ARB Research Seminar

This page updated November 28, 2016

The Future of Drop-In Fuels: Life-Cycle Cost and Environmental Impacts of Bio-Based Hydrocarbon Fuel Pathways

Photo of Arpad Horvath

Arpad Horvath

Photo of Corinne Scown

Corinne Scown

Arpad Horvath, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley and Corinne Scown, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Energy Analysis and Environmental Impacts Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

December 19, 2016
Cal EPA Headquarters, 1001 "I" Street, Sacramento, CA

Research Project


Biofuels that can serve as a one-to-one replacement for gasoline or diesel, or achieve higher-level blends without modifications to existing fueling infrastructure and engines, are known as "drop-in fuels," and offer an opportunity to accelerate the deployment of low-carbon liquid fuels.

In order to achieve California's climate and air quality goals, California will need high volumes of alternative fuels, such as drop-in fuels, that have low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In order to support these goals, the objective of this project was to review the research related to drop-in fuel production, evaluate potential pathways from well-to-pump (excluding tailpipe combustion emissions) based on their expected costs and environmental performance, and model potential pathways to scaling up drop-in fuel production in the state.

The study's results indicate that pathways are the most promising routes for the production of drop-in fuels in the near- and mid-term if GHG and air quality goals are to be simultaneously met in California. Bio-based hydrocarbon fuels have the potential to have lower life-cycle GHG emissions relative to comparable first generation fuels, such as ethanol or biodiesel, because truck and rail transportation can be partially eliminated in favor of energy-efficient pipelines. The criteria air pollutant emissions may also not be higher than those for conventional fuels. The researchers also found that pyrolysis, Fischer-Tropsch, and methanol-to-gasoline routes can be scaled up using waste biomass in California to reach as high as 58% displacement of in-state diesel use and 8% of in-state gasoline use. These results support the implementation of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the Sustainable Freight Strategy, and incentive programs by providing insight into the most ideal and feasible pathways for California to meet its long-term climate and air quality goals.

Speaker Biography

Arpad Horvath, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and Head of the Energy, Civil Infrastructure and Climate Graduate Program. Professor Horvath has conducted studies on the environmental implications of various products, systems, processes, and services, in particular, transportation, water and wastewater, biofuels, buildings, pavements, and concrete. Among others, Dr. Horvath is an immediate past member of the Science Advisory Board's Environmental Engineering Committee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Corinne Scown, Ph.D., is a Research Scientist in the Energy Analysis and Environmental Impacts Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Director of Technoeconomic Analysis at the Joint BioEnergy Institute. Dr. Scown is an expert in life-cycle assessment and advanced bioenergy systems. Dr. Scown leads projects for the California Energy Commission and U.S. Department of Energy focused on the conversion of dedicated crops and organic residues to liquid fuels, chemicals, electricity, and thermal energy.

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