Low Carbon Fuels


What is Carbon Intensity?

The carbon intensity of the U.S. economy is represented by the Carbon/GDP line. This line shows that, over time, the amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP has been declining. This decline can be attributed to efficiency improvements in the amount on energy it takes to produce a given amount of output (Energy/GDP) or to an increase in the use of low-carbon fuels (Carbon/Energy). The fact that the Energy/GDP line corresponds to the Carbon/GDP line illustrates that the reason for the decrease in the carbon intensity can be attributed to energy efficiency improvements and not to an increased use of low-carbon fuels which has remained constant over time.


What is Low Carbon Fuels Accounting?

The Low Carbon Fuels Standard was a recommendation by the Montana Climate Change Advisory Committee. It suggests that when companies are required to reduce their carbon, it could use any number of potential methods. The company is not required to use 85% ethanol, for example, but any combination of alternatives or efficiency increases that result in the same reduction of carbon.In order for Low Carbon Fuels to be most effective, SAVE is advocating for lifetime accounting of these fuels. Measuring only the carbon that comes out of the exhaust pipe is only part of the solution. We also need to consider all the energy that went into a fuel's production.

How Does it Work?

Lifecycle Accounting requires a consideration of all of the energy that went into a particular fuel. For traditional petroleum-based fuels, that means looking at extraction at the oil well, shipping overseas, and refining costs, as well as transporting unleaded fuel to each individual gas station. For agriculture-based fuels, the energy costs of growing, harvesting, and processing the plant are considered. In the case of electricity, lifecycle accounting would look at the energy, whether it be coal, hydroelectric, or wind, which produced that electricity. This accounting system allows us to compare all these different systems. There will finally be a number to tell us how much energy/carbon went into a fuel compared with the amount of energy we get out.

Counting Carbon, an opinion piece by Executive Director Matt Elsassaer

Every gallon we buy at the pump affects our environmental, economic, and national security. A significant percentage of our transportation fuel is shipped across oceans and supports unsavory regimes. All of it emits climate-harming carbon into the atmosphere. Our choice at the pump is neither simple, nor consequence free. Reducing these consequences starts with driving less, choosing fuel efficient cars and trucks, and selecting the right alternative fuels. When we select alternative fuels, it is vital that we see a full accounting of their environmental merit. This can best be done through Low Carbon Fuel (LCF) accounting as recommended by the Montana Climate Change Advisory Committee. LCF Accounting includes all "energy inputs and carbon outputs from production to consumption" in transportation fuel. In other words, policies regarding alternative fuels should promote increased efficiency and decreased carbon intensity.

LCF Accounting is the best way to determine which alternative fuels have environmental merit. It measures carbon emissions not just by what comes out of our exhaust pipe, but also the carbon produced over the lifetime of the fuel. LCF Accounting considers all the energy inputs of a fuel: extraction or growing, refining, and transportation to the pump. This accounting system tracks the indirect costs that we pay for fuel. A gallon of petroleum gasoline produced in Montana provides the same amount of useful energy as a gallon of petroleum derived gas from the Middle East. However, the Middle East gallon will have taken much more energy and emitted more carbon because of transportation. The resulting measurement gives us the "carbon intensity" of the fuel we are putting into our vehicles, telling us how much carbon was emitted to yield a set amount of energy at the pump.

The nation is looking for alternatives to gasoline. Recent reports regarding Hydrogen Fuel Cells have created much excitement. Liquid biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel have the potential to allow America to grow its own fuel, which in turn will reduce fuel costs, greenhouse gas emissions, and dependence on foreign nations for fuel. However, not all alternative fuels are created equal and many have unintended consequences. Corn-based ethanol requires energy from fossil fuels. In Asia, rainforests are destroyed to provide cropland for biodiesel made from palm oil, causing the loss of "carbon sinks" and biodiversity. Today, using electricity to produce hydrogen for fuel cells is less efficient than using the electricity directly in a standard electric car. LCF Accounting is a tool that can ascertain which alternative fuels being promoted are those with real environmental benefits.

LCF Accounting gives us a necessary baseline to understand the environmental impacts of our transportation fuel choices. It is a vital tool for citizens making choices at the pump and for policy makers looking to lower the carbon intensity of fuels. Fueling your car is not simple. The true costs are often hidden. Let's make it easier with Low Carbon Fuels Accounting.