On February 5, 2020, M.J. Bradley & Associates released a report that explores the potential benefits of using renewable biofuels in medium- and heavy-duty onroad vehicles, as well as residential and commercial heating, as a complementary strategy to electrification and other efficiency measures, to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. The analysis focuses on the use of both liquid and gaseous biofuels – specifically renewable natural gas (RNG) as a substitute for fossil natural gas, and biomass-based diesel as a substitute for liquid distillate fuels produced from petroleum. RNG can be used interchangeably with fossil natural gas to fuel natural gas vehicles, or in natural gas furnaces and boilers, for both water heating and space heating. Biomass-based diesel can be used as a substitute for diesel fuel (in vehicles) or heating oil (in furnaces/boilers for water and space heating).
MJB&A’s analysis indicates that a moderately aggressive electrification strategy within this 12-state region (Maine to Virginia, plus DC) could reduce annual emissions from these three sectors of the economy by 11 percent from current levels in 2030, and by 14 percent in 2050 – but this would still leave more than 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas use, and more than 8.5 billion gallons of distillate fuel use in these sectors of the region’s economy in 2050.
The complementary use of renewable natural gas and biomass-based diesel fuel, as a substitute for fossil fuels to satisfy this residual gaseous and liquid fuel demand, could further reduce annual GHG emissions by as much as 52 million metric tons (MT) in 2030 (19 percent reduction from today), and by as much as 194 million MT in 2050 (47 percent reduction from today). Between 2020 and 2050, the cumulative additional GHG reductions from the use of renewable biofuels in these sectors could exceed 2.8 billion MT in the region. Unlike electrification, expanded use of biomass-based liquid and gaseous fuels will not require significant infrastructure investments or changes in the vehicle fleet or building equipment stock. As such, use of these fuels could provide significant near-term GHG reductions in synergy with the longer transition to electric applications, in harder to transition vehicle duty cycles and residential/commercial heating.
In addition to significantly reducing GHG emissions, renewable biofuels could reduce net annual upstream nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from fuel production and transport by up to 800,000 MT in 2050 and reduce net annual upstream particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions by up to 80,000 MT.
The cumulative monetized value of the additional emissions reductions (GHG, NOx and PM2.5) that could be achieved using renewable biofuels within this 12-state region is projected to be $109 billion - $280 billion through 2050, with approximately 75 percent due to additional GHG reduction, and 25 percent from upstream NOx and PM reduction.
An overall conclusion of this work is that low carbon biofuels are an effective complement to efforts to promote efficiency and electrification of vehicles and buildings—especially in applications with long-lived existing capital stock, or where electrification is currently high cost. Renewable natural gas and biomass-based diesel fuels can supply significant additional near-term reduction in greenhouse gases, and displacement of petroleum fuels, when incentivized as part of a balanced portfolio of low carbon technologies.