. As these technologies get better and cheaper, there will be competition for use of land, whether for food or wilderness. This is inherently a problem of biofuels. A discussion of biofuel labeling could help the domestic debate about how to develop biofuels.—Alex Farrell
The report lays out a range of possible options for a Green Biofuels Index, from voluntary labeling akin to the “organic” food label, to mandatory labeling like today’s nutrition information, to more stringent government regulations like those required by renewable portfolio standards, which mandate that a state generate a percentage of its electricity from renewable sources.
The UC Berkeley group urges environmental, agricultural and regulatory agencies to join forces with local, state and national governments to develop this Green Biofuels Index, and that funding agencies should research ways to measure the environmental performance of biofuels, such as their impacts on global warming or farmland.
The paper makes four specific recommendations:
Measure the global warming impact (GWI) of biofuels. Several official processes for evaluating individual biofuels in a regulatory environment are currently under development, including the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation in the Uk and the Low Carbon Fuels Standard in California.
Measure the overall environmental performance of biomass feedstock production.
Develop and implement a combined Green Biofuels Index. Combining a GWI measure and a feedstock production rating would create such an index.
Develop better assessment tools, practices, and assurance methods.
Co-authors on the paper also include graduate students Brian T. Turner and Richard J. Plevin of UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. Turner also is with the Goldman School of Public Policy. Plevin was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
(A hat-tip to Luther!)