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Implications of local lifecycle analyses and low carbon fuel standard design on gasohol transportation fuels

Boies, Adam M., McFarlane, Dane, Taff, Steven, Watts, Winthrop F., Kittelson, David B.
Energy policy 2011 v.39 no.11 pp. 7191-7201
alternative fuels, biomass, carbon, corn, ethanol, ethanol production, fuel production, gasohol, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, heat treatment, issues and policy, land use change, life cycle assessment, models, refining, stochastic processes, transportation, uncertainty, Minnesota
State and regional policies, such as low carbon fuel standards (LCFSs), increasingly mandate that transportation fuels be examined according to their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We investigate whether such policies benefit from determining fuel carbon intensities (FCIs) locally to account for variations in fuel production and to stimulate improvements in FCI. In this study, we examine the FCI of transportation fuels on a lifecycle basis within a specific state, Minnesota, and compare the results to FCIs using national averages. Using data compiled from 18 refineries over an 11-year period, we find that ethanol production is highly variable, resulting in a 42% difference between carbon intensities. Historical data suggests that lower FCIs are possible through incremental improvements in refining efficiency and the use of biomass for processing heat. Stochastic modeling of the corn ethanol FCI shows that gains in certainty due to knowledge of specific refinery inputs are overwhelmed by uncertainty in parameters external to the refiner, including impacts of fertilization and land use change. The LCA results are incorporated into multiple policy scenarios to demonstrate the effect of policy configurations on the use of alternative fuels. These results provide a contrast between volumetric mandates and LCFSs.