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Author's profile photo Stephane Lauzon

What is Carbon Intensity? More than a Footprint

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how “the sprint is on” towards less carbon intense energy, whereby the energy industry is transforming to balance energy security with sustainability and resiliency. As industry is diversifying its energy product portfolio, we should take a step back to understand what carbon intensity is.

Carbon intensity differs from carbon footprint in that the latter is a measure of emissions incurred in the production, processing, transportation, and distribution of the energy product, whereas the former is the footprint plus the energy content of the resulting energy product itself. The general approach applied in determining the carbon intensity is that the energy product undergoes full stoichiometric combustion. That also implies that not all energy-related products have carbon content per se, such as crude oil used for non-combustion applications (about 7-15% of the total).


Scope 1, 2 and 3 at each step of the value chain

Carbon intensity is generally defined as the amount of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) released per unit of another variable such as gross domestic product (GDP), output energy use or transport. In our context of energy products, we would then relate emissions to output energy use typically expressed in grams (g) of CO2 equivalent (CO2 and other greenhouse gases) per Mega Joule (MJ); that is, gCO2e/MJ.


What is Carbon Intensity?

There are many factors in determining carbon intensity pathways of each energy product from production or supply of feedstocks though processing units to transportation, and distribution. Third party purchases of feedstocks, (intermediate) products, and energy (power) are usually included in calculations.

The importance of understanding and tracking carbon intensity allows companies and customers to know the make-up of the aggregate product being sold and purchased, since low carbon energy products are fungible. As an example, we can consider hydrogen. Hydrogen produced from electrolysis powered by renewable energy is called green hydrogen. Hydrogen produced from natural gas with the by-product CO2 captured for further processing and permanent storage is called blue hydrogen. With a fungible product, calling hydrogen blue or green is not helpful. Understanding the carbon intensity is useful.

In the case of renewable fuels, the California Air Resources Board takes the carbon intensity of low carbon fuels a next step to compare different fuels in the context of their energy economy ratio (, which influences available tax credits.


CARB Pathways for Low Carbon Renewable Fuels


With SAP’s climate framework, the first element, “Counting: 1,2,3: Get the numbers right”, is an essential starting point. We can work with industry and our solution building blocks to support their evolving energy product portfolios. And we can know that carbon intensity is more than just a footprint.


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