Carbon intensity (CI) is a term that is growing in importance in natural gas and alternative fuel conversations.
In this article we are going to explore the role carbon intensity plays in the alternative fuel industry, including the impact of carbon intensity and how a carbon intensity score is used.
Most importantly, we’re going to explore how to reduce CI scores at scale using current and next generation technologies.
What Is Carbon Intensity?
In laymans terms, carbon intensity is the amount of carbon emitted per unit of energy consumed, measured in weight.
For example, when discussing the carbon intensity of electricity, we are measuring the number of grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) that it takes to make one unit of electricity a kilowatt per hour (kW/hour).
The amount of carbon generated in power and heating varies significantly by both fuel type and process. For example, in coal fired power stations, the carbon intensity value of power generated is extremely high as CO2 is produced when coal is burned to generate electricity.
Whereas, renewable forms of power generation, for example hydro or solar energy can produce close to no emissions, resulting in extremely low carbon intensity.
Carbon intensity can also be defined in terms of a full lifecycle that tracks total greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy including production, transportation, and storage.
Often described as well-to-wheel, lifecycle carbon intensity tracks carbon emissions from production, refining, and even the fuels used for transportation. These are all tracked, accounted for, and summed into one final carbon footprint.
Are there ways to reduce carbon intensity?
There are numerous ways in which we can all reduce carbon intensity. Most are uncomplicated.
They start with exploring the use of more renewable energy sources during the power generation process. If renewables are not possible then utilizing low carbon turquoise or green hydrogen is a good option. At Modern Electron we are at the forefront of reducing carbon intensity.
Currently, these are some of the more persuasive strategies to incorporate in reducing carbon intensity:
1. Goal setting
- Specifically targeting reductions of carbon emissions per unit of energy across a grid, for example, should be a metric measured, with targets set. Especially when looking to scale up and decarbonize the power supply.
- As the UK example illustrates, a broad portfolio encompasses significant investment in energy efficiency, wind, solar, nuclear, a robust transmission grid, and carbon capture and storage (CCS).
2. Increase Energy Efficiency
- Energy efficiency is widely considered as the largest potential contributor to global emissions reduction.
- With efficiency improvements, global electric demand could be reduced by more than 20% without any reduction of heating and lighting.
- It is suggested that increasing energy efficiency could be the least expensive way to decarbonize at scale.
3. Harnessing the Power of Markets
- Coal-fired power generation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the US. The primary driver taking coal fueled power plants out of service, is intensive price pressure from both natural gas and renewables.
- Market forces will prioritize the most cost-effective electricity suppliers which could potentially push out coal systems.
4. Recognize that Renewables Can’t Do It Alone
- It’s true that wind and solar produce power and generate almost zero CO2. However they are reliant on the availability of wind and sun. Currently, energy can not be efficiently stored so complete reliance on these renewable sources is not possible.
- Continued investment in technology to reduce the cost of energy storage, such as batteries, pumped hydro and thermal, can help integrate renewables and reduce the dependence on conventional energy sources.
5. Scale Investment in Frontier Technologies
- Current technologies are able to reduce carbon production, but they are technologies designed to make the current system more efficient, so they have limitations. To attack the problem at scale, the sector is going to need to develop new technologies.
- For example, Modern Electron is developing a scalable gas-to-hydrogen converter to produce clean hydrogen fuel with near-zero emissions.
Understanding the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) in California
The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is already well-known among energy developers, and fueling station owners. However, the program’s complexity makes it difficult to navigate.
The Low Carbon Fuel Standard is a market-based program that aims to reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of fuels utilized in California. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) established LCFS in 2011 as part of several AB32 measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 20 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.
The LCFS program offers multiple credit generation opportunities to encourage the production and use of low-carbon fuels, thereby facilitating the achievement of AB32 objectives. The following are three ways to earn credits through the LFCS program:
Crediting based on fuel pathway: Low-carbon fuels in the California fuel pool can generate credits based on carbon emissions reduced relative to the CI baseline. These credits incentivize the development of alternative fuels in California.
Project-based credit allocation: This category includes carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) using direct air capture as well as projects to reduce carbon emissions throughout the petroleum supply chain.
Infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles (capacity-based crediting): Installation of hydrogen and DC fast-charging infrastructure can generate credits based on capacity, which are then allocated in accordance with fuel pathways.
Infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles, particularly medium and heavy-duty vehicles, is lacking; these credits rectify the situation.
But What is Next?
While the LCFS program is here to stay, benchmark carbon emissions rates will change over time, and in addition, compliance and reporting requirements will become more complicated. It can be difficult to stay up with the development of LCFS improvements, which are vital for enhancing returns on clean fuel development projects and clean fuel usage.
Other states are implementing emission reduction programs similar to LCFS. Oregon has the Clean Fuels Program. The federal government has the Renewable Fuel Standard program that continues to promote the production of clean fuels, thereby assisting state-level programs that encourage adoption.
Renewable energy or low CI fuel will certainly play a role in CI reduction. But to be able to aggressively pursue a net zero strategy at scale, frontier technologies will need to be developed and implemented. This is where Modern Electron is impacting the energy sector.
Modern Electron’s next-generation technology converts natural gas to clean hydrogen for use in process heat, building heat, and power generation without CO2 emissions. Today, Modern Electron’s tech can ensure the hundreds of millions of factories, and offices and homes that heat with natural gas operate more sustainably; tomorrow, we will enable the hydrogen energy systems of our zero carbon future.