In October, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reaffirmed the leading role that bioenergy continues to play in decarbonization. IEA Executive Director, Dr. Fatih Barol, pointedly stated, “Modern bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy field… We expect modern bioenergy will continue to lead the field, and has huge prospects for further growth. But the right policies and rigorous sustainability regulations will be essential to meet its full potential.”

The IEA concludes that to meet long-term climate goals, renewable energy development in the heat, electricity, and transport sectors must accelerate. Transportation has clearly emerged as the most difficult sector to decarbonize. The need to accelerate the de-carbonization of all forms of transportation leads the IEA to call for implementation of “the right policies”, which leads naturally to the question: What are the best policy drivers for decarbonizing transport?

To draw from experience, we should first consider the state where policy is most effectively driving the decarbonization of transport: California. Through a market based crediting system, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is supporting rapid development and accelerating uptake of all commercially available low carbon biofuels, including ethanol, biodiesel, renewable diesel, and renewable natural gas. And beginning in 2019, the program will also encompass alternative jet fuel and renewable propane. Since 2011, the LCFS has resulted in 13.7 billion fewer gallons of petroleum being combusted and has prevented 38 million tons of carbon pollution.  Given this performance, this policy structure warrants thoughtful consideration. The LCFS rewards fuels for reducing their carbon intensity, is technology neutral, and stimulates investment in biorefineries and advanced technologies. California’s program has increased the value of the global clean fuels market by an estimated $2.8 billion. This strong market signal is motivating investment to build facilities that can supply California’s growing low carbon intensity demands.

Building on this success, a comparable carbon-intensity based policy has already been implemented in Oregon, and similar policies are being actively pursued in Washington State and discussed in the Midwest. While the road to transport decarbonization remains arduous, it is increasingly clear that a low carbon fuel standard is a critical policy tool that leverages the power of modern bioenergy as well as future transportation technologies.