The California Air Resources Board (CARB) today is proposing potential changes to indirect land use change (iLUC) penalties under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) which some scientists and the ethanol industry say are a start, but don’t go far enough.
Based on a review of materials made available by CARB prior to the workshop, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President and CEO Bob Dinneen said, “CARB appears to be taking a small step in the right direction, but the science shows a much larger reduction to the iLUC penalty for corn ethanol is warranted.”
Dinneen notes that a group of 14 well-known scientists, including five members of CARB’s own expert work group, sent a letter to CARB last week recommending that the penalty should be lowered by 50-80 percent, rather than the 20 percent CARB is proposing. “The larger issue here is that in the five years since the LCFS was adopted, there have been no indications that the policy has caused—or will cause—any kind of land use change,” said Dinneen. “Amazon deforestation has fallen to its lowest rate on record, U.S. cropland area continues to shrink, and U.S. forested area continues to increase. All of this suggests the iLUC hypothesis needs to be critically re-evaluated.”
Dinneen believes that California consumers will be negatively impacted if CARB maintains the iLUC penalty for corn ethanol. “Under CARB’s apparent proposal, grain ethanol—the lowest-cost renewable fuel used in the California market today—will ultimately be replaced with higher-priced imported fuel,” said Dinneen.
The CARB workshop on the proposed Indirect Land Use Change values and how they were determined by staff will be webcast today beginning at 1:00 pm Pacific time. During the webcasts, CARB will also be accepting feedback and questions sent via email to email@example.com.
The California Air Resources Board (ARB) is holding two public workshops regarding the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) this week – one to discuss general updates to the LCFS regulation, and the second to discuss updates to the indirect land use change (iLUC) values. Stakeholder feedback is being solicited for both workshops.
The board will discuss a proposal to update iLUC values for corn ethanol, sugarcane ethanol, and soy biodiesel, as well as proposed iLUC values for canola biodiesel, sorghum ethanol, and palm biodiesel.
According to a staff concept paper released prior to the meeting, based on recommendations provided by an Expert Working Group, “(p)reliminary results indicate reductions in the iLUC values for soy biodiesel, sugarcane ethanol, and corn ethanol.” The paper states that ARB staff “contracted with experts to refine and improve the iLUC analysis” and as a result “has incorporated significant changes in the estimation of iLUC for biofuels.”
Among the model and data updates that were included in the new estimates are re-estimated energy sector demand and supply elasticity values; improved treatment of corn ethanol co-product (DDGS); improved treatment of soy meal, soy oil, and soy biodiesel; modified structure of the livestock sector;improved method of estimating the productivity of new cropland; adopting a consistent model version and set of model inputs for all biofuel pathways; and revised yield and demand responses to price.
The question is whether the reduction for corn ethanol will be significant enough to be what the industry believes is closer to reality. Some scientists consulted by CARB believe that they are still not using the most updated modeling methods to determine iLUC and that analyses conducted since the LCFS was adopted in 2009 show emissions for corn ethanol are less than half what was estimated at the time.
The adjustments will be presented by staff at the iLUC workshop, scheduled for Tuesday, March 11, from 1:00 – 5:00 pm.
A new paper, “Wood Bioenergy and Land Use,” authored by Roger A. Sedjo, Brent L. Sohngen, Anne Riddle on behalf of Resources for the Future attempts to debunk indirect land use change theory (ILUC). The paper looks at how the use of biomass energy will affect the forests.
Back in 2008, Timothy Searchinger examined the issue related to corn ethanol and posited that substituting corn ethanol for petroleum would increase carbon emissions associated with the land conversion in other areas, such as Brazil. In other words, what would the indirect impact be of planting corn on an acre of land that used to be virgin forest and how would this affect the carbon “savings” of using ethanol, an environmental concern tied to climate change.
The authors point out that the issue is broader than simply corn. If agricultural croplands are drawn into the production of biofuel feedstocks, commodity prices are expected to rise, triggering land conversions overseas, releasing carbon emissions, and offsetting the carbon reductions expected from bioenergy.
Using a general stylized forest sector management model, the study examines the economic potential of traditional industrial forests and supplemental dedicated fuelwood plantations to produce biomass on submarginal lands. It finds that these sources can economically produce large levels of biomass without compromising crop production, thereby mitigating the land conversion and carbon emissions effects posited by the Searchinger hypothesis.
Click here to download the paper.
The Argonne National laboratory has announced the release of the updated GREET fuel cycle model. The GREET model was first released in 1996 and since its release, Argonne has continued to update and improve the model. GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).
The GREET model is a tool designed to fully evaluate energy and emission impacts of advanced vehicle technologies and new transportation fuels, the fuel cycle from wells to wheels It also takes into account the vehicle cycle through material recovery and vehicle disposal.
Key updates include:
- New marine fuel pathways and commercial vessel operations
- New sorghum ethanol pathways
- New Tallow pathway
- Electric power sector technology shares, efficiencies and emission factors by technology and utility regions
- CH4 emissions for natural gas pathways
- Transmission and distribution (T&D) emission factors, energy intensity, mode shares and distances
- Biofuels land use change (LUC) data and new modeling options
- Cellulosic biomass feedstock updates (e.g., farming, T&D, dry matter losses)
- Fertilizers and nutrients use for biofuels pathways
- Petroleum refining efficiency
- Light duty vehicles (LDV) tailpipe emission factors
- Hydrogen production with latest DOE H2A models
- Urban share of criteria air pollutants (CAP) emissions (petroleum, electricity, LDVs)
The GREET model is free to use. Click here to download the updated GREET fuel cycle model.
A recent report released from researchers in the Netherlands shows that current models assessing the impact of crops grown for biofuel production on land use (indirect land use change /ILUC) do not accurately reflect current production and land use realities. Given the impact of these models on bioenergy policy, the paper, “Biomass Research,” makes a strong case for updating the way in which the true benefits of biofuels are assessed. This would help insure policy decisions and made with the understanding and consideration of the ethanol’s environmental benefits.
National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Ethanol Committee Chair Chad Willis said, “Ethanol advocates have long understood the major impact that relying upon outdated data or inaccurate models can have on our nation’s biofuels policy and, at NCGA we work to correct the information and models. This study provides an academically rigorous examination of the specific areas in which ethanol modeling and data are currently lacking on a large scope.”
Farmers have made amazing strides to increase efficiency and sustainability in the past few decades,” continued Willis, and the models and information used to assess the impact of biofuel production should reflect these gains. American ethanol benefits our environment as well as our economy and our energy security. It only makes sense that our energy policy should take these incredible benefits into account thus maximizing them for the good of all Americans.”
Looking at land use and biomass production balances in 34 major biofuel-producing nations, the report concludes that increases in acreage devoted to biofuel feedstock production were more than offset by productivity gains on acreage devoted to food production between 2000 and 2010. These productivity gains were the result of the use of double cropping practices, yield gains and other increased efficiencies.
Additionally, the study also notes that during the same period, urbanization and other causes were responsible for the loss of much more agricultural land than biofuel feedstock production. Continue reading
There are very mixed emotions with the European Union’s (EU) vote on the biofuels and indirect land use change (ILUC) that took place earlier this week. The EU voted for 6 percent cap. In October of 2012, MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) were voting to cap the amount of land-based and food-based biofuels used in transport fuel. In October, the cap of 5 percent on the amount of food that can be used to meet the overall 10% target for renewable energy in transport by 2020 was proposed. Since then, a cap of 6.5 percent was also offered.
The 6 percent cap voted for by MEPs represents an increase on the current figure of 4.5 percent. They also voted to recognize the link between biofuel production and the destruction of forests and other landscapes, (i.e. indirect land use change or ILUC) but not until 2020. And backed a 2.5 percent target for so-called second generation biofuels – made from non-food sources such as agricultural waste, sewage and algae.
UNICA, the Brazilian sugarcane industry association was pleased with the final vote – sugarcane ethanol is considered an advanced biofuel in the U.S. as well as in Europe.
“UNICA very much appreciates the efforts over the past several months of Members of the European Parliament to push for the consumption of biofuels that have the highest environmental credentials and technical performance,” said UNICA CEO, Elizabeth Farina. “UNICA is pleased to see MEPs voted Wednesday to approve measures to incentivize the production of more advanced biofuels, including those made from bagasse and straw,” she said.
A 2.5% sub-target for promoting the production and consumption of advanced biofuels in transport fuel, as voted by the European Parliament, is a step in the right direction, added Farina.
“UNICA also applauds the European Parliament’s rejection of proposals that would have applied protectionist measures and made it difficult, if not impossible, for sustainably, EU-compliant biofuels produced in non-European Union nations to be legally counted toward meeting EU renewable energy and fuel quality requirements,” added Geraldine Kutas, Head of International Affairs at UNICA. “However, it is unfortunate that the Parliament gave into biofuel critics’ pleas to put an arbitrary, 6% cap on the use of all food-based biofuels.” Continue reading
Biofuel makers in Europe could be facing a real uphill battle, as the European Parliament votes to limit the amount of green fuels made from crops in transportation. Bloomberg reports the 6 percent limit on the use of crop-based biofuels comes from concerns about indirect land use change.
The vote … in Strasbourg, France, sets the stage for talks among EU governments on the issue. Any differences with the Parliament would have to be ironed out in negotiations that could add months to the process for reaching a final accord.
The EU wants to prevent a requirement that at least 10 percent of energy for road and rail transport in 2020 come from renewable sources from causing side-effects that undermine the battle against global warming.
Made primarily from crops such as rapeseed, wheat, corn and sugar, biofuels including ethanol and biodiesel are the main renewable energy for transport and offer the prospect of reducing the use of fossil fuels blamed for climate change.
The vote actually upped the previous cap of 5 percent on crop-based fuels. The European Parliament hopes that continuing to place limits on crop-based biofuels will encourage more second generation biofuels made from non-food sources. Those non-food sources are going to have to do it, because by 2020, the EU is supposed to have at least 10 percent of land-transport energy come from some type of non-petroleum source.
A new study by Friends of the Earth slams biofuels and bases many of its conclusions on indirect land use change (ILUC) a hotly debated theory. The report, “Understanding the Biofuel Trade-offs between Indirect Land Use Change, Hunger and Poverty,” authored by Timothy Searchinger, relies on ILUC theory and leaves out several underlying causes of global hunger when making an attempt to connect biofuels production and food security.
In response to the study, the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA) who says that Searchinger’s theory attempts to predict future land use patterns globally that might result from the increased production of biofuels, has been disproven and discredited by a significant number of scientists and academics.
“ILUC has proven to be faulty because modeling relies on hundreds of assumptions, not facts, to predict future land use patterns around the world,” said Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the GRFA. “There is an abundance of evidence that shows ILUC to have no ability to accurately predict future land use patterns and that Searchinger was wrong.”
Bliss continued, “When attempting to draw a link between biofuels production and hunger, Mr. Searchinger conveniently ignores the fact that the world produces twice as much food as is consumed. It is well understood that food security and hunger are directly related to poverty, accessibility, and a lack of investment in agriculture to name a few of the underlying issues.”
A recent study, Global Food – Waste Not, Want Not, by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) found that half of all global food, 1 to 2 billion tons, goes to waste before reaching people’s stomachs each year. According to the IMechE study, food is wasted at every point in the supply chain, including: poor harvesting practices, storage, transportation, market waste and consumer waste. In developing countries, waste occurs mostly at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain and moves up the chain the more developed the country. In developed countries, grocery stores often reject produce because it does not meet certain appearance standards. Continue reading
This week the European Parliament Environment Committee voted for the European Union (EU) to cap the amount of food used as biofuels at 5.5 percent. Groups opposed to the measure want to see an end to biofuels created from “food” crops. The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive requires EU member states to use 10 percent of the road transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020. Historically, the mandate has been met with feedstocks also used to produce food (corn, wheat, soy).
The first generation cap on “agri-fuels” is an attempt to help the country transition to advanced biofuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from indirect land use change (ILUC).
“I nonetheless think that the industry must be given time to adapt, and I shall propose a compromise to this end in plenary session,” said rapporteur Corinne Lepage (ALDE, FR) after the vote. Her first-reading report was approved by 43 votes to 26, with one abstention.
“While today’s vote for a 5.5 percent cap is better than no cap, it still means that people in the United Kingdom and Europe will put food in their cars that could have fed tens of millions of people. This is not acceptable at a time when 1 in 8 people go hungry globally,” said Anders Dahlbeck, Head of Policy at ActionAid UK.
The EU is revising its biofuels policies and this week MEPs on the Environment committee voted on proposed amendments that will not have to be accepted or rejected by the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg in September. After that, the European Parliament will have to negotiate with the European Council (made up of EU governments) before a final revision to biofuels policies can be implemented. Continue reading
Emotions are mixed regarding the findings in a recent report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that was released in Rome during a meeting with ambassadors. The report found that biofuel from crops has a significant and direct impact on food prices and food availability. In response, ActionAid said the report shows how Europe’s biofuel targets are driving up food prices and increasing hunger among the world’s poorest people.
The report comes several weeks before a final decision is made by the Environment Committee, part of the European Commission, on how much fuel will be allowed to be made from feedstocks used to produce food.
“It is a wake-up call to the EU to get its house in order on food and fuel. This means some hard work ahead for MEPs and Member States who are working on redefining EU biofuels policy,” said Anders Dahlbeck, ActionAid’s biofuels policy advisor. “However as we speak, the biofuels industry is lobbying hard against new proposals before the Parliament and Council to limit the use of food crops for biofuels. MEPs and member states must not bow to industry pressure – they must end the use of food for fuel.”
The global biofuels industry has in fact taken issue with the report and the Global Renewable Fuels Association (GRFA) says that there are several methodological and factual errors in the report including the omission of key co-products in calculating the net benefits of biofuels; the overly prescriptive policy recommendations; and the inclusion of unproven land use methodologies. It should be noted that the EU biofuels policy that is under review specifically does not take in to account indirect land use in its calculations. Continue reading
A proposal from the European Commission that would limit the amount of food produced from biofuels made from food crops was amended today by the European Parliament industry, research and energy committee. The Committee voted to raise the proposed cap on biofuels from 5 percent to 6.5 percent and also voted not to implement indirect land use change (ILUC) factors. According to ActionAid, this means that European countries might end up using biofuels that are worse for the climate than fossil fuels.
Anders Dahlbeck, ActionAid biofuels policy advisor, said, “MEPs voting in the Industry committee in the European Parliament today sent a clear signal that they are prepared to put fuel goals before hunger goals and industry interest before poor people.”
“The evidence is clear that putting food into tanks does not make sense. EU’s biofuels policy is driving food price volatility and land grabs in some of the world poorest countries. The FAO says we need 50 percent more food by 2050 so why do we keep putting it into cars?” questioned Dahlbeck.
The UN special representative on the issue of food rights and hunger, Olivier de Schutter, met MEPs this week and raised the alarm bell on the damaging impacts of the EU’s biofuels policy. In spite of this the Industry committee in the European Parliament has weakened the European Commission’s proposal to limit the amount of food that can be used for fuel.
“There is still time for MEPs to turn it around with upcoming votes in the environment committee and the plenary vote in September. Do we accept hunger in exchange of EU energy targets – targets not even tackling climate change?” asked de Schutter.
It has been more than two years since the California Air Resources Board (CARB) committed to revise indirect land use change (ILUC) penalties assessed against certain biofuels as part of its Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS). Since it went into effect, a federal district judge has ruled the LCFS unconstitutional; however, CARB was able to move forward with the law while litigation continues.
Since ILUC came to forefront, many peer-reviewed studies have been published that show CARB, along with other entities, have overstated the overall carbon intensity of corn ethanol. Despite the growing number of more accurate studies, CARB has yet to make any changes to the LCFS program’s indirect land use change estimates or direct carbon intensity values for corn ethanol. In response to the lack of action, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) sent a letter to Mary Nichols, CARB Chairwoman.
“I am writing to again encourage CARB to honor its commitments to expeditiously revise the ILUC penalty factor assessed against corn ethanol and to utilize the ‘best available science’ when determining direct [carbon intensity, or CI] values,” wrote RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “Revising the direct and indirect CI values for corn ethanol would be much more than a mere academic exercise; rather, a continued failure to update these CI values will jeopardize the ability of regulated parties to reasonably comply with the LCFS program’s increasingly rigid CI standards in 2013, 2014 and beyond.”
Dinneen’s letter cites a number of reports and studies published in the past several years that demonstrate CARB’s corn ethanol carbon intensity estimates are “unjustifiably inflated.” The most recent study, conducted by GREET model creator Michael Wang at Argonne National Laboratory and published in Environmental Research Letters, found the carbon intensity of average corn ethanol to be 62 grams of CO2-equivalent per megajoule (g/MJ), including possible emissions from ILUC. That’s 38 percent lower than CARB’s current estimate of 99.4 g/MJ for average Midwest corn ethanol. Continue reading
The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update their lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analyses of corn and sugarcane ethanol for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The association made the request in a letter sent to the EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen wrote, “There have been literally dozens of new studies and modeling improvements since EPA finalized the RFS2 almost three years ago. Overwhelmingly, these new reports and data show that the corn ethanol process is far less carbon intensive than assumed by EPA. Corn ethanol is offering real and significant GHG savings today. Meanwhile, the carbon intensity of crude oil production continues to worsen, as we drill farther and deeper than ever before and get more of our energy from marginal crude sources like tar sands.”
Also noted in the letter is that recent GHG research has shown than lifecycle GHG emissions associated with Brazilian sugarcane ethanol production are worse than originally estimated by EPA. The letter cites since 2006, harvested sugarcane in Brazil has expanded 55 percent with at least 70 percent of the land formerly pasture land. However, when the lifecycle analysis was originally conducted, little land use change emissions were factored in to the data.
While RFA says the EPA underestimated land use change emissions for sugarcane, they also say the EPA overestimated ethanol plant energy use, corn farming energy use and land use change emissions for other forms of ethanol, primarily ethanol produced from corn.
Recent modeling and data improvements were presented in a peer-reviewed paper by researchers at Purdue University and the Department of Energy. According to the research, corn ethanol, on average, reduces GHG emissions today by at least 24 percent compared to gasoline even with speculative LUC emissions included. GHG reductions for ethanol from dry mill plants are even larger. Dinneen concluded that it is imperative that EPA recognizes this new science and data.
Click here to read the letter in full along with supporting charts and sources.
Dr. Jesper Hedal Kløverpris and Dr. Steffen Mueller have proposed a new approach to measuring the climate impact of biofuels related land-use changes (ILUC) as opposed to other land use changes: “Baseline Time Accounting Concept” and believe it should become an integrated part of future ILUC studies. According to the researchers, this model incorporates baseline time accounting into ILUC models, leading to a more accurate assessment of global warming impact. The peer reviewed study was published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.
Jesper and Mueller explain that climate impact estimates are more precise when indirect land use emissions from the conversion of land at the agricultural frontier are compared with emissions resulting from the baseline conversion the same land. Historically, ILUC models assume a static land baseline although land use trend regionally differ.
“As many others, I have always been uncomfortable with the annualization method applied for time accounting in most previous ILUC studies because it is basically arbitrary,” said Kløverpris. “A more sophisticated approach was required to assess the actual climate impact of indirect land use change. Baseline time accounting is our proposal for a more scientifically rigorous way of dealing with the time issue in ILUC studies as the science is refined.”
More specifically, the approach incorporates two agricultural land use dynamics that they say is missing from previous time accounting models. The first is accelerated expansion which occurs in regions such as Latin America where agriculture area is expanding. Biofuel production may move up by a year or more the ongoing conversion of land to agriculture.
Globally, explain the researchers, the agricultural area will continue to expand for some decades, so a piece of land converted as an indirect result of biofuels production today would have come into production at some point regardless. That may not continue to be the case but one of the points with baseline time accounting is to assess biofuels production under the conditions prevailing when the biofuels are produced. If global land use dynamics change, so does the climate impact of ILUC.
The second dynamic is delayed reversion Continue reading
A new study seems to add credibility to the arguments that high corn prices, often driven by demand for biofuels, are not increasing the actual indirect land use effects.
This press release from the Iowa Corn Promotion Board says researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago found that as prices for corn go up or down, farmers adjust their per acre yields and that some commonly used models for indirect land use use factors at the low end of the actual range which underestimates real yield performance:
The study assessed two dimensions of this correlation known as yield-price elasticity: first, the extent to which realized yields tend to be influenced by planting-time futures prices; and second, the potential for in-season changes responding to significant price swings. The study found that not only do farmers respond to price from season to season, they also respond to price during the season in order to optimize productivity. “Based on these findings there is no question that price has an effect on yields,” stated Jay Lynch, a farmer from Humboldt, Iowa and board director for the Iowa Corn Growers Association. “And given the factors involved in achieving higher yields, such as investment in new equipment, it is likely that new, higher yields resulting from high prices are sustained even after prices drop.”
The study adds to the growing body of evidence that actual indirect land use effects are lower than current models indicate and assumptions that high corn prices do not positively affect yields and productivity are not supported by research.
“It is a logical conclusion that when economic opportunity through greater efficiency is identified, investment occurs and results in the efficiencies that are targeted,” stated Dr. Barry K. Goodwin, study co-lead and distinguished professor, Departments of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Economics “In row crop production higher prices trigger positive changes to operations such as investments in better equipment and technology, better navigation and information systems, and so forth. The investment and changes triggered by the higher prices accelerate yield growth so that farms produce more per acre to fully capitalize on the market opportunity of higher prices. It’s a logic stream that holds up on the farm as well as other industries.”
Researchers went on to say that the new information should give people a better understanding between the real relationship between biofuels and indirect land usage.