EPA finds that both biodiesel and renewable diesel from palm oil fail to meet GHG reduction threshold for RFS program
|Simplified palm oil biofuel lifecycle system diagram. Source: EPA. Click to enlarge.|
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analyses on biodiesel and renewable diesel produced from palm oil and estimated GHG emission reductions of 17% (81 (kgCO2e/mmBtu) and 11% (87 (kgCO2e/mmBtu) respectively for these biofuels compared to the statutory baseline (97 (kgCO2e/mmBtu) petroleum-based diesel fuel used in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.
Consequently, neither palm oil-based biofuel qualifies as meeting the minimum 20% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction performance threshold required for renewable fuel under the RFS program. EPA has published a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) on this to provide an opportunity to comment on the analyses.
|Palm oil lifecycle GHG emissions summary. Source: EPA. Click to enlarge.|
The Clean Air Act (CAA), as amended by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), CAA requires a 20% reduction in lifecycle GHG emissions for renewable fuel produced at new facilities (those constructed after EISA enactment), a 50% reduction for biomass-based diesel or advanced biofuel, and a 60% reduction for cellulosic biofuel.
In developing the final rule, EPA focused its lifecycle analysis on fuels anticipated to contribute relatively large volumes of renewable fuel by 2022, but indicated that it would continue to examine several additional pathways not analyzed for the final rule, including those from palm oil, and would complete this process through a supplemental rulemaking process.
In the lifecycle assessment for palm oil fuels, EPA utilized models developed for the final RFS2 rule. These models take into account energy and emissions inputs for fuel and feedstock production, distribution, and use, as well as economic models that predict changes in agricultural markets. EPA used the same general approach to estimate global land use change GHG emissions from using palm oil as a feedstock as it used to analyze other biofuel pathways.
However, EPA also undertook a more detailed assessment of Malaysia and Indonesia—where close to 90% of world palm oil is currently produced—based on a number of factors, including the scale of the palm oil industry in the region and the availability of new data on palm oil land use.
The analysis considered past trends to determine likely areas of future palm expansion and classified these areas according to both their land cover and their soil type. EPA found that palm oil production produces wastewater effluent that eventually decomposes, creating methane, a GHG with a high global warming potential. Another key factor in the lifecycle GHG profile is the expected expansion of palm plantations onto land with carbon-rich peat soils which would lead to significant releases of GHGs to the atmosphere.