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US Senators Introduce Bill for National Low-Carbon Fuel Standard

US Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) earlier this week introduced legislation (S.1324) establishing a National Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (NLCFS). The bill requires a reduction of about 180 million metric tons in vehicle greenhouse gas emissions in 2020—about 10% of the current amount.

The Senators say their fuel standard encourages the growth of the renewable fuels market while providing incentives for lowering carbon emissions from biofuels production. One estimate cited by Senator Obama’s staff suggested that the NLCFS will create a market for more than 40 billion gallons of biofuels by 2020.

The National Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Act of 2007:

  • Requires fuel refiners that produce petroleum-based fuels to reduce the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of the transportation fuels sold in the US by 5% in 2015 and 10% in 2020.

  • Requires fuel refiners to use minimum amounts of fuels with 50%- and 75%-lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. This requirement signals to investors that there will be a market for advanced fuels, but still allows leeway for fuel refiners to choose the optimal mix of fuels to meet their overall greenhouse gas emissions targets.

  • Utilizes a credit trading mechanism. Fuel refiners can trade allowances or bank them against future carbon reduction requirements.

  • Calls for an assessment of the impacts of biofuel production expansion, including a comparison to the business-as-usual scenario of continued reliance on petroleum-based transportation fuels, and the development of standards by 2012 to protect air, land, and water quality.


Mike Z.

I'm not expert on refining, but it seems to me like this is basically focused on alternative sources of hydrogen for hydrocracking.

Still, These standards are wayyyy too technical for either of the two proposing it to actually understand it's implications---I wounder who really wrote the bill.


They would do better to have a national std. mid. and high grade fuel standard instead of the hundreds of different fuel blends used in autos across the country today.


It is interesting that simple easy problems can get really twisted and complex when the fix comes out of DC.

If the goal is to clean up the air, then all we have to do is implement a polluter pays tax scheme.

Start out with a penny a pound for each pound of carbon released into the air. Do this for gasoline vehicles and coal fired power plants and all of industry.

We need to quit using our atmosphere as a free of charge garbage dump.

If we were to implement a tax system based on the above rule in less than a year you would see people moving to clean solutions. In 10 years we could see some real positive changes.


KJD - Every gallon of gas you burn puts about 16 pounds of CO2 in our atmosphere. Think politicians would raise taxes?

Dream on ...

Sid Hoffman

A penny a pound means a raise of only 16 cents per gallon. That's nothing, nowadays. 16 cents of 300 cent-per-gallon gasoline is just 5%. People wouldn't even know it happened. Not sure if that's good or bad, but it would have almost no effect on buying habits.


How many gallons of gas do we burn a day?

If the money collected from the carbon tax were spent on building an electrical mass transit system then things would change quickly.

In Salt Lake county we have 17 miles of light rail and we have THOUSANDS of miles of roads. Guess what one people use the most.

Step 2 would be to generate electricity from wind, solar and geo-thermal. We should quit building coal fired power plants, unless they can prove 100% carbon capture. They say it can be done, but no one is doing it today.

Along with this we start building Battery electric vehicles in mass quanities. I have 2 in my garage right now, but most people do not know they exist.

We have the technology to solve the air pollution problem, all we need is the will power.


I was just reading that 89 years ago, Democrats wanted to help the airplane industry and promote airmail delivery, but the Republicans were against it because they were in the pockets of the railroads, who had the mail delivery contracts. Well, it seems all this time later it is not much different except now it is oil companies instead of railroads.

Mike Z.

As far as I know the early gov't subsidies of Airmail were a failure---The only real success came with the left-over airfields and equipments when airmail service was discontinued.

P Schager

It's about time the matter of incentives for low-carbon making of biofuels was addressed. It's been a pretty mediocre use of our tax dollars to use lots of other fossil fuels making ethanol (fuels which also could have run cars). The program is supposed to be a step in the direction of developing an industry that frees us, but because it has the same lack of incentives to conserve as any other, we haven't been getting what we should for our money.

Which is ironic, because the farm has plenty of renewable energy resources. Properly developed, solar distillation of ethanol will remove most of the fossil fuel input and be cheaper for the future as well. Also, the farmer and his truck drivers should be the first customers of farm-made fuel such as agwaste biogas. Nitrogen fertilizer would make sense for using renewable energy early on too (storage is not an issue). So biofuels really should be a 100% carbon-neutral product.

Fuel standards such as Obama-Harkin should be a sort of fall-back minimum, backing more direct incentives to get things moving immediately. The shift of taxes to carbon would be the best; if these are so hard for the political system to digest perhaps the biofuels industry should be the first payer of the carbon tax (with subsidies increased to compensate) so that the investment we're paying for will be in the right direction.


I had thought about solar thermal distillation of ethanol, but that can only be done during certain hours of the day. You could offset some other heat source with solar thermal for a few hours per day, but those distillation factories would want to run 24/7 to speed up the payback period.

P Schager

Storage of solar heat for ethanol distillation would be easy. Temperature requirements are low, especially when operating under vacuum, and you could use hot water, as in a solar pond. Or water/antifreeze, or use phase-change materials to shrink the insulated tank/pond.

Beyond that, the inputs and product are very tankable, so overbuilding the distillation plant and running at less than 100% duty cycle is a perfectly good solution to the vaunted storage problem of solar energy, for sunless weather. The problem is that everyone thinks it's natural that we expect solar to pay back several times faster than what we expect from an oil refinery--quick, before Congress changes its mind. Everyone assumes that petroleum has staying power, and ethanol is a gamble. If we all seriously cared about the big picture, it would be the other way around.

Current ethanol distilleries also are in a hurry because of fear of obsolescence, with all that energy requirement. But if your energy is coming from the sun and you're inefficient, so what? And if somebody comes along with a molecular sieve membrane that does it, you'll just convert your multi-pass solar still into a one-pass and feed the clean azeotrope to your desalination-like plant and multiply your production volume.

When renewable is done right it will be clear that these renewable fuel standards are way too weak. That's why we need incentives rather than just minimum quotas, so the political battles and education of Congress and the public as to what is feasible are removed from the loop.

Cheryl Ho

There are DMe developments inChina today!
We see great potential for DME as a clean alternative fuel . The present diesel oil is a major source of air pollution from diesel engine of trucks and busses in large city like Tokyo. The potential market of diesel oil substitute is larger than LPG. DME is one of ideal fuel for diesel engine. DME vehicles were demonstratively manufactured in Japan, China and Korea and their driving test already started. Practical durability fleet test of a DME truck is under going in Japan.

We are pleased to organise a conference on China taking the lead in the DME market in production from coal and Japan and Korea activities.

If you would like to know more on COAL to Syngas to DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:

For daily updated news on biofuels, ethanol and climate change issues, please visit:

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