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Lifecycle analysis

[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

US MARAD study finds marine use of natural gas substantially reduces some air pollutants and slightly reduces GHG emissions

August 26, 2014

A recently released total fuel cycle analysis for maritime case studies shows that natural gas fuels reduce some air quality pollutants substantially, and reduce major greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions slightly, when compared to conventional petroleum-based marine fuels (low-sulfur and high-sulfur). The study was released by the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Maritime Administration (MARAD) and was conducted through a cooperative partnership with the Maritime Administration, the University of Delaware and The Rochester Institute of Technology.

They also found that the upstream configuration for natural gas supply matters in terms of minimizing GHG emissions on a total fuel cycle basis, and that the current infrastructure for marine fuels may produce fewer GHGs. Continued improvements to minimize downstream emissions of methane during vessel-engine operations will also contribute to lower GHG emissions from marine applications of natural gas fuels.

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U. Mich study: natural-gas-based ICE, BEV and FCV all show promise for environmental benefits relative to conventional ICE

August 19, 2014

Results of a lifecycle analysis by a team at the University of Michigan suggest that multiple types of natural gas-powered vehicles—i.e., natural-gas burning ICE vehicles; battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) recharged with gas-generated electricity; and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) using hydrogen produced from natural gas—all show promise for reducing environmental impacts, energy demand and climate change impacts relative to conventional petroleum-fueled internal combustion engined vehicles for personal mobility.

Qiang Dai and Christian Lastoskie found that BEVs and FCVs in particular offer significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, especially if carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies are implemented at the fuel conversion facilities. Their study appears in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

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3rd generation Audi TT reduces full lifecycle GHGs by 11% compared to predecessor

August 18, 2014

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Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for 2nd and 3rd generation TTs. Click to enlarge.

Audi’s new third-generation TT reduces life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 11% compared to its predecessor. This results in a reduction of around 5.5 tonnes of GHGs—CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and halogenated organic emissions—over its entire lifecycle. At the same time, Audi has increased the power output in the new TT by up to 14%.

A number of technologies have contributed towards the positive life cycle assessment of the Audi TT, including lightweight construction. Using an intelligent combination of materials, Audi engineers have, for the second time in a row, succeeded in reducing the car’s unladen weight.

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U Mich professor finds fuel cycle analysis for evaluating CO2 impacts of liquid fuels is fatally flawed; calls for focus on CO2 removal

July 28, 2014

Fuel cycle analysis (FCA)—or “well-to-wheels analysis”—is a type of lifecycle analysis (LCA) that examines fuel products and their supply chains, and that has greatly influenced climate-related research priorities and public policies for transportation fuels.

However, in a major review of methods for evaluating the net CO2 impacts of liquid transportation fuels, Professor John DeCicco at the University of Michigan Energy Institute (UMEI) compared FCA to other methods of analysis, and found “flaws fatal enough to raise serious concerns about the role of FCA in shaping fuel-related CO2 mitigation strategies. Instead, DeCicco proposes “setting the lifecycle paradigm aside” and focusing on the problem of carbon dioxide removal.

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Researchers propose CO2 recycling to improve Fischer-Tropsch GTL efficiency and reduce total CO2 emissions

June 21, 2014

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Overview of the CUGP processes. Credit: ACS, Zhang et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers in South Korea are suggesting two new carbon-dioxide-utilized Gas-to-Liquids processes (CUGP) to increase the overall efficiency of conventional Fischer-Tropsch GTL. In a paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, they report that the two CUGP options increase carbon efficiency by 21.1−41.3% and thermal efficiency by 15.7−40.7%, with total CO2 emissions reduced by 82.0−88.4%, compared to different conventional F-T processes.

This results in a decrease in total CO2 emissions to less than 5g CO2/MJ F-T product, compared to a range of 27.0 to 36.2g CO2/MJ F-T product for the conventional processes.

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MIT study finds significant economic and environmental benefits from designing US LDVs to use higher octane gasoline (98 RON)

May 29, 2014

In a companion study to an SAE paper presented in April (earlier post), researchers at MIT have quantified the net economic and CO2 emissions benefit that could be obtained by utilizing 98 RON gasoline in light-duty vehicles, based on reasonable assumptions for possible refinery changes and the evolution of the LDV fleet. The paper, they note, is the first modern, peer-reviewed publication to address the costs and benefits of introducing higher octane gasoline.

According to the analysis, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, greater use of 98 RON gasoline in appropriately tuned vehicles could further reduce annual gasoline consumption in the US by 3.0–4.4%. Even accounting for the increase in refinery emissions from production of additional high-RON gasoline, net CO2 emissions are reduced by 19–35 Mt/y in 2040 (2.5–4.7% of total direct LDV CO2 emissions). The MIT team estimated the annual direct economic benefit to be $0.4–6.4 billion in 2040, and the annual net societal benefit—including the social cost of carbon—to be $1.7–8.8 billion in 2040.

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Study finds removing corn residue for biofuel production can decrease soil organic carbon and increase CO2 emissions; may miss mandated 60% GHG reduction

April 21, 2014

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Contribution of modeled CO2 emissions from SOC to the life cycle of biofuel from corn residue. Error bars are ± one standard deviation. Liska et al. Click to enlarge.

Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and under some conditions can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a major, multi-year study by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln team of researchers published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The findings cast doubt on whether biofuels produced from corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates for cellulosic biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 60% compared to gasoline.

The study, led by assistant professor Adam Liska, was funded through a three-year, $500,000-grant from the US Department of Energy, and used carbon dioxide measurements taken from 2001 to 2010 to validate a soil carbon model that was built using data from 36 field studies across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Using USDA soil maps and crop yields, they extrapolated potential carbon dioxide emissions across 580 million 30-meter by 30-meter geospatial cells in Corn Belt states.

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ERTRAC publishes roadmap on energy carriers and powertrains; role for power-to-gas

April 07, 2014

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Main technology trends and the vision share of engines in Europe. [ERTRAC / EUCAR] Click to enlarge.

The European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC) has published a new roadmap assessing energy carriers and powertrains in the context of the European target to achieve a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions from transport by 2050. ERTRAC is the European Technology Platform (ETP) for Road Transport recognized and supported by the European Commission. ERTRAC has more than 50 members, representing all the actors of the Road Transport System: transport industry, European associations, EU Member States, local authorities, European Commission services, etc.

The analysis concludes that while the goal is challenging, it is also realizable; however the overall high-level goals need to be segmented into precise targets for the different industries and stakeholders. For the topic of future road mobility these are the development of alternative and decarbonized fuels and energy carriers; and higher powertrain efficiency leading to cleaner mobility and reduction in resource demand.

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Full lifecycle CO2 of new Mercedes C-Class 10% less than outgoing model

March 31, 2014

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CO2 emissions of the C 180 in comparison to its predecessor [t/car]. Source: Mercedes-Benz. Click to enlarge.

Over the course of its entire life cycle—from its manufacture through 200,000 kilometer of driving to its recycling—the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class (earlier post) produces around 10% fewer CO2 emissions than its predecessor at the time of its market exit (compared to the time of its launch in 2007 the improvement is much higher, at around 28%). The C 180 (115 kW) with manual transmission was taken as the base variant of the new C-Class at market launch for the lifecycle analysis; it was compared with the corresponding preceding model. The analysis was validated by TÜV SÜD Management Service GmbH.

Over the entire lifecycle of the C 180, the lifecycle analysis yields a primary energy consumption of 521 gigajoules (corresponding to the energy content of around 16,000 liters of gasoline); an environmental input of approx. 35 tonnes of CO2; around 19 kilograms of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC); around 25 kilograms of nitrogen oxides (NOx); and 37 kilograms of sulfur dioxide (SO2). For CO2 emissions—and likewise for primary energy consumption—the use phase dominates with a share of 78 and 74% respectively.

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JEC updates well-to-wheels study on automotive fuels and powertrains; electro-mobility, natural gas and biofuels

March 27, 2014

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WTW energy expended and GHG emissions for conventional fuels ICE and hybrid vehicles shows the potential for improvement of conventional fuels and ICE based vehicles. Source: EUR 26236 EN - 2014 Click to enlarge.

Europe’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and its partners in the JEC Consortium—JRC, EUCAR (the European Council for Automotive R&D) and CONCAWE (the oil companies European association for environment, health and safety in refining and distribution)—have published a new version of the Well-to-Wheels Analysis of Future Automotive Fuels and Powertrains in the European Context. (Earlier post.)

The updated version includes a longer-term outlook by expanding the time horizon from 2010 and beyond to 2020 and beyond. It adds an assessment of electrically chargeable vehicle configurations, such as plug-in hybrid, range extended, battery and fuel-cell electric vehicles. It also introduces an update of natural gas pathways, taking into account the addition of a European shale gas pathway. Furthermore, biofuel pathways, including an entirely new approach to NOx emissions from farming, were thoroughly revised.

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Lifecycle study explores production of NdFeB rare-earth magnets from primary production and recycling pathways

March 19, 2014

A lifecycle study comparing the virgin production route of neodymium−iron−boron (NdFeB) magnets with two hypothetical recycling processes found that recycling of neodymium, especially via manual dismantling, is preferable to primary production, with some environmental indicators showing an order of magnitude improvement.

The choice of recycling technology is also important with respect to resource recovery, the study by a team from the Netherland and the UK found. While manual disassembly allows in principle for all magnetic material to be recovered, shredding leads to very low recovery rates (<10%). The study appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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Lifecycle study finds that environmental impacts of silicon-anode Li-ion battery could be roughly comparable with conventional Li-ion battery

February 17, 2014

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Life cycle impact benchmarking between LIB packs with SiNW and graphite anode. Units of the X-axis values are different and shown under each impact category name on Y-axis. Credit: ACS, Li et al. Click to enlarge.

A lifecycle assessment (LCA) of silicon nanowire (SiNW) anodes for Li-ion batteries (LIBs) by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has concluded that a LIB pack using SiNW anodes from metal-assisted chemical etching could have environmental impacts comparable with those of a conventional Li-ion battery pack, while significantly increasing the battery energy storage. The study is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The LCA was based on the average US driving and electricity supply conditions. The researchers characterized nanowastes and nanoparticle emissions from the SiNW synthesis. The results showed that more than 50% of most characterized impacts are generated from the battery operations, while the battery anode with SiNW material contributes to around 15% of global warming potential and 10% of human toxicity potential.

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Study concludes that NG leakage higher than reflected in inventories; transportation fuel climate benefits questioned

February 14, 2014

A review of 20 years of technical literature on natural gas (NG) emissions in the United States and Canada comprising more than 200 papers has concluded that official inventories consistently underestimate actual CH4 emissions due to leakage from the natural gas system. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said lead author Adam Brandt at Stanford University. The study, which is authored by researchers from seven universities, several national laboratories and federal government bodies and other organizations, is published in the journal Science.

Among the other high-level findings of the review are that (i) the natural gas and oil sectors are important contributors to the leakage; (ii) many independent experiments suggest that a small number of “superemitters” could be responsible for a large fraction of leakage; (iii) recent regional atmospheric studies with very high emissions rates are unlikely to be representative of typical natural gas system leakage rates; and (iv) assessments using 100-year impact indicators show system-wide leakage is unlikely to be large enough to negate climate benefits of coal-to-NG substitution.

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State Department releases Keystone XL Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

February 01, 2014

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Incremental well-to-wheels GHG emissions from WCSB Oil Sands Crudes Compared to Well-to-Wheels GHG Emissions from Displacing Reference Crudes Click to enlarge.

The State Department released the long-anticipated and voluminous Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Final Supplemental EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline project. The document is posted on State’s Keystone project site, which it has run since the beginning of the Keystone XL Presidential permit process in 2008.

The analysis in the Final Supplemental EIS builds on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released on 1 March 2013 (earlier post) as well as the documents released in 2011 as part of the previous Keystone XL Pipeline application. Notable changes since the prior Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement include an expanded analysis of potential oil releases; an expanded climate change analysis; an updated oil market analysis incorporating new economic modeling; and an expanded analysis of rail transport.

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LCA study finds carbon intensity of corn ethanol decreasing, gasoline rising; ethanol estimated 43-60% lower than oil by 2022

January 30, 2014

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Top: Weighted CI (g CO2 e/MJ) of petroleum fuels and corn ethanol consumed in the US over time. Bottom: Weighted CI of petroleum fuels consumed in the US and California over time. Click to enlarge.

The carbon intensity (CI) of corn ethanol—i.e., the greenhouse gas emissions produced via the production of a volume of the fuel—is declining, while the average CI of gasoline produced from petroleum sources is gradually increasing, according to a recent report prepared by Life Cycle Associates, LLC for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). Life Cycle Associates has completed numerous life cycle analysis studies, including those to establish fuel pathway carbon intensities (CI) for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

According to the study, the average corn ethanol reduced GHG emissions by 32% compared to average petroleum gasoline in 2012—including prospective emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC) for corn ethanol. When compared to fuel produced from unconventional petroleum sources such tight oil from fracking and oil sands, average corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 37% compared to the former and 40% to the latter.

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Swiss WTW study finds important role for alternative fuels as well as alt drivetrains in move to low-emissions vehicles

January 03, 2014

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WTW energy demand and GHG emissions for EV and PHEV drivetrains for various electricity sources; gasoline ICE vehicle is solid square, hybrid the hollow square. Click to enlarge.

A comprehensive analysis of well-to-wheel (WTW) primary energy demand and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the operation of conventional and alternative passenger vehicle drivetrains in Switzerland has concluded that alternative combustion fuels—not only alternative drivetrains such as PEVs or FCVs—play an important role in the transition towards low-emission vehicles.

The study by a team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, reported in the Journal of Power Sources, is novel in three respects, the researchers said. First, it considers the performance of both mature and novel hydrogen production processes, multiple electricity generation pathways and several alternative drivetrains. Second, it is specific to Switzerland. Third, the analysis offers a novel comparison of drivetrain and energy carrier production pathways based on natural resource categories.

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BAL scientists engineer yeast to produce ethanol from brown seaweed; brown seaweed biorefinery

December 03, 2013

An international team of researchers from Bio Architecture Labs, a synthetic biology and enzyme design company focused on the production of biofuels and biochemicals from macroalgae (seaweed) (earlier post), reports the development of a synthetic yeast platform based on Saccharomyces cerevisiae that can efficiently produce ethanol from brown seaweed; the paper is published in the journal Nature.

In January 2012, BAL scientists reported the engineering a strain of Eschericia coli that could break down and then ferment alginate—one of the most abundant sugars in brown algae, but a sugar that industrial microbes can’t metabolize—into ethanol. That paper was featured on the cover of the journal Science. (Earlier post.)

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Ford researchers present physics-based model of mass-induced fuel consumption for better insight into lightweighting benefits

November 25, 2013

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Schematic of fuel use in driving. Fw = fuel consumption due to mass-induced loads; Fx = fuel cons. due to aerodynamic resistance and accessory power loads; Ff = fuel cons. due to mechanical losses in the engine; Fl = fuel cons. due to mechanical losses outside of the engine; Fload = fuel cons. used to overcome vehicle loads; Floss = fuel cons. due to mechanical losses. Credit: ACS, Kim and Wallington. Click to enlarge.

A pair of researchers from Ford Motor Company’s Systems Analytics and Environmental Sciences Department in Dearborn have developed a novel physics-based model of mass-induced fuel (MIF) consumption which can be used in vehicle life cycle assessments to provide better insight—i.e., from a more firm scientific foundation—on the potential benefits of lightweighting.

To illustrate the method, they used their model to estimate the MIF values for 2013 model year internal combustion engined using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) fuel economy certification data. They found MIF values in the range of 0.2−0.5 L/(100 km 100 kg). As described in a paper on their work in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, the results showed that lightweighting has the most benefit when applied to vehicles with high fuel consumption and high power.

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Average carbon intensity of oil sands production has dropped ~36% in last 40 years; still 12-24% higher than conventional oil CI

November 21, 2013

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Trends in well-to-wheel pathway-specific CI. In situ production began in 1974, so no value is computable for 1970. Click to enlarge.

The carbon intensity (CI) of Alberta oil sands production has significantly decreased over the last 40 years, according to a new study by a team from Stanford University published as an open access paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Relying entirely on public and peer-reviewed data sources for the period from 1970 to 2010 (inclusive), the team found that industry-average full-fuel cycle (well-to-wheels, WTW) CI declined about 36% from 165 gCO2e MJ-1 higher heating value (HHV) of reformulated gasoline (RFG) to 105 (-12, +9) gCO2e MJ-1 HHV RFG. 2010 averages by production pathways are 102 gCO2e MJ-1 for mining and 111 gCO2e MJ-1 for in situ production.

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TÜV SÜD Technical Inspectorate confirms BMW i3 can emit 30-50% less total life cycle greenhouse gases than comparable conventional vehicles

November 13, 2013

The BMW i3 battery electric vehicle can emit 30-50% less total life cycle greenhouse gases than comparable conventional vehicles depending upon the source of its electricity, according to its ISO 14040/14044 certificate from the TÜV SÜD Technical Inspectorate. (Earlier post.) Market launch for the i3 is on 16 November.

The 30% reduction is achieved by using energy from the EU 25 electricity mix, which takes account of all electricity generation in the European Union. The 50% reduction compared with conventional automobiles results as soon as the BMW i3 is powered exclusively by energy generated from renewables such as wind or solar power. ISO 14040/14004 are international standards for lifecycle assessment.

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Georgia Tech study finds MD electric urban delivery trucks have cost advantages over diesel in some conditions; relative benefits depend on numerous factors

September 26, 2013

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The study found that TCO for electric and diesel medium-duty urban delivery trucks were similar. The electric truck is relatively more cost-effective on the NYCC and when VKT demand is higher. Cost-competitiveness of the electric truck diminishes in drive cycles with higher average speeds. Credit: ACS, Lee et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have compared medium-duty (MD) electric and diesel urban delivery trucks in terms of life-cycle energy consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and total cost of ownership (TCO). One surprise among their findings was that the electric truck had cost advantages over the diesel vehicle under some conditions. The team had expected that electric truck costs would always be higher, especially since the purchase price of the electric truck studied was higher than that of the diesel truck.

In a paper published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, they report that the relative benefits of electric trucks depend heavily on vehicle efficiency associated with drive cycle; diesel fuel price; travel demand; electric drive battery replacement and price; electricity generation and transmission efficiency; electric truck recharging infrastructure; and purchase price.

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U-Mich researcher’s first-principles analysis challenges conventional carbon accounting for biofuels; implications for climate policy

September 24, 2013

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System boundaries (red line) schematic for liquid fuel carbon balance. For biofuels, because biogenic carbon is automatically credited within a product lifecycle, the boundary effectively excludes vehicle end-use CO2 emissions. DeCicco 2013. Click to enlarge.

In a paper that could have a significant impact on climate policies for transportation fuels, Dr. John M. DeCicco of the Energy Institute at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor presents a rigorous first-principles analysis that undermines the common “biofuels recycle carbon” argument.

Published in the journal Climactic Change, the open access paper shows that while the carbon mitigation challenge for liquid fuels has been seen—incorrectly—as a fuel synthesis and substitution problem, it is in reality a net carbon uptake problem. Accordingly, DeCicco concludes, strategies should move away from a downstream focus on replacing fuel products to an upstream focus on achieving additional CO2 uptake through the most cost-effective and least damaging means possible. “All parties with an interest in the issue are advised to rethink their priorities accordingly,” he finishes.

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Study finds HTL algal biofuels offer 50-70% lifecycle CO2 reduction compared to petroleum fuels; EROI and GHG comparable to or better than other biofuels

September 20, 2013

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The EROI ratio and GHG emissions/MJ of (a) algae-derived diesel and (b) algae-derived gasoline produced using HTL. The results are benchmarked against commercialized biodiesel or bioethanol as well as petroleum-derived versions of the drop-in fuels. Credit: Liu et al. Click to enlarge.

A new life cycle analysis by a team led by researchers at the University of Virginia has concluded that biofuel produced from algae via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) can reduce life cycle CO2 emissions by 50 to 70% compared to petroleum fuels, and also has energy burdens and GHG (greenhouse gas) emission profiles that are comparable to or better than conventional biofuels, cellulosic ethanol and soybean biodiesel.

HTL algae-derived gasoline has a considerably lower GHG footprint and a better EROI relative to conventional ethanol made from corn on a per MJ basis, the team found. The data suggest that a shift to algae-derived gasoline could have immediate climate benefits even using existing technologies, the authors noted. In addition, given expected technological improvements, the benefits of algae-derived gasoline will likely improve.

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European Parliament backs 6% cap on land-based biofuels, switchover to advanced biofuels; no mandate

September 11, 2013

In a vote on draft legislation, the European Parliament has backed a cap on the use of biofuels produced from starch-rich crops, sugars, oil and other crops grown on land and a speedy switchover to new biofuels from alternative sources such as seaweed and waste. The measures aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that result from the turnover of agricultural land to biofuel production.

According to current legislation, member states must ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. In the adopted text, MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) say land-based biofuels should not exceed 6% of the final energy consumption in transport by 2020. (The proposal by the European Commission on which the draft legislation was based had suggested an even lower 5% cap.)

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Georgia Tech study suggests unlinking EVs from CAFE and coordinating with power sector for low-cost benefits

September 08, 2013

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Change in total consumer expenditure for EVs and conventional vehicles (CVs) purchased in 2030 over the vehicle lifetime for 20% and 100% EV adoption scenarios. A negative value means the case has a lower TCE than the reference case. Credit: ACS, Choi et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from Georgia Tech suggests, based on their modeling of electric vehicle (EV) adoption scenarios in each of six regions of the Eastern Interconnection (containing 70% of the US population), that coordinating EV adoption with the adoption of controlled EV charging, unlinking EVs from consideration in the CAFE fuel economy regulations; and implementing renewable electricity standards would deliver low-cost reductions in emissions and gasoline usage. (For the study, they define EVs as including both battery-electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) vehicles.

Only in the case of high EV market share and a high renewable electricity standard (RES) do EVs make a material contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, they found. However, managed EV adoption can reduce the cost of achieving GHG reductions through a RES, they concluded in their paper published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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EPA grants Aemetis’ sorghum ethanol and biogas the D5 advanced biofuel RIN category

September 03, 2013

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted Aemetis, an advanced fuels and renewable chemicals company formerly known as AE Biofuels, approval to produce ethanol using grain sorghum and biogas at its converted corn ethanol plant to generate D5 Advanced Biofuels Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs).

Until now, the D5 Advanced Biofuels RIN portion of the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) has been mostly met by imported Brazilian sugarcane ethanol or by substituting D4 biodiesel RINs due to a lack of advanced ethanol production.

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