UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Campus leads state study of low-carbon alternatives

– The University of California, Berkeley, will play a key role in California's strategy to combat global warming, with scientists here and at UC Davis researching ways to lower vehicle emissions in order to reduce the state's carbon footprint.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced plans to establish low-carbon fuel standards for California on Tuesday (Jan. 9) during his State of the State address, calling California "the first in the world to develop a low carbon fuel standard that leads us away from fossil fuel." In a prepared statement, he said that this is "... an innovative action that will diversify our fuel supplies and establish a vibrant market for cleaner-burning fuels."

Schwarzenegger said that he will issue an executive order establishing standards for transportation fuels sold in the state, with the goal of reducing the carbon intensity of California's passenger vehicle fuels by at least 10 percent by 2020. This first-of-its kind standard will support emissions targets established last year by AB 32, which committed the state to capping greenhouse gases.

"As the world's first low carbon fuel standard is developed here in California, we will help provide the state with the best science on this topic," said Alex Farrell, UC Berkeley assistant professor of energy and resources and leader of the joint UC Berkeley/UC Davis effort. "This standard, along with other California initiatives in renewable energy, will support new, environmentally friendly energy sources to power economic growth while enhancing energy security. We look forward to helping the state in this important task."

Farrell said the study should take several months to complete. He and his colleagues will work closely with the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission on the technical and policy issues of switching to low-carbon fuels.

"The purpose of our study is to help the state understand how it can design a regulatory standard to lower the greenhouse gas content of fuels using market-based mechanisms that encourage innovation, improve the diversity of the state's energy supply, and allow companies to develop low-cost solutions for their customers," Farrell said.

According to the governor's statement, the analysis will become part of the State Implementation Plan for alternative fuels as required by California Assembly Bill 1007, passed in September 2005, and will be submitted to the California Air Resources Board for consideration as an "early action" item under AB 32.

The board is expected to implement the new standards no later than December 2008.

In announcing the plan, Schwarzenegger noted that "Transportation accounts for 40 percent of California's annual greenhouse gas emissions, and we rely on petroleum-based fuels for an overwhelming 96 percent of our transportation needs. This petroleum dependency contributes to climate change and leaves workers, businesses and consumers vulnerable to price shocks from an unstable global energy market."

The 15 billion gallons of gasoline consumed each year in California account for about 28 percent of the state's emissions of greenhouse gases, so it is imperative that California develop a robust strategy to lower vehicle emissions, Farrell said.

The low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) requires fuel providers to ensure that the mix of fuel they sell into the California market meets, on average, a declining standard for greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2-equivalent gram per unit of fuel energy sold.

The LCFS will use market-based mechanisms that allow providers to choose how they reduce emissions while responding to consumer demand. For example, providers may purchase and blend more low-carbon ethanol into gasoline products, purchase credits from electric utilities supplying low-carbon electrons to electric passenger vehicles, diversify into low-carbon hydrogen as a product and more, including new strategies yet to be developed.

"Our study will examine the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from a wide range of fuels produced here in California and elsewhere, including petroleum, biofuels, hydrogen and electricity," said Farrell. "We will consider a variety of 'production pathways' for each fuel by examining how they are produced and distributed, and which key greenhouse gases are emitted at each stage. We will also evaluate key policy design issues that will help make this regulation cost-effective and likely to stimulate innovation and competition.