The Potential for Clean Fuels in Washington

February 18, 2015 | 10:14 am
Josh Goldman
Former Contributor

When I think of Washington State, I think of e-commerce (Amazon), aviation (Boeing), and poorly timed interceptions from one of my alma mater’s finest (too soon?). Yet Washington has a strong reputation as a leader on clean energy too, with one of the cleanest electricity grids in the nation. Washington also has one of the highest rates of electric vehicle (EV) adoption in the U.S., and is home to biofuel companies that are turning local crops and used cooking oils into low-carbon fuel for our cars and trucks.

Calling for a Washington Clean Fuel Standard

Washington’s commitment to clean electricity and ability to produce clean biofuels have spurred state policymakers, notably Governor Jay Inslee, to call for a policy that would steadily increase the use of clean fuels in Washington over 10 years. Enacting a clean fuel standard would align with similar existing policies in California, Oregon, and British Columbia and create a regional clean fuels market equivalent to the world’s fifth-largest economy. As a result, clean fuels could be produced at scales that would bring down their cost, support continued investment, and significantly lower global warming pollution from transportation, the state’s largest source of carbon pollution.

To highlight the importance of a clean fuels standard for Washington, UCS released a fact sheet that details how Washington is well-positioned to produce a great deal of clean fuel from a variety of sources, boosting the state’s economy while cutting oil use and carbon pollution.

Clean fuel availability in Washington

Looking at recent analysis, we found that each year Washington could produce 20 million gallons of low-carbon biodiesel made from used cooking oil and an additional 300 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel from forest residues and hybrid poplar, a fast growing type of tree. In addition, local biofuel companies are already turning canola oil into low-carbon biodiesel. Pacific Coast Canola is operating the first commercial-scale canola crushing facility west of the Rocky Mountains in Warden, and Imperium Renewables is running a 100-million-gallon-a-year biodiesel facility in Grays Harbor. Additional analysis of clean fuel availability on the Pacific Coast – from British Columbia to California – found that there is enough supply of low-carbon fuels to reduce gasoline and diesel consumption by one-quarter by 2030, while cutting carbon emissions up to 21 percent.

Clean electricity and low-carbon biofuels can reduce the carbon intensity of Washington’s fuel supply.

Clean electricity and low-carbon biofuels can reduce the carbon intensity of Washington’s fuel supply.

Aside from low-carbon biofuels, pairing Washington’s clean electricity with EVs is another win-win for the state and climate. Since the Evergreen State has one of the cleanest electricity grids in the nation, charging and driving an EV in the state produces, on average, the emissions equivalent of a gasoline-powered vehicle that gets 170 miles per gallon (mpg), though this varies depending on where the EV is charged. In Olympia, for example, an EV equates to a 78 mpg gas-powered vehicle, while in Seattle – where the majority of electricity comes from hydroelectric dams – an EV is equivalent to a gasoline-powered vehicle that gets more than 500 mpg. Of course, as the state phases out coal-fired electricity and ramps up electricity generated from renewable energy sources, the emissions savings of EVs compared to gasoline-powered vehicles will become even greater.

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