CRFS addresses 2009 opportunities, challenges

By Khalila Hammond | January 12, 2009
The 2008 Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit drew more than 400 industry leaders from across North America to discuss policy, marketing and the continuous need to look beyond the traditional conceptions of global fuel needs in an effort to grow beyond oil. The fifth annual event took place in Gatineau, Quebec, in December.

Following the June passage of Bill C-33, which mandates 5 percent renewable content in gasoline by 2010, the status of the renewable fuels industry, the food-versus-fuel issue and the recent instability of the Canadian government were at the forefront of the summit's agenda. Furthermore, although new research and development in second-generation biofuels were of great interest to attendees, some speakers stressed that corn-based ethanol will continue to be the backbone of the industry. "Corn ethanol still has a good future," said Paul Wheaton, president of Nova Scotia-based AtlanTec BioEnergy Corp. "Contrary to public opinion, it will continue to be a good bridge fuel for many years, and even decades, before something takes its place."

Funding still remains available for both first-generation and second-generation technologies. "Many people thought that with all the bad press, there was no money available for first-generation technologies, but that is not the case," said Vicky Sharpe, president and chief executive officer of Sustainable Development Technology Canada. According to SDTC, $1.2 billion in public funding has been invested in next-generation technology in the areas of enzymatic hydrolysis, gasification, algae and biobutanol. "More than $200 million in venture capital has been invested in 16 Canadian companies [so far]," she said.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the industry will be a new ethical debate, not unlike the food-versus-fuel conflict. "Next year, [the issue] will be indirect land use changes," said Bob Dinneen, president of the U.S.-based Renewable Fuels Association. The crux of this issue will be the many ways to measure indirect land use. "The modeling efforts undertaken to date are woefully inadequate," said Don O'Connor, president of (S&T) Consultants Inc., pointing out that idle land and biofuel coproducts are often not considered.
Proving that expanding agricultural land can occur without jeopardizing forests or other sensitive lands will be the next challenge for the industry.

Five awards were distributed at the summit's Green Fuels Awards Reception and Gala. Esteban Chornet, founder of Enerkem, received an award for Outstanding Dedication to the Advancement of Renewable Fuels in Canada. General Motors Corp. received the Achievement in Promoting the Use of Renewable Fuels in Canada award, and New Producer Awards were presented to IGPC Ethanol Inc. and Terra Grain Fuels Inc. for their efforts in developing the biofuels industry.