CARB Details ‘Carbon Neutrality’ Paths With Varying Aggression, Fuel Use

Source: By Curt Barry, InsideEPA • Posted: Thursday, October 7, 2021

California air board staff are detailing four potential scenarios to reach carbon neutrality by 2035 or 2045, including a path that would ban or phase out the use of biofuels generated from dairy or landfill methane capture technologies, which is drawing strong objections from industry but support from environmentalists.

“Focusing on renewable fuels, I feel, is critical to solve climate change — now and in the later part,” argued Todd Campbell, representing renewable natural gas maker Clean Energy, during a Sept. 30 California Air Resources Board (CARB) staff workshop on “scenario inputs” for its 2022 greenhouse gas “scoping plan” update.

“Biofuels will reduce carbon now from internal combustion engines, and preferably those are low-nitrogen oxide, if not better, engines. And later, they can be used to power electric and hydrogen vehicles when those vehicles are fully commercialized,” Campbell added.

But Sasan Saadat, a senior research and policy analyst with Earthjustice, charged that there is a “very limited supply of genuinely sustainable biogas. And this fiction that capturing methane from anthropogenic waste is carbon removal — it’s one of the most unscientific things and a huge environmental justice problem. And CARB should urgently be working to avoid that.”

The workshop is one of many meetings CARB is holding to develop its scoping plan update, which is scheduled to be adopted by the end of 2022 and will serve as a regulatory and policy blueprint for the state to meet its GHG-reduction and carbon-neutrality targets.

State law has established a GHG-reduction goal of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and a gubernatorial executive order set a “carbon-neutrality” target for 2045, but Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has instructed CARB to also outline scenarios in the scoping plan to achieve the 40 percent cut prior to 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2035.

As a result, CARB staff is laying out four alternatives, according to a presentation made at the workshop. Staff is asking stakeholders to submit written comments on the scenarios by Oct. 22.

Alternative 1 would achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, “with complete phaseout of combustion and no reliance on engineered carbon removal,” such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Alternative 2 would achieve carbon neutrality by the same date, but “with [a] full suite of technology options, including engineered carbon removal.”

Alternative 3 would achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, “utilizing a broad portfolio of existing and emerging fossil fuel alternatives and achievement of” Newsom’s September 2020 executive order, which in part sets a goal that 100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero emission by 2035. The order also sets a goal that all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the state be zero emission by 2045, “for all operations where feasible,” and by 2035 for drayage trucks.

Alternative 4 would achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, “utilizing existing and emerging technologies,” and seek to meet 100 percent zero-emission new car sales by 2040.

Environmental Justice Concerns

In addition to debate over the use of biofuels, CCS and the conversion of waste material into fuel and electricity, several members of CARB’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC) argued during the Sept. 30 workshop that CARB staff is not providing them with timely data and a transparent process with regard to developing the scenarios and technical inputs to modeling runs.

“This is a little bit out of left field, it looks like,” said EJAC member Georgette Gomez, referring to the materials and data CARB staff posted on its website a day before the workshop and on the day of the workshop. “We’re seeing this [data] for the first time — I’m feeling a little bit frustrated, to say the least. I’m hoping we can correct this relationship that we have. . .. I question the transparency of this effort at this moment.”

In response, Rajinder Sahota, CARB’s deputy executive officer of climate change and research, said staff plans to hold a meeting with EJAC members in the coming two weeks, where they can further detail the scenarios and modeling inputs and answer questions from EJAC members.

To reach carbon neutrality by 2035 under Alternative 1, CARB proposes a scenario where GHG reductions would be accelerated to about 45 percent by 2030. This would entail “no combustion of any fuel including fossil, biomass-based fuels, or hydrogen.”

In addition, it would mean that “hard-to-decarbonize” sectors, such as cement and aviation fuel, “would be phased out in California,” which means the state “may need to import goods to meet demand,” the CARB staff presentation states.

This scenario would also require the “early retirement of vehicles, gas appliances, [and] industrial equipment in 2035 to eliminate fossil fuel emissions through buy-back programs.”

However, without carbon dioxide removal technologies “to compensate for non-combustion emissions (short lived climate pollutants), carbon neutrality may not be achieved,” the scenario adds.

Under Alternative 2, GHG cuts would be accelerated to achieve a 55 percent reduction by 2030, allowing for “all options of current and emerging fuels to be utilized, but with focus to reduce fossil fuel combustion,” the presentation says.

This alternative would include a “broad portfolio of zero-carbon technologies including CCS, hydrogen, renewables, biomass-based fuels.” In addition, hard-to-decarbonize sectors would have different “options to operate.”

Also, transportation-sector emission reductions would be “emphasized” through “widespread electrification to reduce demand and corresponding reduction in petroleum supply.”

In addition, CO2 removal technologies would be deployed in 2035 “to compensate for remaining economy-wide fossil fuel and non-combustion emissions,” such as from short-lived climate pollutants, this alternative adds.

Less Aggressive Alternatives

To achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 under Alternative 3, the scenario would have the state meet the current 2030 GHG target of 40 percent below 1990 levels, while also aggressively implementing “existing and emerging fossil fuel alternatives to reduce emission in excess of [the] 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 target.”

In addition, this alternative would feature a “broad portfolio of zero-carbon technologies including CCS, hydrogen, renewables, biomass-based fuels”; emphasize transportation-sector GHG cuts through widespread electrification; and also deploy CO2-removal technologies in 2045 to compensate for remaining non-combustion emissions.

And under Alternative 4, which would also achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, CARB staff is proposing to meet the existing 2030 target, while also implementing “existing and some emerging fossil fuel alternatives along [the] path to [the] 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 target.”

This scenario would also include a “broad portfolio of zero-carbon technologies”; retain “some transportation fossil fuel use and technology”; and deploy CO2-removal technologies in 2045.

For each of those alternatives, CARB staff lays out varying scenarios for eight specific sub-categories, including non-combustion methane emissions; the manufacturing, construction and agriculture industries; vehicle miles traveled; vehicle fleet electrification; biofuels; petroleum fuels; a carbon-free electricity grid; and residential and commercial building decarbonization. — Curt Barry (