Low-Carbon Fuel Rules

California is about to add to its record of leadership on clean energy policy with its innovative Low-Carbon Fuel Standard that goes into effect January 1. We highlight the program and its likely impact on alternative energy sources for transportation today at MIT TechReview.com in “Low-Carbon Fuel Rules”. As the tagline states, “California is about to implement a standard to boost cleaner fuels and punish the rest.”

One point is that California’s LCFS may not deliver the knock-out blow to Canada’s carbon-intensive tarsands that many climate change activists continue to hope for. Gasoline and diesel fuel refined from the tarsands’ asphaltine bitumen may escape being banned if its producers emphasize energy efficiency according to UC Davis’ Daniel Sperling.

Another observation I’ll be following up is the cohesiveness of the biotech industry. In the face of regulatory innovations such as the LCFS that would disadvantage corn ethanol production and advantage cash-hungry innovators developing more carbon-smart advanced biofuels, the latter seem to be quietly defending the status quo.

Then there’s the California standard’s nuanced approach to diesel, which is not addressed in the TechReview piece but which Carbon-Nation spotlighted last summer. The short take is that the LCFS mandates separate and equal reductions in the carbon footprint of the gasoline and diesel fuels sold in California. That approach eliminates the possibility that diesel use will be incentivized as an alternative to gasoline. The reason? California regulators believe that even today’s ‘clean diesels’ release more than their share of soot, which is a major cause of premature mortality and also a potential contributor to climate change in its own right.

We explore the climate challenge and opportunity posed by soot in the September issue of Discover magazine. See “The Easiest Way to Fight Global Warming?”

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Tech Talk on Plug-in Hybrids

IEEE Spectrum Tech TalkGoing forward, some of Carbon-Nation’s posts will now be copublished via IEEE Spectrum’s Tech Talk blog, beginning with this report on California plug-in mania: “Plug-in hybrids win big in ZEV tweaks” (full text follows)

Plug-in mania has an influential new fan: the California Air Resources Board, which looks set to elevate plug-ins several notches in its zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate.

The ZEV directive requires car manufacturers to market ultraclean and emissions-free vehicles (or buy credits earned by others making such vehicles). The California Air Resources Board unleashed intense lobbying this winter among battery EV start-ups, major automakers, hydrogen fuel-cell developers, and coalitions promoting plug‑in hybrids when it promised to tweak the level of credits earned by various technologies. From the Air Resources Board staff proposal released late last week, plug-ins appear to be the big winners.

Presently the ZEV credit ratios favor fuel cells and offer relatively little help for plug-ins. The staff proposal would change this by enabling manufacturers to meet most of their ZEV requirements through 2014 with plug-in hybrids and hydrogen combustion vehicles. While not pure ZEVs like battery EVs and fuel cell vehicles, the California regulators bet that manufacture of plug-ins will yield components and infrastructure that will hasten the day when the pure EVs go mainstream.

“The goal continues to be to accelerate the development of pure ZEVs,” says Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling, director of the University of California, Davis, Institute of Transportation Studies. Sperling says promoting plug-in hybrids is the “only realistic way” to push car makers forward in light of the continued high cost of batteries and fuel cells.

Sperling and his fellow Air Resources Board members will take up the staff proposal after a public hearing in Sacramento scheduled for March 27-28.

Meanwhile, Arizona regulators seem to be feeling considerably more bullish about the viability of pure electrics. The Arizona Republic reports that Airzona’s Department of Environmental Quality has drafted rules mandating that 11 percent of all cars sold in the state must be ZEVs from the 2011 model year. In 2018 the mandate would jump to 16 percent.

This post was created for Tech Talk – Insights into tomorrow’s technology from the editors of IEEE Spectrum.

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