Farmers have many questions about biofuels, from the benefits to operability. This page provides answers to the most common questions farmers have about biofuels and canola as a feedstock. Scroll through the entire page to read them all or click on the question in this list to jump directly to that section. If you have questions that are not answered on this page, you can
email CCGA's Policy team.
How does increasing biofuels usage in Canada benefit farmers?
Will increasing the amount of biodiesel in the fuel supply affect the price farmers pay for diesel?
Is it safe to use biofuels in my tractor or other diesel-powered farm equipment?
Is it safe to use biofuels in the winter?
What is the Clean Fuel Standard?
What is the Renewable Fuel Standard?
Why is canola-based biofuel better for the environment?
Is there enough canola to supply both our food and fuel markets?
Is biodiesel different than renewable diesel?
1. How does increasing biofuels usage in Canada benefit farmers?
CCGA and the Canadian canola industry has been working for two decades to modestly increase biofuel content and further open domestic market opportunities for canola. It is an option with benefits for the environment, farmers, and the economy.
- Diversifying markets reduces trade risk. Over 90% of canola production is exported as seed, oil and meal. Increasing domestic demand for canola as a feedstock for biofuels lessens the degree of dependency canola farmers have on exports and exposure to trade disruptions. For instance, blending at 5% biodiesel in Canada could use 1.3 million+ tonnes of seed, a domestic market similar in scale to Japan.
- Biofuels can provide a market for off-grade canola seed that may not be marketable into the food market. This creates a demand for seed that today may have limited sale opportunities.
- The canola industry's crush facilities have the capacity to process 10 million tonnes of seed into oil for use in a variety of uses, including biofuels.
- Biofuel investments support more value-added agri-processing, which in turn provides additional marketing options and opportunities for higher returns at the farmgate.
- Canola biofuels are renewable, reduce GHG emissions and have several environmental benefits. There are also economic benefits for Canada, increasing the market for canola and encouraging investment in processing.
- Promoting canola as a feedstock for biofuels demonstrates farmer leadership in providing solutions to a greener Canada. Canada has set a bold target to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Due to its lower carbon intensity rating compared to petroleum diesel, if Canada had a 5% biofuel inclusion rate, the annual GHG emission reductions would be equal to removing 1 million cars off Canadian roads each year.
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2. Will increasing the amount of biodiesel in the fuel supply affect the price farmers pay for diesel?
Modest increases in the amount of biofuel in the diesel supply are expected to create little, if any, impact on the cost of diesel fuel. In Canada, diesel may contain up to 5% biodiesel in the summer and this is incorporated into the posted price. Historical analysis of fuel prices in Western Canada shows that the cost impact of incorporating biodiesel is negligible. Wholesale fuel prices for 2% biodiesel are currently at par with prices for ultra-low sulphur diesel.
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3. Is it safe to use biofuels in my tractor or other diesel-powered farm equipment?
Every original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of diesel vehicles approves blends of up to 5% (B5) in their engines. Nearly 80% of OEMs approve blends up to 20% (B20) in some or all of their diesel vehicles. Some even approve the use of B100 in certain types of farm equipment. Long-term tests on older equipment demonstrate no issues when using low-level biofuel blends. Owners should consult their operating manuals and keep in mind that biodiesel acts as a cleaning agent, so check gaskets, hoses and filters when first using biodiesel, as built-up engine sediment may dislodge. More information about safety and performance can be found from your engine manufacturer and from the
Government of Canada.
Major farm implement manufacturers support (and encourage) the use of biofuels in their equipment as long as the fuel meets industry quality standards. See your equipment's operating manual or the manufacturer's website for detailed information on the specific engine you may have. Biodiesel-powered engines have been shown to deliver similar torque and horsepower as diesel-powered engines, with reduced engine-wear because of biodiesel’s enhanced lubricity.
Canola biofuels are blended with diesel fuels to be used in all types of diesel engines (e.g. cars, trucks, heavy equipment, rail, etc.). Biofuels sold in North America must adhere to quality specifications to assure that industry-approved fuel operability and performance standards are met or exceeded. In North America, biofuels standards are accredited by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM).
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4. Is it safe to use biofuels in the winter?
As with regular diesel products, extreme cold weather requires that fuel manufacturers manage their product to maintain optimal performance, according to the accepted biofuel standards. Characteristics of retail diesel fuel change during the year and should pose no issue to consumers. In Minnesota, a cold-weather state, a 5% blend is required from October 1 to March 31, a 10% blend from April 1 to April 14 and a 20% blend from April 15 to September 30.
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5. What is the Clean Fuel Standard?
Canada is developing a
Clean Fuel Standard (CFS), a new regulation to replace the
Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS, see next question), with the objective of reducing GHG emissions by 30 megatonnes (Co2-equivalent) by 2030. It will eventually apply to all fossil fuels used in Canada (liquid, gaseous and solid). Currently, only the liquid fuel stream is being developed with the formal regulatory proposal (Canada Gazette 1) to be published in fall 2020 and the remaining two fuel types to be finalized in coming years.
Renewable fuel can play an important role in reaching the CFS target of 30 million tonnes of GHG reductions per year by 2030. Canola's low carbon intensity makes it an ideal feedstock to help the federal government meet its emissions reduction targets. With carbon intensities at 90% less than fossil diesel, even small additions can significantly reduce emissions.
While we do not yet know the final details of the CFS, what we do know is that for it to benefit farmers it needs to:
- Include regulatory signals that show a clear commitment to increased biofuel use and the resulting increase in domestic feedstock consumption.
- Recognize modern farming practices as sustainable in order to keep Canadian farmers competitive with other global oilseed producers around the world.
It is difficult to project the annual demand for canola as a biofuel feedstock under the CFS due to its complexity and the fact that there is no similar biofuel policy without an accompanying mandate in any other jurisdiction around the world. However, modelling suggests that the CFS, if done right, could be a significant demand pull as diesel fuel in Canada could approach 8-9% renewable content by 2030. Increasing renewable content could potentially require an additional 1 to 4+ million tonnes of canola seed annually, as the regulation requires continually cleaner fuel to be placed in the Canadian market.
The current federal
Renewable Fuel Standard is set to be repealed when the CFS comes into effect. The CFS does not include a biofuel blending mandate. If the CFS does not come into force the RFS will remain in law.
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6. What is the Renewable Fuel Standard?
In Canada, the
Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) currently requires 2% (average) renewable content in the diesel that is sold in Canada. This is sometimes referred to as a biofuel mandate. Biofuel policies have been implemented around the world as governments look for ways to reduce emissions from the transportation and liquid fuel sectors.
Many provinces have also enacted their own provincial RFS that vary in their requirements and policy details. These typically range from 2-5%; Manitoba recently released draft regulations to expand its RFS from 2% to 5% beginning in 2021. Provincial polices are nested, meaning that obligated parties (producers and importers of fuel) can satisfy their federal obligations as they meet the provincial obligations. British Columbia’s policy contains a RFS and a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) that requires both volumetric blending and prescribed lowering of carbon intensity of fuel over time. More information on the status of Canada’s renewable fuel policies is available from
A comprehensive overview can be found at
Canadian Canola: Growing low-carbon transportation solutions (2018).
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7. Why is canola-based biofuel better for the environment?
Canola biofuels have excellent GHG reduction characteristics, emitting up to 90% less GHG emissions than conventional diesel fuel. This reduction is calculated on a lifecycle basis, which includes growing, processing and transportation. Info about biodiesel performance can be found
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are measured over the full life cycle of growing, harvesting, manufacturing, distributing, and using biofuels. A life cycle assessment (LCA) is performed following internationally accepted LCA guidelines to quantify the lifecycle GHG emissions from a fuel, usually described as its "carbon intensity" score.
While scientists and researchers look for cleaner technologies to power heavy duty vehicles in the future, today biofuel is the only viable, low-carbon energy alterative to power vehicles such as tractors, heavy-duty and transport trucks, buses, locomotives, and mining and forestry equipment. It's something Canada can do today to help meet our GHG reduction targets.
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8. Is there enough canola to supply both our food and fuel markets?
Biofuel is a great market for off-grade canola, unsuitable for food. Canadian farmers are also increasing the amount of canola grown on the same amount of land (e.g. increasing per acre yields) using modern agriculture methods, so increased biofuel production will not impact the food supply.
There is more than enough canola grown in Canada to meet increased demand. Canada currently produces approximately 20 million tonnes of canola each year with targets to grow production to 26 million tonnes by 2025. If canola supplied renewable content equal to a 5% biofuel blend, that would require 3.2 million tonnes of seed and reduce GHG by more than 4.5 million tonnes (C02-equivalent), an amount easily accommodated through projected increased production alone.
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9. Is biodiesel different than renewable diesel?
In Canada the term 'renewable alternatives to diesel' is typically used as a catch-all for the various types of renewable fuels that can displace fossil diesel. There are some important differences in the biofuel production processes, as the three major ways to manufacture canola-based biofuel have different chemical and environmental properties:
Biodiesel (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester or
FAME) is typically produced by mixing a fat or oil feedstock (e.g. canola, soybean, rendered animal fat, used vegetable oil, etc.) with methanol and a catalyst to remove the glycerol (which is refined into glycerine and sold as a co-product). The mixture is further processed to achieve stringent quality standards. The biodiesel is then blended into diesel fuel to achieve a desired blend level (e.g. 2% biodiesel). The fuel will have specific chemical properties, such as cloud point, based on the feedstock.
Renewable diesel (Hydrogenation-Derived Renewable Diesel or
HDRD), often referred to as a drop-in fuel, is produced in a process similar to petroleum refining where hydrogen and catalysts are utilized. The finished biofuel is chemically identical, regardless of the feedstock used. Compared to biodiesel, it has higher carbon intensity because it requires more energy inputs (hydrogen, heat) to produce. A benefit of renewable diesel is that it can be blended in high proportion with fossil diesel fuel as it is virtually chemically indistinguishable.
Co-processing is fundamentally different from both FAME and HDRD in two ways. First, the biomass feedstock is introduced at the same time as the crude petroleum product enters the refining process, rather than being blended at the end stage. Second, co-processing is done in a traditional petroleum refinery rather than in dedicated biofuel production facilities. Co-processing has the potential to use large volumes of canola oil.
Currently in Canada, only biodiesel is manufactured. There are several renewable diesel plants in the United States. Co-processing is currently being tested in Canada.
An overview of the landscape of canola biofuel production:
Canadian Canola: Growing low-carbon transportation solutions 2018
Further information on the biofuel industry in Canada: Advanced Biofuels Canada.
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