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Crop Use In Biofuel Production Near Peak

New technologies for producing ethanol and biodiesel should put an end to the food-versus-fuel debate, the Renewable Fuels Summit has heard.

But farmers won’t lose their connection to the alternate fuel industry because crop residues and other farm wastes will be in demand as feedstock for the new production processes, says Sam Kanes, an analyst with Scotia Capital.

Manure, straw, stover, cobs and switchgrass are just some of the ingredients that will go into the next generation of biofuels, he said.

“Every tonne of food produced generates four tonnes of biowaste and that can all be converted into fuel.”

A growing global population will only increase the pressure on governments to stop allowing food crops to be made into fuel,” he said.

“China has already capped the amount of food-based fuel that can be produced and the United States and India could well follow suit.”

About one-third of the U.S. corn crop goes into ethanol production but that figure has flatlined for the last few years, he noted.

The requirement for five per cent ethanol in Canadian gasoline, which comes into effect Dec. 15, is a success story for the biofuel industry and a boost for farmers, said Gordon Quaiattini, president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association.

BIODIESEL PRODUCTION LAGS

But the same isn’t true in the biodiesel sector, he said, as there’s no guarantee the government will proceed with the proposed mandatory two per cent biodiesel requirement next year.

He said biodiesel has passed all the tests it’s been subjected to, but railways and trucking companies say the industry cannot yet deliver guaranteed quality biodiesel everywhere in Canada.

No large commercial biodiesel plants have been built in Canada that would use canola or soybeans, he noted, adding biofuels offers farmers the potential of more dependable prices and lessening their need for government income support.

Kanes said using corn and other food crops to produce ethanol was an essential first step in the development of the biofuel industry. Since then, it has developed the ability to use other farm wastes, rendered animal fat, wood wastes, plants that have no food value, and even pond scum as fuel sources.

Canada could have a major role in next-generation biofuels, he said.

“Canada has leading-edge technologies and a skilled group of scientists working on them.”

Among the leading Canadian companies developing new fuel sources are Iogen, Pond Biofuels, Carbon2Algae, DuPont-Poet, Ensyn and Lignol, he said.

Quaiattini said the biofuel industry is delivering tangible economic and environmental results and that next-generation fuels “promise even greater benefits for our economy and our environment.”

During the last five years, companies have spent $2.3 billion building new biofuel production facilities across the country capable of producing almost 2.0 billion litres per year. About 1,000 new full-time jobs have been created, mostly in rural Canada.

“The Canadian industry is poised to commercialize no fewer than four next-generation technologies in ethanol, as well as several biodiesel advancements,” said Quaiattini. “Beyond that, a diversity of advanced biofuels are taking shape. For example, Canada’s forestry sector is poised to become a world leader in diverting biomass from wood waste and byproducts to create renewable fuels.”

To help the industry grow, he called on the federal government to establish a working group, including senior-ranking officials, to focus on developing and co-ordinating government policies to obtain better and faster results for the industry.

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