Opinion: Fuelling the future – Canada’s agricultural energy opportunity
October 19, 2023
By Meaghan Seagrave
In a world where the intersection of food and energy security has become a global imperative, Biofuels Week has set the stage to underscore the urgent need for Canada to invest in and foster the burgeoning energy opportunities concealed within its agricultural sector.
Canada’s agriculture sector not only fuels its economy but possesses the untapped potential to drive a transformative shift in the nation’s energy landscape. As the world’s fifth-largest agricultural exporter, Canada is uniquely poised to lead the charge in harnessing energy from agricultural feedstocks and residues.
Embracing biofuels, such as ethanol, biodiesel, and biogas, can not only bolster Canada’s efforts to combat climate change but also fortify the nation’s energy security.
These biofuels, long familiar in the realm of innovation, are now thrust into the limelight as agricultural producers strive to maximize value from their byproducts, curtail on-farm climate impacts, and enhance overall farm revenues. The unforeseen trajectory of the past decade has unveiled the potential of agriculture to address not just global food crises but also the looming energy crisis.
Reflecting on the Barton Report of 2017, we discerned the agricultural sector’s potential for significant growth and economic contribution. What remained undisclosed at the time was the pivotal role agriculture would play in shaping Canada’s clean energy future. It has become increasingly evident that the agricultural sector can significantly contribute to Canada’s climate goals for 2030, while simultaneously bolstering its energy security through biofuel production.
The tangible proof of this alignment emerges in the nearly 300 existing biogas and renewable natural gas (RNG) projects across Canada, with a mere 16 per cent stemming from agricultural systems, tapping into just 1.3 per cent of available agriculture biogas and RNG feedstocks (source). Biogas-to-electricity applications are already mitigating the environmental impact of conventional power sources, but a promising new trend is emerging – biogas to RNG, and subsequently, conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG). This CNG is rapidly gaining favour as a transition fuel for long-haul commercial transportation. Its flexibility in conversion, combined with its ability to leverage rural resource supply, particularly from agriculture, addresses the energy demands of commercial and industrial players in areas lacking pipeline access. And this is merely a glimpse of the numerous biofuel opportunities nestled within Canada’s agricultural sector.
The renewable fuel standards and carbon pricing strategies aimed at achieving Canada’s climate targets for 2030 have not only catalyzed the biofuel sector but also illuminated the concurrent potential for expanding the agricultural industry while satisfying the nation’s clean energy requirements. With abundant water and arable land, high crop productivity, and thriving agri-food research clusters, Canada stands poised to meet the escalating global demand for biofuels.
A comprehensive understanding of the cross-sectoral opportunities Canada can seize serves as the key to unlock a future where agriculture plays a pivotal role in securing the nation’s energy future while addressing pressing environmental concerns.
Meaghan Seagrave is the executive director of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada.
This article is part of Biofuels Week 2023. To read more articles on biofuels, click here.
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