Exploring green energy solutions: Ethanol

By Hazel Ward
Program Administrator
Why an ethanol plant, you may ask?  Well at WWF-Canada, the goal of our Climate and Energy program is to design and demonstrate a Canadian Energy Strategy that includes long- term plans to meet our energy needs with renewable energy. There are various sources for renewable energy, such as biofuels, wind and solar power. Especially for transportation, biofuels will be part of the transition and long term answer for air travel. During the last two years the research centre, which is affiliated to the plant, has been testing the chemical conversion of plant fibre from corn, forestry waste, prairie grass and sorghum to cellulosic ethanol, a biofuel which could someday, help replace gasoline.
Ethanol is not new to the market. It is a high-octane, water -free alcohol product derived from natural sources, in North America corn is typically used, while in Brazil the source is sugar cane. Since 2007, the provincial governments in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have mandated that all grades of gasoline sold must have a minimum of 5 to 8.5 percent ethanol as part of the fuel mixture.

(c) H.Ward/WWF- Canada
Even the federal government has joined the effort.  The Renewable Fuels Regulations, which took effect on December 15, 2010, requires an average five percent renewable fuel content on gasoline. It is their intention to regulate a two per cent requirement for renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil by 2011. This is subject to successful demonstration of technical feasibility under the range of Canadian conditions. These changes are being made with the expectation of reducing green house gas emissions.
We should applaud the early innovators who are seeking to identify alternatives to fossil fuel generated oil. These include farmers who have adapted to new techniques, such as “no tilling”, which not only helps to conserve  biodiversity, but reduces greenhouse gas emissions and can save up to 2/3 on fuel costs, and industry leaders who have invested  the time and effort required to develop a viable alternative. However, we need to ensure that the production and use of biofuel results in real green house gas reductions, does not undermine food production, and is done in a way to reduce landscape impacts on biodiversity (e.g.,  avoiding clearing forests to grow corm for ethanol).
Pilot projects help us learn what works and what doesn’t, leading to truly beneficial alternative fuels.