co-operator contributor / ottawa
Using crops to produce ethanol hasn t raised food prices and it positions Canada for a strong bioeconomy, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada.
What s more, next-generation technologies, flex-fuel vehicles, and supporting policies could extend the role ethanol plays in Canadian transportation and manufacturing, adds the report, which is based on an extensive review of studies on alternate fuels.
Canada currently produces about two billion litres a year, and that figure will increase because of federal fuel mandates, the report notes.
Renewable fuels can help reduce dependency on fossil fuels and improve energy self-sufficiency, it states. They also contribute to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when compared with gasoline, and reduce environmental pressures related to producing and transporting fuel to end-consumers.
Ethanol production has set the stage for the development of biorefineries and a bioeconomy, the report states.
Today s biorefinery has transformed the way ethanol is produced, with additional potential gains on the horizon. The cost of government support programs has largely been offset through value-added agricultural crops and job-creation programs.
The report was welcomed by Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
Ethanol is the leading edge and it needed government investment to get the private sector to become involved, he said.
Producing crops for ethanol has been an economic boon for farmers and Bonnett said he is keen to see commercialization of more bioproducts.
All this makes for a more viable agriculture in both developed and developing countries, he said. It also helps farmers apply new technologies to their farms.
This leads to an increase in productivity, and that is the best way to increase the food supply, said Bonnett.
This is where the discussion on ethanol gets lost in the food-versus- fuel debate, he said.
The conference board report looks just at ethanol, although biodiesel blends are most common in the transport industry.
It sought out studies on greenhouse gas emissions, and found GHC reductions ranged from 40 per cent to 62 per cent compared to gasoline.
As cropping practices and yields continue to improve, and as ethanol plants rely more on renewable energy (primarily agricultural wastes), GHG emissions per litre of ethanol will continue to decline, the report states. The shift to newer technologies as they become commercially viable will also contribute to reducing GHG emissions intensity.
Meanwhile, charges that biofuels are driving up food prices aren t substantiated, the study concluded.
It is important to distinguish the impact of rising fuel costs on agricultural prices from that of biofuels demand, as rising oil prices have much stronger impacts. Even with rising demand in both Canada and the U.S. over the past decade, the total (corn acreage) area harvested has not increased.
The major reason for this is the increase in corn yields, which produces a much larger crop from the same acreage. Although ethanol producers cite higher corn prices as benefit to local farmers, biofuels demand for corn has not significantly impacted land use in North America.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has conducted one of the few studies that actually tried to measure the impact of crude oil prices versus biofuel demand on food prices.
It found that oil prices have a much stronger effect, the report stated. The studies of agricultural prices dealing with the 2006 08 period that do not separate the impacts of biofuels demand from oil prices must therefore be viewed with caution.
Biorefineries could become major players in the economy of the future, it adds.
Many products and chemicals manufactured today from non-renewable resources can be created from renewable feedstocks such as energy crops, biomass, and waste. Today, ethanol plants are integrating green-power generation and producing biochemical building blocks as co-products, replacing those from petroleum.