R40460 - Calculation of Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)
12-Mar-2010; Brent D. Yacobucci and Kelsi S. Bracmort; 22 p.
Update: Previous releases:
June 25, 2009
Abstract: The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140), significantly expanded the renewable fuel standard (RFS) established in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005, P.L. 109-58). The RFS requires the use of 9.0 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2008, increasing to 36 billion gallons in 2022. Further, EISA requires an increasing amount of the mandate be met with “advanced biofuels”—biofuels produced from feedstocks other than corn starch and with 50% lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum fuels. Within the advanced biofuel mandate, there are specific carve-outs for cellulosic biofuels and biomass-based diesel substitutes (e.g., biodiesel).
To classify biofuels under the RFS, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must calculate the lifecycle emissions of each fuel relative to gasoline or diesel fuel. Lifecycle emissions include emissions from all stages of fuel production and use (“well-to-wheels”), as well as both direct and indirect changes in land use from farming crops to produce biofuels. Debate is ongoing on how each factor in the biofuels lifecycle should be addressed, and the issues surrounding direct and indirect land use are particularly controversial. How EPA resolves those issues will affect the role each fuel plays in the RFS.
EPA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on May 26, 2009, for the RFS with suggested
methodology for the lifecycle emissions analysis. EPA is expected to promulgate regulations on
biofuels lifecycle emissions in the next few months, although this rulemaking is already overdue
under EISA. As EPA’s decisions will affect the marketability of each combination of fuel type,
feedstock, and production process, there is growing congressional interest in the topic.
Congressional action could take the form of oversight of EPA’s rulemaking process, or could
result in legislation to amend the EISA RFS provisions. Further, related legislative efforts on
climate change policy and/or a low-carbon fuel standard would likely lead to interactions between
those policies and the lifecycle determinations under the RFS. [read report]