California can reduce carbon emissions by more than 70 million metric tons by 2030—akin to taking 15 million gasoline-powered cars off the road in one year—by adopting a higher target for its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), according to an analysis released by the UK-based research firm Cerulogy.
The analysis “California’s Clean Fuel Future: Assessing Achievable Fuel Carbon Intensity Reductions Through 2030,” was commissioned by Ceres, NextGen America, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The research was conducted by Chris Malins, who has a doctorate in applied mathematics from the University of Sheffield, was formerly Fuels Program lead at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), and is an independent global expert on transportation, energy and clean fuels policy.
The LCFS adopted in 2009 by the California Air Resources Board requires petroleum refineries and fuel importers to reduce the carbon intensity of the fuels they sell in California by 10% by 2020 relative to 2010. Refineries and fuel importers can reduce carbon intensity by either selling fuels that have lower carbon intensity or by purchasing credits generated by sellers of lower-carbon fuels, such as electricity, renewable natural gas, ethanol, biodiesel or renewable diesel.
Since it was adopted, the LCFS has reduced carbon emissions in California by more than 30 million metric tons, equivalent to removing 6.4 million gasoline-powered cars from the state’s roads in one year. Because the LCFS also reduces toxic air pollution emitted by cars, this program minimizes health impacts in communities that live near freeways.
The study found that California could feasibly increase its LCFS carbon intensity reduction target in 2030 to well above 20%—and perhaps as much as 26 percent under a high performance scenario—and spur more rapid deployment of clean fuels.
The modeling presented in the report is based on an updated version of an earlier low carbon fuel supply model documented by Malins and his colleagues. The model, originally used to assess the potential to comply with a Pacific Coast low carbon fuel standard, couples vehicle stock turnover and energy demand modeling with low carbon fuel supply modelling. The vehicle stock and energy demand model is based on VISION 2014, with some elements updated for the report using data from VISION 2017. In the previous study, scenarios were presented showing a range of 2030 transportation fuel carbon intensity reductions for the Pacific region (California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia) from 14 to 21%.
The California Air Resources Board will consider amendments to the LCFS next month, including extending the program from 2020 to 2030 and increasing the target above 10%. California Air Resources Board staff have currently proposed a 20% 2030 target.
The LCFS is popular among supporters of clean transportation policies because it has spurred the building of clean fuel infrastructure, increased investments in low carbon fuel production and provided rebates for electric cars and transit buses alike. The LCFS has also been a boon to the California economy; since 2011 the program has helped drive more than $1.6 billion in investment in California’s clean fuel economy.