Fuels

Fuels

Choice of fuel makes a big difference to overall transportation emissions. Replacing fossil gasoline and diesel with low-carbon alternatives can substantially reduce the climate impact of cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships. But not all alternative fuels are improvements over fossil fuels. Biofuels can have complicated impacts on global emissions if they come from feedstocks and land that otherwise would be used for food, livestock feed, or materials. How petroleum is produced can also significantly affect its climate impact.

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About the program

Choice of fuel makes a big difference to overall transportation emissions. Replacing fossil gasoline and diesel with low-carbon alternatives can substantially reduce the climate impact of cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships. But not all alternative fuels are improvements over fossil fuels. Biofuels can have complicated impacts on global emissions if they come from feedstocks and land that otherwise would be used for food, livestock feed, or materials. How petroleum is produced can also significantly affect its climate impact.

ICCT’s fuels team works on identifying the fuels that offer the greatest carbon reductions based on lifecycle analysis that factors in emissions from the production of feedstock and fuel as well as indirect effects. Depending on methodology, lifecycle analyses can yield varying results, and ICCT researchers play an active role in the research community developing lifecycle analysis techniques, in addition to helping policy makers understand and use the results. ICCT also works to support the design and implementation of effective low-carbon fuel policies. The right incentives can drive reductions in the carbon intensity of the fuel mix while encouraging innovation and efficiency. We work with policymakers to answer questions such as how to ensure biofuel feedstock sustainability, how to account for indirect effects, and how to support the commercialization of emerging low carbon technologies.

Canada's Clean Fuel Standard and the role of indirect land-use change (ILUC)

Canada is developing a Clean Fuel Standard (CFS) to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of its fuel mix. Canada's Clean Fuel Standard aims to reduce GHG emissions by 30 million tonnes of CO2e annually by 2030. However, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the agency in charge of developing the standard, doesn't plan on counting emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) when calculating the greenhouse gas savings of biofuels and bioenergy.

Stephanie Searle, ICCT's Fuels Program Lead, explains why by ignoring emissions from ILUC, the CFS could hit its target on paper but will fall far short in real GHG reductions, potentially wiping out total savings from Canada’s 2025 vehicle greenhouse gas standards.

—See "Canada lags the U.S. in climate accounting of biofuels," April 2018 blog

Recent publications

Compatibility of mid-level biodiesel blends in vehicles in Indonesia

Reviews the impact of mid-level biodiesel blends on materials and emissions in conventional diesel vehicles in the Indonesian context.

2018.04.17 | Working paper
Early adoption of China VI vehicle fuel standards in Jing-Jin-Ji and surrounding areas

Following a similar move by Beijing, 27 cities in China implemented stringent new vehicle fuel standards in October 2017 as a step toward reducing air pollution in heavily populated areas. These cities put the China VI fuel requirements into effect about 15 months before the national deadline and applied the new fuel standard to non-road equipment ahead of the national schedule.

2018.04.10 | Policy update
Policy and Environmental Implications of Using HEFA+ for Aviation

Ramping up HEFA+ deployment in aviation would likely create competition for feedstocks between aviation and renewable diesel in the road sector. It could also result in indirect land-use change from the increased use of food crops to create renewable diesel and HEFA+, thereby undermining the climate benefits of AJF deployment. 

2018.03.21 | Working paper
See all publications

Staff blog

Palm oil is the elephant in the greenhouse

Palm oil isn’t as bad for climate as you think. It’s worse.

Staff