Advanced Biofuels

Delivering Net Zero Emissions

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Advanced Biofuels

Delivering Net Zero Emissions

NET-ZERO CLEAN FUELS TODAY

Biofuels are indispensable to Canada’s near-term and 2050 net-zero targets.

Negative emissions technologies (NETs) such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) being deployed in existing biofuel facilities can yield net-negative biofuel carbon intensities.

  • British Columbia’s Clean fuel regulations incentivize innovation to achieve both lower Carbon Intensity in fuels and lower compliance costs.
  • This chart shows significant reduction in the CI of biofuels since 2010 – on average, 60%. Before applying ‘carbon dioxide removal’ technologies, this extrapolated trend shows biofuels’ CI capable of net zero by 2040.
  • The use of CDR will result in net-negative CI biofuels before 2030 as shown in the fuel-specific charts below.

Biofuel carbon intensity under BC’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard

Explore the data: click on the legend for visibility, mouse-over/tap the chart to see values, and use the 3-bar menu to save/print.
  • Energy efficiency in production facilities and feedstock selection have driven much of biofuels’ historical CI reduction.
  • Emerging ‘CO2 removal’ (CDR) technologies will enable biofuels’ net-negative carbon intensity.
  • CDR technologies include: Bioenergy carbon capture and storage, waste utilization where other emissions (e.g. methane) are avoided, direct air capture, and, sequestering carbon in soil from improved crop production.

Biofuel carbon intensity under BC’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard with Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) scenarios

Turn on the CDR scenarios by clicking on the legend items.

The Big Questions

Most biofuels have very low carbon intensity (CI) because they recycle atmospheric carbon (displacing crude oil), and in a number of cases utilize wastes or residues with a small/negative carbon footprint. In British Columbia’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the weighted average CI of biofuels has dropped 60% since 2010. In 2019, the CI of biodiesel (gm CO2e/MJ) was -1 gm; ethanol was 29 gm; and, renewable diesel was 19 gm.

Regulations are driving innovation as credit values increase and low carbon fuel suppliers compete to supply the market. Innovations are along the whole value chain:

Research by Argonne National Labs shows best-in-class farm practices achieving net-negative GHG sequestration of -15.9 g CO2e/MJ (compared with ‘average farm practice’ of 28.5 g/MJ for cradle-to-farm-gate emissions).

Electrification in light duty vehicles and transit buses is growing rapidly; hydrogen holds great promise, with broader commercial deployment likely to accelerate from 2030 onward. Heavy duty vehicles, aviation and marine will continue to need energy-dense liquid fuels. Biofuels generate immediate emission reductions and can be deployed in existing fuels infrastructure while other technologies are developed and adopted at scale. No one fuel will serve all needs.

The May 2021 IEA Net Zero by 2050 report projected that even if the 81 nations with Net Zero pledges, policies, and laws (and that represent 68% of global GHG) achieve their pledges in full and on time, 82% of final energy demand in transportation in 2050 will use an Internal Combustion Engine. As the IEA notes, this scenario “starkly highlights that existing net zero pledges, even if delivered in full, fall well short of what is necessary to reach global net‐zero emissions by 2050.”

Energy-dense liquid and gaseous fuels are the only practical substitutes in an ICE.

PATH TO NET-ZERO 2050

Net-zero emissions means removing as much human-caused GHGs from the atmosphere as we emit.

This does not mean eliminating emissions everywhere; rather, solutions such as negative emission technologies – e.g., some advanced biofuels – will be used to cancel out remaining GHG emissions.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that substantial amounts of negative emissions – essentially, the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – will likely be required if global climate change is to be limited to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Among the different negative emissions options, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS, is arguably one of the most commonly discussed in climate policy debates.”

International Energy Agency, June 2020

  • From 2020 onward, many emission sources can gradually be reduced to zero (mitigation.)
  • Some emissions sources (e.g., steel, cement production) have no identified viable mitigation pathway; to compensate, negative-emission technologies are needed to enable net-zero.
  • Bioenergy carbon capture and storage, and direct air capture are two of the most promising, scalable net-negative solutions.

A possible net-zero trajectory as portrayed by Canada Energy Regulator

No Net-Zero 2050 Without Transportation

Transportation accounts for 25% of global and Canadian GHG emissions, which are growing in most heavy-duty sectors. Net-Zero 2050 is unlikely to be reached without significant transportation sector reductions.

  • Transportation is the highest-emitting end use sector (2020.)
  • Not included in transportation are emissions in the industrial sector related to oil and gas extraction, and refining. These comprise 37% of industrial emissions. Accounting for the full lifecycle emissions (and not just tailpipe) in gasoline, diesel, etc. is what makes transportation the single largest end use emitting sector.
  • The Clean Fuel Standard will incent reductions in both sectors.
  • Transportation is regarded as a particularly difficult sector to decarbonize.

Canada’s GHG emissions by end use sector: 2000 to 2018

Internal Combustion Engines – and their emissions – will be with us through 2050

Even in the most ambitious electrification scenarios, millions of new internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) will be sold between now and 2050.

Net-zero transportation GHG can be achieved with advanced biofuels/synthetic fuels in ICEVs.

According to Statistics Canada, there were almost 23.5 million personal vehicles on the road in 2019. If the average annual emissions per ICEV is 4.6 tonnes of CO2e and the ICEV fleet is reduced to zero by 2050 (a linear reduction is assumed for simplicity) then there are 1,728 Mt of CO2e that are unaddressed by electrification. This scenario is ambitious and therefore represents a low estimate of ICE emissions from 2020 to 2050.*

*Assumes any growth in fleet size occurs in EV’s, not ICE. Assumes a linear reduction trend.

  • In the heavy-duty transport sector, electric and fuel cell vehicle combined market share will reach that of ICE heavy-duty vehicles by approximately 2050.
  • In light-duty transport, electric vehicle market share will be at parity with that of ICEV by 2045.

ICE vehicles through 2050 – heavy-duty diesel & personal vehicles

No path to Net-Zero 2050 without biofuels

With many ICE still powering on/off-road vehicles, aviation, and much of freight (long-haul trucks, ships, rail) by 2040 and 2050, net-zero will be feasible only with significant use of very low carbon biofuels. 

  • California has the most aggressive transportation decarbonization policies and statutes of any large global jurisdiction.
  • Modelling performed by UCDavis for California EPA to achieve a near-net-zero CO2 transportation system by 2045 shows 43% of final transportation energy demand to be supplied by low-CI ethanol, renewable gasoline, renewable diesel , and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
  • Per UC Davis, “…significant growth in low carbon liquid fuels compatible with internal combustion engines is still essential to meet the residual demand [from on-road vehicles] in addition to the demand for hard-to-electrify modes such as aviation and marine applications.” (UC Davis, 2021)
  • As an indication of the pace of transformation incented by the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, refiner plans for new renewable diesel production in California are of sufficient capacity to replace all diesel in the state by 2025; in 2019, 25% of CA diesel fuel was renewable (biodiesel, renewable diesel, and RNG).

California Transportation Energy Demand 2017-2050 – LC1 Scenario

The Impact of the Clean Fuel Standard

The Pan Canadian Framework assigned the CFS a key role in meeting our 2050 targets. Modelling of four possible scenarios of the Clean Fuel Regulations shows that greater blend levels, combined with falling carbon intensities (as prescribed by the regulations), have the potential to deliver significant emission reductions.

  • The WAEES modelling (see link below charts) assesses plausible CFS compliance pathways. For the biofuel-weighted pathway (RF-CC2), biofuel blending could increase 2-4x by 2030 under modest compliance credit values, with increased biofuel use ramping up smoothly without demand shocks.
  • Scenario FF-CC1 — This scenario represents the highest credit generation from upstream oil and gas emissions reductions. Emissions reductions include Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) categories: carbon capture and storage, upstream improvements, refinery reductions, and incremental methane reductions.
  • Scenario ECCC-TT: ECCC’s target and trajectory dataset) — This scenario mirrors ECCC’s modeling data that was released on June 19, 2020. This scenario includes a placeholder of 2 million credits generated by ‘emerging technologies’; all other scenarios allocate credits to the three category types and do not utilize this placeholder.
  • Scenario EV-CC3: electric vehicle – compliance category 3 — This scenario uses electric vehicles as a proxy for all category 3 credit pathways and represents the highest credit generation from alternative transportation platforms. Other compliance category 3 credit pathways include hydrogen fuel cell vehicle use and gaseous transport (renewable natural gas, compressed natural gas, liquid natural gas, and propane).
  • Scenario RF-CC2: renewable fuel – compliance category 2 – This scenario limits credit generation from CC1 and CC3 to 12 million tonnes per year by 2030 and thereby represents the highest credit generation from the use of biofuels of the modeled scenarios.

The Big Questions

The processes to convert crude oil to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels can be more efficient, but no technology can remove crude oil from the final combusted fuel – this leaves 76% of tailpipe emissions untouched. Only crude-displacing solutions such as advanced biofuels, electrification, hydrogen, etc. can reduce full-lifecycle emission to zero/near-zero.

Modelling of California’s path to net-zero shows that reducing tailpipe emissions is the major challenge, where rapid and substantial action is required. Reducing extraction and refining emissions to produce ‘cleaner’ fossil fuels is only marginally a solution for net zero, and one that takes a back seat to displacing crude oil use.

Show Graph
No. Some transportation sectors are much more difficult to electrify due to current technological barriers and scalability challenges. Three hard to decarbonize modes of transport are:

  1. Aviation
  2. Medium and Heavy Duty Trucking
  3. Marine Shipping

Additionally, even were passenger (light-duty) vehicles to comprise 50% of new car sales by 2040 (CICC most assertive case), the legacy fleet of ICEV will be reliant on billions of liters of low carbon non-fossil liquid fuels in the decade to attain net-zero by 2050.

Show Graph

 

In Section 1 ‘Big Questions’ we highlighted the IEA landmark May 2021 ‘Net Zero’ report showing that under plausible conditions, 82% of final transportation energy demand in 2050 would be reliant on an ICEV or aviation turbine.

Canada is one of the world’s largest producers of sustainable agricultural crops used in biofuel production. Biofuels use approximately 5% of global cropland. In Canada, cultivated acreage has decreased 0.4% per year on average since 2000; most of that loss has been to ‘summer fallow’ that is not farmed. In that period, canola production per acre has increased by 49%: farmers are producing more crops on fewer acres due to agronomy and crop science.

Increased agricultural feedstock production occurs in direct response to supply chain investments in processing capacity. In Canada, this is taking the form of expanded canola crushing capacity. In the next two crop years, canola production – on existing agricultural land – is expected to increase in response to this demand, which will then supply new renewable fuel production facilities.

The federal carbon charge of fuels is currently $40/T (2021), rises to $50 in 2022, and in 2023 and will move in $15 annual increments to $170/T by 2030. Provinces not under the federal backstop have their own levels that are expected to approximate the federal charge.

Carbon Charge 202220252030
Carbon Price/T$50$95$170
Gasoline/L$0.11$0.21$0.79
Diesel/L$0.13$0.25$0.46
Biofuels/L*$0.00$0.00$0.00

Diesel-pool renewable content is taxed at diesel rates up to 5% blends, and gasoline-pool renewable content is taxed at gasoline rates up to 10% blends. Above those blend levels, the renewable content is exempt from the carbon charge, and the diesel and gasoline charges increase proportionately to tax the fossil portion sufficiently to make up for the non-taxed renewable content.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF BIOFUELS

The increased production of biofuels will have a significant positive impact on Canada’s economy.

Biofuels production is expected to increase from its current level of 2,500 MLY in 2020 to between 4,645 and 6,111 MLY in 2030.

At the lower estimate of Canadian biofuel production, the industry could support nearly 24,000 jobs (over 12,000 additional jobs) and $10.2 billion in total output from Quebec to British Columbia by the year 2030.

Were the industry to expand faster, those impacts could be as high as 22,000 new jobs and $13.7 billion in output for the area studied.

  • Canada currently imports ~43% of annual ethanol consumption, whereas biodiesel/renewable diesel imports are roughly on par with exports (which are nominal for ethanol.)
  • Increasing electrification and light duty vehicle efficiency standards are expected to decrease overall gasoline demand (and associated ethanol blending), but absolute domestic capacity is expected to expand substantially.
  • The diesel pool faces less demand destruction, and is projected to have fewer low-carbon solutions beyond biofuels to 2030 and will also expand.

Domestic Biofuel Production

  • The full study area encompasses Central and Western Canada; there is no commercial biofuel production capacity outside these regions.
  • Ontario/Quebec are expected to add between 7,700 – 13,200 jobs, while Western Canada is expected to add between 3,900 – 7,000 jobs.

Employment impacts for full study area, by biofuel

The Big Questions

Canada is committing $1.5 billion federal fund to building new clean fuel capacity, which is expected to level the playing field against imported biofuels. BC, with Canada’s only LCFS (since 2013), is seeing evidence of new renewables investments in its oil refineries, forest sector, clean tech startups, and waste management.

Yes. Modern biofuel production platforms share a number of fossil refineries’ attributes; hydrotreating, high pressure/vacuum, high temperatures, distillation units, etc. A number of US refiners are converting idled or under-utilized refineries to assist their compliance with the California LCFS and possible federal standards.

ADVANCED BIOFUELS & SYNFUELS

The advanced biofuel and renewable synthetic fuel technologies needed to meet 2030 targets have been deployed globally at commercial scale today.

Rapid technology advances since 2010 have expanded the range of alternatives to petroleum fuels, with a number now capable of 100% replacement in existing internal combustion engines. Sustainable aviation fuels can be used in 50% blends, and marine fuels can now be 100% fossil free.

Advanced Biofuels & Non-Fossil Synthetic Fuels

Advanced biofuels are a broad class of biomass-derived fuels that deliver greater than 50% GHG reductions below fossil fuels and are made from sustainable biomass or renewable feedstocks. Note that the definition of ‘advanced biofuel’ is variously defined in terms of feedstocks used, minimum GHG reductions, fungibility (blend %), or generally to describe an emerging biofuel technology. There is no standard definition. In the world’s largest biofuel market (US), the term refers to a biofuel of minimum 50% lower CI than fossil fuel (60% for cellulosics) made from sustainable biomass.

Synthetic fuels are a broad class of liquid fuels, sometimes called Fischer-Tropsch or Biomass-to-Liquid (BTL) fuels, containing the combustible elements carbon or hydrogen. Net-zero compatible synthetic fuels are expected to be predominantly biomass-based or direct-air-capture based.

Biofuels process pathways

CO2

Waste CO2 streams from industrial facilities (e.g., steel, cement) can be converted into synthetic fuels and chemicals. Direct Air Capture technologies can remove ambient CO2.

Biomass

Sugars - either simple (starch) or complex (cellulose) - and lipids (fats & oils) are the most basic components in biomass for conversion to produce a range of renewable fuels.

Biochemical Route

Biochemical conversion processes use bacteria, microorganisms and enzymes to break down biomass into gaseous or liquid fuels, such as ethanol (fermentation) and biogas (anaerobic digestion).

Chemical Route

The chemical route relies on a chemical reaction by mixing three types of reactants: pre-treated* fatty acids, alcohols and a catalyst (typically a strong base or strong acid). Transesterification is a common chemical conversion process that converts the fatty acids into biodiesel and glycerol. *Pre-treatment can include water removal, oil refining, degumming and other processes to improve the input lipids.

Thermochemical Route

Thermochemical conversion processes generally involve the controlled heating or oxidation of biomass, utilizing a range of technologies including pyrolysis, gasification, and combustion which, in varying configurations, produce gaseous or liquid precursors for upgrading to liquid fuels or chemical feedstocks, as well as outputs of heat and electricity.

Hydrolysis

Sugars from lignocellulosic materials (e.g. straw and woody fibre) and lignin, etc can be extracted by enzymes under moderate pressure and temperatures. Sugars can be fermented into biofuels, such as ethanol, and ethanol can be used in gasoline or converted into a synthetic jet fuel using catalytic processes like those employed in petroleum refineries.

Extraction

Soybeans, canola seeds, and other vegetable oils are ‘crushed’ to remove the oils; this also produces a co-product of protein meal that is a main nutritional source for the dairy, livestock, and aquaculture sectors. Used cooking oils and rendered products are the other main source of feedstocks and are extracted primarily by rendering companies.

Pyrolysis/Liquefaction

Pyrolysis broadly describes the thermal decomposition of biomass under high temperature conditions to produce - in the case of biomass - a ‘bio-oil,’ and a ‘biochar.’ Hydrothermal liquefaction processes specifically convert wet biomass into a ‘biocrude’ oil under moderate temperature and high pressure; this biocrude can be further converted to renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel in an upgraded conventional refinery.(See Ensyn - pyrolysis, and Steeper Energy - liquefaction.)

Gasification

Gasification is a process that converts biomass and other carbonaceous materials into gases: nitrogen (N2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen (H2), and carbon dioxide (CO2). The resultant ‘syngas’ is converted to fuels (and other products).

Engineered CO2 capture, dehydration, compression

Aqueous direct air capture (DAC) processes remove CO2 when ambient air makes contact with chemical media (first cycle), typically an aqueous alkaline solvent. A second ‘cycle’ uses calcium to regenerate first cycle media. (See Carbon Engineering.) H2 can be added to the CO2 and the gas converted to fuels.

Gas Conditioning

CO and CO2 rich gases (e.g., steel mills, chemical plants, refineries) are diverted from flaring and conditioned so that they can be used directly in gas fermentation. Industrial waste gasses that can be fermented are composed of combinations of CO, CO2 and hydrogen. (See LanzaTech)

Fermentation

Yeasts, in the absence of oxygen, anaerobically convert sugars such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose into ethanol, with carbon dioxide as a by-products. Corn starch is a common source of fermentable sugars.

Transesterification

In a simple chemical process, fatty acids (i.e. fats and oils) are reacted with alcohol in the presence of a catalyst to produce biodiesel (‘fatty acid methyl ester’), and a glycerol by-product.

Hydrotreating

The hydrotreating process upgrades vegetable oils or biocrude oils to hydrocarbons by removing oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur and saturating olefins and some aromatics present in biomass. Hydrocarbon oils can be further refined with the hydrocracking process, which breaks down complex hydrocarbon molecules into simpler ones by using a catalyst and an elevated partial pressure of hydrogen gas.

Gas Fermentation

Bacterial syngas fermentation uses biocatalysts (also called acetogens, which may be metabolically engineered[JH1] ) to produce a range of biofuels (e.g. ethanol) and biochemicals (e.g. isopropanol, acetone, proteins). Ethanol can be used in gasoline or converted into a synthetic jet fuel using catalytic processes like those employed in petroleum refineries. (See LanzaTech)

Catalysis (FT/MeOH)

These gas to liquids processes convert carbon monoxide and hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbons in the presence of metal catalysts (under high pressure and temperatures). Biomass or synthetic gases can be used as feedstocks for the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) and Methanol (MeOH) processes. Distillate fuels (diesel, jet) are common products from FT. Methanol can be converted to gasoline or olefins.

Gas Fermentation

Bacterial syngas fermentation uses biocatalysts (also called acetogens, which may be metabolically engineered[JH1] ) to produce a range of biofuels (e.g. ethanol) and biochemicals (e.g. isopropanol, acetone, proteins). Ethanol can be used in gasoline or converted into a synthetic jet fuel using catalytic processes like those employed in petroleum refineries. (See LanzaTech)

Bioethanol

Bioethanol is ‘fuel alcohol’ made from sugars (see Fermentation) that is a ‘drop-in’ gasoline substitute at 15% blends (E15) in any 2001 or later light duty vehicle, and in ‘flex fuel’ vehicles up to 85% blends (E85.)

Biodiesel

Biodiesel is a renewable diesel fuel produced from fats, oils, and greases (see Transesterification) that is a ‘drop-in’ diesel fuel substitute at blends typically up to 20% (B20.)

Transport Fuels

Transport fuels as described here are broadly hydrocarbon fuels that are fully fungible, and can include hydrogenated ‘renewable diesel,’ co-processed renewable gasoline/diesel/jet fuels, or ‘alcohol-to-jet’ fuels that can be used in a 50% blend with conventional kerosene jet fuel.

Transport Fuels

Transport fuels as described here are broadly hydrocarbon fuels that are fully fungible, and can include hydrogenated ‘renewable diesel,’ co-processed renewable gasoline/diesel/jet fuels, or ‘alcohol-to-jet’ fuels that can be used in a 50% blend with conventional kerosene jet fuel.

Transport Fuels

Transport fuels as described here are broadly hydrocarbon fuels that are fully fungible, and can include hydrogenated ‘renewable diesel,’ co-processed renewable gasoline/diesel/jet fuels, or ‘alcohol-to-jet’ fuels that can be used in a 50% blend with conventional kerosene jet fuel.

Transport Fuels

Transport fuels as described here are broadly hydrocarbon fuels that are fully fungible, and can include hydrogenated ‘renewable diesel,’ co-processed renewable gasoline/diesel/jet fuels, or ‘alcohol-to-jet’ fuels that can be used in a 50% blend with conventional kerosene jet fuel.

Click on each area of the diagram to see more information on biofuels process pathways.

The Big Questions

Both. Many advanced biofuels are in fact renewable ‘hydrocarbon’ fuels that are chemically the same as a petroleum fuel but not made from a fossil feedstock (with very low or negative emissions). These fuels can be used in any existing vehicle up to 100%. 

Ethanol can be used at 15% blends in any car produced after 2001, and ‘flex fuel’ vehicles can use up to 85% ethanol. 

Ethanol and renewable naphtha are blended together for use in any car.

Biodiesel and ‘renewable diesel’ can be blended for 100% renewable fuel (negative carbon intensity) in any heavy-duty vehicle.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) can be used between 20% – 50% in existing jet engines.

Clean fuel regulations can be met with a range of alternative fuels; none alone is expected to be sufficient to replace all petroleum fuels. Low carbon fuels can be made from crops, residues, and wastes, and using renewable synthetic processes.

Canada has ample resources for clean fuel production.

Canada has developed a detailed geospatial inventory of a wide range of bio- and waste-based feedstocks on its BIMAT site, and the US Department of Energy has extensive data on current and emerging feedstock streams and has mapped a billion tonnes of sustainable biomass.

Advanced biofuels can be produced from ‘conventional’ feedstocks (e.g., vegetable oils) in advanced biorefineries that produce a renewable hydrocarbon drop-in fuel, or produced from ‘advanced’ feedstocks (e.g., cellulosic sugars) that can be used in a conventional biorefinery (e.g. ethanol fermentation). There is no universal definition of ‘advanced biofuel’.

Since 2000, Canada’s total seeded crop acres has dropped an average of 0.4% annually, yet harvested canola (tonnes seed) has increased 160% in the same period with increased yields and using summer fallow land. Canadian farms have met European sustainability criteria for years, and proposed verification requirements in the Clean Fuel Regulation will protect against land use change and biodiversity impacts.

Yes. Every light duty vehicle sold since 2001 can use 15% blends of ethanol (E15), and most diesel vehicles on the road are compatible with 20% blends (B20). Other renewable hydrocarbon fuels can be used at 100% in all engines, and sustainable aviation fuel can be used up to 50% in existing airplanes.

For 2030, new technologies are not needed. Low carbon fuels currently being used to meet California, British Columbia, and other low carbon fuel standards can be deployed at large scale to meet these targets.

For 2050, efficiency improvements and higher conversion yields, etc. are needed to provide fuels at the scales needed, and at a mitigation cost that is viable. Extensive US (source 1, source 2) and EU research aims to provide industrially viable drop-in biofuels.