WHEN THE CANADIAN Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA) was launched in 1984, its members were mostly focused on advancing new energy sources. The promise of ethanol and other biofuels had stimulated the imagination of the farming community. A turning point had begun for producers, who were envisioning new uses for their commodities. Once, they saw only food and feed as end uses for their harvests. Now, fibre and fuel were being mentioned in the same conversations.|
Since the association’s inception, the sector has grown significantly. Ethanol is now more of a staple fuel than ever — in fact, production capacity in Ontario is at almost two billion litres. For its part, biodiesel is being given a new look by the energy-conscious provincial government.
“The costs of petroleum-based diesel and heating fuel are rising, creating a growing interest in determining if on-farm biodiesel production is a feasible and economical farm-grown replacement for these farm inputs,” says the province, on its climate change website.
Another renewable fuel — that is, renewable natural gas — made headlines in the spring, when the province unveiled initiatives based squarely on its development.
Renewable natural gas “is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and uses the same infrastructure,” says the province. Utilities will explore opportunities to inject hydrogen generated from renewable energy sources into the natural gas stream. As well, it says, renewable natural gas has a significant agricultural connection — methane released from sources like landfills, municipal green bin collection, agricultural residues, livestock manure, food and beverage manufacturing waste, sewage treatment plants and forestry waste can be renewed and directly substituted for conventional natural gas.
In the midst of fuel advances, bioproducts are also finding new relevance. For example, at the Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre (BDDC) at the University of Guelph, an interdisciplinary group of plant biologists, chemists and engineers have converged to investigate and commercialize biomaterials.
They’re making progress; most recently, they created a fully compostable resin used to make single-serve soft coffee pods. In just 18 months it made it into grocery stores, earning the praises of Loblaw Group of Companies president Galen Weston and winning them a co-share of the university’s inaugural Innovation of the Year Award this spring.
“We’re focused on supporting the development and growth of the bio-based economy, and it’s gratifying when an innovation is able to go to market so quickly,” said Prof. Amar Mohanty, director of the BDDC. “We believe it’s a game-changer that will reduce fossil fuel-based resin imports, strengthen local manufacturing value chains, and reduce environmental effects and greenhouse gas emissions.”
All this points towards evolution, growth and change in the industry — it now includes more than 30 companies and organizations, including Grain Farmers of Ontario. And as a public showing of all these developments, Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has changed its name to Renewable Industries Canada (RICanada). And it now describes itself as a non-profit organization with a mission to promote the use of value-added products made from renewable resources, through consumer awareness and government liaison activities.
“The change better reflects the impact our member companies have on the Canadian energy landscape, as well as their role in building Canada’s bio-based economy and meeting GHG emission reduction targets,” says RICanada president Andrea Kent. “Our industry and membership have been hard at work growing their businesses and diversifying their products beyond liquid transportation fuels for some time.”
Adds William Meyer, manager, communications and stakeholder relations for RICanada: "With the federal government making the reduction of GHGs a top priority, provinces such as Ontario initiating climate change plans and focus being placed on replacing carbon intense fuels, the diversification taking place within the renewable fuels and bio-based sectors is vital to transitioning to a low-carbon economy."
Meyer says Canadian renewable fuels producers are integrating new technologies to their existing production platforms and creating a wide variety of valued-added products, including:
• High-quality glycerine that can be used in applications such as chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing
• Converting biomass such as wood residues and solid urban wastes into cellulosic ethanol
• Extracting and refining corn oil to produce methyl, butyl, and ethyl esters, industrial lubricants, personal care emollients, nutraceutical sterols and polyols
• Producing high-protein functional food ingredients
• Producing isobutanol from grain starches for use as a ‘drop-in’ advanced biofuel or as a bio-based alternative for isobutene, for rubber manufacturing
• Co-locating greenhouse operations to take advantage of waste CO2 and heat from ethanol plant operations
• Installation of large scale anaerobic digesters to convert municipal organic waste to produce methane, and
• Displacing natural gas as a fuel source for process steam at ethanol plants.
Although RICanada members have gravitated towards new bioproducts, the association is continuing to campaign for changing in the federal ethanol and biodiesel mandates. Association chair Jim Grey says they are proposing that Ottawa boost the mandated amount of ethanol blended into Canadian gasoline to 10 per cent, and that the biodiesel content of diesel fuel be increased to five per cent. If this mandate is enacted, RICanada says it would remove the emission equivalent of one million cars from the road, making GHG emission reductions a total of nine megatonnes.
Says spokesperson Meyer: “More renewable energy and bioproducts mean more opportunities for Ontario grain farmers and the products they produce. We think that’s an important message.” •