Biofuels on the radar once again?
By Treena Hein
Biofuels have yet to make a big splash as a significant contributor to the fuel supply for production here in Canada or in the United States. Part of the issue was a lack of investment capital.
In addition, many of the players that were interested in investing in biofuels were only willing to participate as long as there were subsidies or tax incentives.
However, the biofuels industry appears poised to make a comeback, without the assistance of subsidies or tax incentives from US or Canadian governments.
The US government set a goal ten years ago (under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standards 2) which calls for 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels to be in production by 2022, along with 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol. While capacity is growing, there is a long way to go to reach 21 billion gallons. Only about 1.7 billion gallons of biofuel production is expected to come online between 2013 and 2015, bringing total US capacity to only 2.3 billion gallons in the next three years.
Technology is really going to be the key factor in this industry being able to take off and become a viable fuel source. With feedstocks ranging from corn to cellulosic plant materials, animal waste and plant oils (cooking oil waste), there are plenty of options out there to convert to energy.
If technology improves to the point where these feedstocks have the energy output equivalent to corn, they would provide the industry with the opportunity to shift to advanced fuels made with a lower carbon footprint than oil, derived from products that will not compete with the demand for food.
New technologies that are being utilized in the facilities currently being built could be the way of the future, but only time will tell. It could take several years of production and proof of a steady, stable feed supply, to convince investors and the industry as a whole that advanced biofuels are a pertinent part of the fuel mix. With the price expected to be about 1/3 the price of conventional gasoline and ¼ the price of a barrel of oil, the biofuel alternative would certainly be a welcome change for the agriculture sector.
Lisa Brodeur is a Quality Assurance Supervisor at 360 Energy.