Carbon intensity (CI), sometimes used interchangeably with emission intensity, refers to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of product such as fuels, electrical power, or materials. The CI is calculated on a life cycle basis, including the emissions associated with the production of materials and fuels used in the process. (Actually, the terms “carbon intensity” and “emission intensity” are technically not the same as the former excludes pollutants other than carbon – such as particulate emissions. Another commonly used term is “carbon intensity per kilowatt-hour (CIPK).” This refers to the emissions from different sources of electrical power. CI values may also be used to compare materials such as chemicals, foods, and consumer goods. Typically, the CI of a bioproduct is compared to petroleum-based or conventional products. Examples of carbon intensity include the grams of carbon dioxide released per megajoule of energy produced or the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions produced to gross domestic product. The CI expressed in grams CO2 equivalent per megajoule is the unit of measure used in the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). These emission intensities are used to derive estimates of air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions based on how much fuel was used. These carbon intensities may also be used to compare the environmental impacts of different fuels or activities.
Every fuel has a carbon intensity. LCFS credits are generated based on the difference in CI for alternative fuel and the LCFS target, which vary yearly. CI values are also used under the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard and the European Renewable Energy Directive. Typical applications of carbon intensity include:
- Carbon Intensity of Energy: This measures the CO2 emissions produced per unit of energy generated. For example, renewable energy sources like wind and solar have a much lower carbon intensity than fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.
- Carbon Intensity of Transportation: It assesses the emissions associated with transportation modes. Electric vehicles (EVs) typically have a lower carbon intensity than internal combustion engines (ICE), especially when charged with clean energy sources.
- Carbon Intensity of Industries: Industries can calculate the carbon intensity of their production processes, helping them identify areas where emissions can be reduced. For example, the carbon intensity of cement production can be lowered by using alternative materials or more energy-efficient kilns.
- Carbon Intensity of Agriculture: Agriculture can measure the emissions associated with food production, including factors like land use change and fertilizer use. Sustainable agricultural practices can reduce carbon intensity.
- Carbon Intensity of Cities: Urban planners and policymakers may assess the carbon intensity of a city’s energy consumption, transportation, and waste management to identify opportunities for reducing emissions.
Reducing carbon intensity is a crucial goal in efforts to combat climate change. By adopting cleaner technologies, improving energy efficiency, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and implementing sustainable practices, individuals, businesses, and governments can lower carbon intensity and reduce their overall carbon footprint. This contributes to global efforts to limit the rise in global temperatures and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
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