Alex Binkley on biofuels

Biofuel industry responds to petroleum industry critic

Biofuels produced in Canada are an example of ‘getting it right’

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

Image: Cover of Humanity's Saving Grace, a novel by Alex Binkley. Click to purchase at Amazon.caAn attack on biofuels by a former president of Encana, a major Canadian energy company, was a mix of misinformation and outdated science, says Andrea Kent, President of the Renewable Industries Canada.

She was commenting on a column in The Globe and Mail by Gwyn Morgan that called biofuels a blunder and claimed they aren’t greener than fossil fuels and that policies to encourage them affect food supplies and prices. Encana is a petroleum and natural gas producer. The Globe only carried a shortened version of her response.

Morgan’s column “ignores the multitude of university, government, and international studies that prove biofuel production and use emits less carbon than fossil fuels – especially considering deep water and oil sands extraction methods,” Kent said. “Canada’s ethanol and biodiesel mandates remove the carbon equivalent of one million cars every year. Increasing the mandates could double these GHG reductions.”

The World Bank has determined oil prices cause almost two-thirds of food price increases, she said. Record ethanol production is happening while corn supply is high and prices are low. Ethanol also uses starch from field corn not used to feed humans. The remains are used for animal feed and industrial products.”

She said biofuels are a home run for the environment and the rural economy especially canola biodiesel. “Biofuel policies have the potential to bring real benefits to the environment, economy, and to Canadian agricultural producers who grow the feedstocks.”

In the case of biodiesel made from canola and other domestic feedstocks, most of Morgan’s claims “simply do not hold water,” she said. “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’.”

Emissions from canola biodiesel are more than 90% lower than from petroleum diesel. As well, there is 50% less poisonous carbon monoxide, 95% less unburned hydrocarbons and 30% less smog-producing particulates. 

Another environmental plus is that “Canadian farmers are producing greater yields, with less inputs, on the same number of acres,” she said. “This has positive implications for both environmental stewardship and farm profitability.” 

Food versus fuel

The food versus fuel debate peaked during the 2008 commodity price bubble and now is largely a moot point, she noted. “More grain is available for food and feed use worldwide today than at any time in history.”

She did agree with Morgan palm oil production for biodiesel ix unsustainable and has caused significant amounts of rainforest deforestation and natural habitat loss.

Canola growers and domestic biofuel producers 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 and requiring supply chain accountability for biofuels that make sure they are made from truly renewable biomass.

“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,” she said. “Biofuels have helped, and will continue to help, Canada achieve it broader environmental, social, and economic goals.”

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, she noted. “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.” 

Fossil diesel fuel for heavy duty on and off road uses will not be completely displaced in the near future, she said. “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.”

Renewable fuels have helped rejuvenate rural economies across the country, she said. Farmers have a new market for their crops, while hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created at ethanol plants and the multitude of businesses that service them. Billions in new economic activity is occurring because of this new industry and as a natural octane enhancer, ethanol reduces the price we pay at the pump because it partially displaces the more expensive and toxic artificial octane enhancers produced by oil refineries

Ethanol production has virtually no effect on the food supply. North America is producing a record 59 billion litres of ethanol this year while corn prices are at rock bottom — near $3.30 per bushel.

“Ethanol plants use field corn, which is also used for animal feed and a variety of industrial products. Ethanol plants only use the starch in the corn.  All of the protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals in the corn remain available to be used as animal feed. The world is awash in corn, and a quick Google search on worldwide corn supply and demand will show a global surplus at a time when the ethanol industry is grinding a record amount of corn.”

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