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Maximizing California’s Emission Reductions

[Originally published in Capitol Weekly]

California has positioned itself not just as a national leader in reducing carbon emissions, but an international model. The state recently achieved another in a long stretch of milestones by securing EPA approval to mandate that half of all heavy vehicles sold in the state be electric by 2035. However, in this instance, the state’s ambitions now likely outpace both reality and technology. In order to green heavy industrial transport and maximize emission reductions, it is essential for California to integrate its successful Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) with its EV policies.

To tackle its carbon footprint, California has recognized the importance of reducing emissions from vehicles, which is why it introduced the Low Carbon Fuel Standard in the first place. The program aims to decrease the carbon intensity of the state’s transportation fuel by requiring fuel producers to blend low-carbon fuels or purchase credits from low-carbon fuel producers to offset their emissions. The goal of the LCFS is to achieve a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 from a 2010 baseline.

In the twelve years since its implementation, the program has already made remarkable progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels. Between 2011 and 2022 the state saw a 9.36% reported reduction in carbon intensity, outpacing initial estimates.  Still, despite California’s impressive efforts to curb emissions, the transportation sector remains the source of roughly half of its greenhouse gas emissions.

To further reduce emissions, California has introduced a slew of EV mandates and incentive programs, the most recent of which is focused on addressing heavy-duty vehicles. But, EV-centric approaches are not the silver bullet policymakers have made them out to be. For the state to achieve the greatest possible reduction in emissions, it must pair its EV mandates with more ambitious targets for its successful LCFS program.

While electrification can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, electrifying heavy shipping vehicles presents significant challenges for California. Estimates suggest that full electrification of the US shipping fleet would require roughly double California’s annual electricity generation rate. Furthermore, studies indicate that the batteries powering these trucks could weigh nearly 16,000 pounds and reduce their overall shipping capacity. Production of these large batteries could require up to 64 percent of global reserves of rare earth metals such as cobalt, graphite, and lithium. There are also logistical challenges, such as the need to deploy charging stations strategically to support an all-electric fleet.

Fortunately, California can harness the power of the LCFS and low-carbon advanced biofuels to bridge this gap and achieve earlier carbon reductions in the heavy-duty sector.

Advanced biofuels made from renewable, non-food biomass have proven to play a critical role in powering California and the country across the “electrification gap” and achieving essential carbon reduction goals, especially in sectors where electrification is less feasible. As per Congress’s definition, advanced biofuels must offer a minimum of a fifty percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, with some providing up to an eighty percent reduction.

In addition to the emission reductions offered by advanced biofuels, the low cost required to distribute them is key to reducing greenhouse gasses quickly and efficiently. By 2025, the advanced biofuels industry will deliver 8 billion gallons of renewable diesel and biodiesel per year – and this is just scratching the surface. Unlike EVs, advanced biofuels require almost no change to current fuel distribution infrastructure — meaning they can be used to power cars and trucks without any significant taxpayer investment.

Plus, low-carbon, advanced biofuels can help California residents to significantly reduce their carbon footprint without incurring a hefty new car payment. Amid economic uncertainty – especially in California’s dynamic tech industry – most residents may not have means to purchase a new EV given its average cost of over $66,000, let alone factoring the cost for electrified heavy transport vehicles.

Governor Newsom’s continued commitment to transitioning California to a clean energy economy is laudable and should be supported. But to ensure that the Governor’s goals are realized, it is vital that the state pursue a strategy that adopts readily available technologies and policies like the LCF to immediately reduce emissions while EV infrastructure and adoption grows.

Michael McAdams is the president of the Advanced Biofuels Association