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  • Writer's pictureRon Kotrba

DTF webinar highlights important role of biobased diesel in mitigating carbon emissions now

The Diesel Technology Forum hosted a free webinar April 13, titled “Low Hanging Fruit on the Climate Solutions Tree,” which featured speakers from Renewable Energy Group, Neste and the National Biodiesel Board. Much of the conversation focused on how the environment and society will pay a high price waiting for carbon-reduction solutions of the future, such as electric vehicles and a fully renewable power grid, versus immediately implementing incremental carbon-cutting measures that are currently available, like biodiesel, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Ezra Finkin, DTF policy director, highlighted for attendees how biobased diesel fuels have generated most of the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in California’s transportation sector since 2011 under the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, providing far more GHG reductions than electric cars and buses.

“It takes a diesel engine to generate these benefits from these fuels,” Finkin said.

Waiting for future technologies to reduce carbon is doing harm, said David Slade, an executive director with REG. “Emissions accumulate in the atmosphere,” he said. “Feel free to make long-term plans, but many people overlook what we can do today.”

Slade said most people and models account for carbon on an annual basis, “but this is incorrect,” he said, adding that a more accurate approach is what’s referred to as cumulative carbon impact accounting.

Think of it as compound interest in retirement savings. If one were to invest $1,000 a year into their retirement account over a 10-year period, this would be much more prudent and valuable versus saving $10,000 under their mattress and depositing the lump sum at the end of the decade. In the first scenario, the interest would be working in the account holder’s favor for the duration of the term, ending up with well over $10,000 at the end of the period.

Similarly, but even more profoundly, Slade said investing in carbon reductions works the same way. One ton of carbon emitted each year for 10 years does not equal 10 tons of carbon emitted at the end of the period. According to cumulative carbon impact accounting, this ton-per-year emission of carbon comes to nearly 45 tons of cumulative carbon impact over the 10-year term.

“The impact opportunity is greatest early in the period,” he said. “This is completely overlooked by policymakers. Biobased diesel is a drop-in solution available today that can provide [significant] carbon reductions immediately.”

Jennifer Weaver, the OEM market development manager for NBB, said the two most important points in the discussion of GHG emissions are the reduction amounts a technology can offer, and when the technology can provide those reductions. “The time value of carbon is key,” she said.

Electric trucks (Class 7-8) will only have 6 percent market penetration in California by 2040, Weaver added. Furthermore, she said, it’s important to remember that electricity is only as clean as the grid, and in most areas today the reality of a zero-emissions grid is nonexistent.

“States will take many years, decades, to fully electrify and decarbonize the grid,” Weaver said. “Even California projects a multibillion-gallon diesel market post-2040.”

Weaver characterized the biobased diesel production industry as being in “expansion mode” right now. She said although U.S. production capacity is 3.2 billion gallons today, this is expected to grow to nearly 5 billion gallons by 2023.

Carrie Song, an executive with Neste, presented three case studies of its renewable diesel customers and noted that, over the years, Neste’s renewable diesel has prevented 40 million tons of GHG emissions from entering the atmosphere.



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