Canadian government orders biofuels study

By Holly Jessen | March 16, 2010
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Canada is looking into the environmental impact of biofuels. Environment Canada solicited companies to complete an assessment of the ecological footprint of biofuel production facilities in Canada. The contract is for $65,000 and completion is expected this spring.

"The commissioning of this study does not presuppose that there are any harmful effects from these facilities," a spokesperson for Environment Canada told EPM, "nor does it change the government of Canada's commitment to renewable fuels." According to the request for proposals, Canada's emission modeling anticipates significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions from renewable fuels.
The Canadian government is following through with its commitment to establish regulations for renewable fuels in the fuel supply. Those regulations are expected to be published early this year, as part of the government's broader renewable fuels strategy to reduce GHG emissions. "The strategy requires 5 percent renewable content of gasoline by 2010," the spokesperson said. "Canada also intends to implement a requirement for 2 percent renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil by 2011, or earlier, subject to technical feasibility."

Still, Environment Canada's scientists need more information and, most importantly, they need it from a Canadian context. The study will help them understand the environmental performance of biofuels, the document said. That performance is expected to vary, depending on the type of feedstock used, processes, scale of operations, location of the facilities and coproduct use. "Liquid biofuels were initially viewed as an overall environmentally beneficial alternative to traditional hydrocarbon-based liquid fuels," the document said. "However, recent studies in the United States suggest that this might not always be the case."

The goal of the study is to provide information on the environmental implications of biofuel production in Canada in a more comprehensive and detailed way. The report will:

>List all biofuel plants operating in Canada
>Provide real data from at least 10 ethanol and biodiesel facilities
>Summarize the data, identifying trends and possible benchmark targets

Not long after Environment Canada called for companies to submit proposals for the study, the Canadian government passed out funding to 16 clean technology companies. Sustainable Development Technology Canada announced $58 million in funding, $13 million of which was earmarked for proposed cellulosic ethanol plant projects.

The 16 projects awarded funding represent many of the country's main economic sectors, from energy and transportation to waste management. "Our government continues to help bring innovative renewable energy technologies from idea to marketplace," said Lisa Raitt, minister of natural resources. "Investing in these projects will stimulate the growth of a domestic clean energy industry, create high-quality jobs for Canadians and help protect our environment."

Awarded up to $7.5 million was a 12 MMly (3.17 MMgy) pilot plant proposed by Ferme Olivier Lpine Inc., a St. Alexis, Quebec, company. The consortium, according to the SDTC, has developed a "unique integration of processes from other industries to produce ethanol and important coproducts from otherwise unused agricultural waste materials."

The second project was a 2 MMly cellulosic ethanol pilot plant proposed by SunOpta BioProcess Inc., Brampton, Ontario, that was awarded up to $5.5 million. The company has developed a process to produce ethanol from wood chips. A byproduct of the process is food-grade xylitol.