Biofuel producers push for clean fuel standard as regional policy gets public hearing in Seattle | KNKX

Biofuel producers push for clean fuel standard as regional policy gets public hearing in Seattle

Dec 19, 2019

Transportation remains the largest source of climate-warming greenhouse gases in Washington. Tailpipe emissions amount to about 40 percent of the problem.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency wants to tackle that with a first-ever regional clean fuels standard, covering King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.  

The agency is moving ahead with the rule, after a similar statewide measure failed in the Legislature last year.

A clean fuel standard would require producers to provide cleaner fuels — or else pay for credits on an exchange.  That money would support other efforts to reduce air pollution from transportation: such as building more infrastructure for electric cars or finding cleaner ways to power vehicles.  

A prime example can be seen on Vashon Island, where a startup called Impact Bioenergy recently started producing natural gas at an all organic tofu factory.

Srirup Kumar says the food waste here is ideal: it’s full of nitrogen and extremely abundant — more than local farms can use. So, his company is making what might be the first officially organic biogas out of the leftover soybeans and whey. 

“We basically combine the two and we make a smoothie, to pump through the system,” Kumar said.

It takes about 30 days until natural gas is produced, along with heat and two kinds of fertilizer. The fuel is to be used locally, powering equipment around the factory and possibly for sale to nearby farms or to the trucking company down the road. Used in this decentralized way, it would represent a dramatic reduction in carbon pollution, generating revenue from the credits on a new exchange, as well as from potential sales. 

Island Spring Organics owner and founder Luke Lukoskie is all in. He started the factory 45 years ago and had previously provided most of his food waste to farms as fertilizer. But there was too much of it. He says this is much higher value.

“Because we’re getting fuel out of it. We’re getting waste heat that we can use in the plant and the greenhouse outside," Lukoskie said. "And importantly, we’re getting high-quality liquid and eventually dried plant food."

Standing near the network of digesters and tanks and a huge bubble that holds the biogas, Kumar says a system like this will cost about a $1 million, after they ramp up. (He estimates the system at Island Organics cost $1.5 million.) 

Srirup Kumar shows off Impact Bioenergy's equipment outside Island Spring Organics on Vashon Island. They use food waste from tofu production to make biogas, heat and fertilizer.
Credit Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

“With the new regional clean fuel standard, that would make or break this kind of model,” he said.

Kumar and advocates like him dream of this kind of system being replicated all over the state, especially in rural areas. But without a local policy, he says this kind of system and the low-carbon products it produces would most likely be sold to California or Oregon, where clean fuel standards are already in place.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is holding a public hearing on the policy Thursday in Seattle and accepting public comments in writing through Jan. 6.