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Biofuels ethanol and biodiesel decrease GHG emissions significantly: Canadian report

Ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 62% over conventional petrol, when compared on a fuelcycle analysis, while biodiesel will drop emissions by 99%.

The biofuels analysis was commissioned by the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association to analyse a sample of 8 ethanol plants and three biodiesel plants in Canada. The analysis was conducted by the consulting firm Cheminfo Services Inc, using a federal government lifecycle assessment model for transportation fuels, GHGenius.

On an energy basis, the results show that the reduction in fuelcycle GHG emissions from 1 MJ of ethanol (when used in an E10 fuel blend) is 62% of the fuelcycle GHG emissions for 1 MJ of petrol. For 1 MJ of tallow biodiesel (when used in an D95/TD5 fuel blend), the reduction in fuelcycle GHG emissions is 99% of the fuelcycle GHG emissions of 1 MJ of petroleum diesel.

“This study confirms that homegrown ethanol and biodiesel deliver real and substantial GHG reductions," says Gordon Quaiattini of the CRFA. "This is good news for the environment, this is also good news for farmers and the economy, and good news for Canadian drivers."

The study, Life Cycle Assessment of Renewable Fuel Production from Canadian Biofuel Plants for 2008-2009, is the first in Canada to draw exclusively upon domestic renewable fuel facilities. The results rebut the claims that producing biofuels uses more energy than the green fuels can generate, including a 2005 study by Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley which found that producing biofuel from corn and other crops uses much more energy than the end product generates.

The reported production of 741 million litres of all biofuels from April 2008 to March 2009 reduced lifecycle GHG emissions by 1.1 Mt compared with conventional fuels, the report notes. Lifecycle GHG emissions include all stages of biofuel production, biofuel consumption, vehicle materials and assembly.

Ethanol production of 647 million litres was reported by 8 plants in Canada (6 corn and two wheat feedstocks) which is 65% of total Canadian ethanol capacity. Biodiesel production of 94 million litres was reported by three plants (all using tallow rendered from animal carcasses) which is 85% of total biodiesel capacity in Canada.

The survey data provided the key input factors applied in the lifecycle analysis using the GHGenius model, including biofuel production in litres; feed charged in tonnes; electric power consumption in kilowatt-hours (kWh); natural gas consumption in gigajoules (GJ); and other fuel energy inputs.

The Canadian government has set a mandate for the use of biofuels in petrol to take effect in September 2010. It has granted annual subsidies for 7 years to biofuel producers from a C$1.5 billion fund.

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