Canadian biofuels aren’t a ‘blunder,’ they’re a success story

Well-designed renewable fuel policies can be good for the 
environment, the economy, and agricultural producers

In an opinion piece published in the previous edition of this paper (Biofuels are one of our greatest environmental blunders), Gwyn Morgan questions the benefits of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Mr. Morgan would have it that biofuels are a “blunder.” In our opinion, biofuels are a home run for the environment and the rural economy.

Canadian biofuels, and specifically canola biodiesel, are a success story. Biofuel policies have the potential to bring real benefits to the environment, economy and to Canadian agricultural producers who grow the feedstocks.

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In Canada, approximately 24 per cent of total GHG emissions come from the transportation sector. It is important that our government takes action to get these emissions under control in a way that benefits our economy as well as our environment. The Canadian government is focused on reducing emissions in the transport sector, and we support strong renewable fuels policies and programs to ensure that transport emissions are addressed via domestically produced low carbon renewable fuels.

Let’s be clear: The use of fossil diesel fuel for heavy-duty on- and off-road uses will not be completely displaced in the near future; diesel will continue to be the majority fuel for transport (trucking and rail); and heavy machinery (agriculture, mining, forestry, etc.). Adding biofuels to the fuels we use every day is a way to extend these finite fossil fuel supplies and tackle emissions at the same time.

In the case of biodiesel made from canola and other domestic feedstocks, most of the points of contention raised by Mr. Morgan simply do not hold water. Certainly there are areas which can be improved. However, compared with other regions of the world, biofuels produced in Canada are an example of ‘getting it right.’

Biodiesel emission reductions are calculated using a world-class life cycle emissions tool called GHGenius. Canola biodiesel reduces emissions by more than 90 per cent compared with petroleum diesel. The benefits of biodiesel go beyond greenhouse gas emission reductions — including 50 per cent less poisonous carbon monoxide, 95 per cent less unburned hydrocarbons, and 30 per cent less smog-producing particulates.

Canadian-produced biofuels are responsible biofuels. Canadian agriculture prides itself on its global leadership in sustainability. Canadian farmers are producing greater yields, with less inputs, on the same number of acres. This has positive implications for both environmental stewardship and farm profitability.

Canadian canola meets the stringent sustainability requirements of the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive, a system that considers both carbon and non-carbon sustainability metrics.

The ‘food-versus-fuel’ debate that peaked during the 2008 commodity price bubble is now largely a moot point. More grain is available for food and feed use worldwide today than at any time in history.

We do agree with Mr. Morgan that some biofuels are better than others. His characterization of the negative implications of the use of unsustainable palm oil in biodiesel production is correct. Significant amounts of rainforest deforestation and natural habitat loss, marginal emission reductions, and no net benefit to the Canadian economy are all tangible issues associated with the use of palm-based biofuels to comply with Canadian renewable fuel regulations.

These issues can be addressed through strengthened renewable fuel policies in Canada.

Canola growers and domestic biofuel producers (via Advanced Biofuels Canada) advocate for simple and effective modifications to renewable fuel policies in Canada. We support increasing the inclusion rates of renewable fuels in diesel fuels (from two per cent to five per cent); implementing a carbon performance requirement of at least 50 per cent GHG reductions requirement (compared with fossil diesel) using the GHGenius model; and requiring supply chain accountability for biofuels that makes sure they are made from truly ‘renewable biomass’ (using the same definitions created by the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S.).

Effective biofuel policies can create a vibrant and competitive renewable fuels value chain in Canada, with benefits for domestic feedstock producers, processors, and other participants in the industry. Biofuels have helped, and will continue to help, Canada achieve its broader environmental, social, and economic goals.

The Canadian government is now considering what else can be done to reduce emissions from the transport sector. We support tackling emissions by strengthening the renewable fuel policies and programs in place.

Canadian renewable fuels are far from a blunder, they’re a home run!

Steve Pratte is a policy manager with Canadian Canola Growers Association.

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