Biodiesel: A proven low-carbon solution

September 12, 2016

This response was submitted to the Alberta Farmer Express newspaper and published on September 12, 2016


by Steve Pratte, Policy Manager, Canadian Canola Growers Association

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

In an opinion piece published in this paper on August 29th (Biofuels are one of our greatest environmental blunders), Gwynn 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.

In Canada, approximately 24% 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 lifecycle emissions tool called GHGenius. Canola biodiesel reduces emissions by over 90% compared with petroleum diesel. The benefits of biodiesel go beyond greenhouse gas emission reductions: 50% less poisonous carbon monoxide, 95% less unburned hydrocarbons, 30% less smog-producing particulates are just several.

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 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 2% to 5%), implementing a carbon performance requirement of at least 50% GHG reductions requirement (compared with fossil diesel) using the GHGenius model, and requiring supply chain accountability for biofuels that make sure they are made from truly ‘renewable biomass’ (using the same definitions created by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States).

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 it 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!

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