California is often at the forefront of clean vehicles, whether that's through startups like Tesla producing electric vehicles, or regulations that encourage the sale and manufacture of low-emissions vehicles.

That trend is continuing says Pike Research, as the state aims to push through a new national low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) as a replacement for the current national renewable fuel standard (RFS).

The RFS is the standard that currently dictates the levels of ethanol in gasoline, replacing a proportion of the fossil fuel with ethanol made within the U.S.

While a noble cause, the standard has come under criticism for several reasons, ranging from uncertainty over the long-term effects of ethanol on engine components, to worries over the amount of land devoted to corn-based ethanol fuel rather than food from corn, as greater quantities are required.

The LCFS scheme is wider-ranging, assigning credits for the supply of alternative fuels. This isn't just limited to ethanol, but covers hydrogen, bio-diesel, electricity, and natural gas.

The credits vary depending on the calculated "seed-to-wheels" factor of each fuel. This considers both the carbon intensity of the fuel, and how much energy it takes to produce, and the supplier is remunerated accordingly.

Critics of the existing RFS scheme are hoping the new plans put more emphasis on a wider range of fuels, rather than focusing on ethanol.

What does it mean for you?

Initially, not a great deal. Your gas will still have 10 percent ethanol content, the price is unlikely to change any more than its perpetually shifting norm, and you'll still be able to buy the same cars.

In the longer term, it may encourage an improved hydrogen, natural gas and electric network, as the incentive to expand in these areas--low carbon ratings permitting--is improved, which isn't necessarily the case with the current ethanol-centric RFS scheme.

As such, it may be a catalyst for a growing range of alternative fuel vehicles to hit the road, and that means greater choice for consumers, with all the usual benefits associated with that.


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