Re-envisioning the renewable fuel standard to minimize unintended consequences: A comparison of microalgal diesel with other biodiesels

Kullapa Soratana, Vikas Khanna, Amy E. Landis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The Renewable Fuel Standard 2 (RFS2) program under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set a life-cycle emission reduction threshold to only greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; this type of single-dimensional threshold could lead to the unintended trading of one environmental problem for another. Many of the environmental impacts resulting over the life cycle of oil-crop biodiesel fuels manifest in the agricultural phase of production in the form of water quality degradation. This study investigated the extent to which different biofuels meet the RFS GHG requirement, and presents alternative strategies for minimizing unintended consequences. In addition to life-cycle global warming potential (GWP), the eutrophication potential (EP) and photochemical smog formation potential (PSP) from microalgal diesel were compared to the impacts resulting from petroleum-based diesel, soybean diesel and canola diesel. The results showed tradeoffs between GWP and eutrophication potential when microalgal diesel was compared to soybean diesel. Future RFS criteria should include EP and PSP metrics, however establishing thresholds like the GHG management approach may not be appropriate for these other impacts. Two possible strategies to setting life-cycle eutrophication standards are to establish a threshold based on first generation biofuels, as opposed to petro-fuels or to set maximum levels of EP loads for major watersheds or coastal areas. To decrease PSP, together with existing standards for tailpipe emissions, future RFSs should include the well-to-pump emissions from biofuels and petroleum fuels accounting for temporal and spatial variations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-204
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Energy
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Biodiesel
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Microalgae
  • Renewable Fuel Standard

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Building and Construction
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Energy(all)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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