Although Canada is a major oil producer (in fact, the US gets the bulk of its oil from its Northern neighbor, rather than the Middle East), Canada's alternative fuel strategy is much further along and more comprehensive than anything developed thus far in the US.
Use of Alternative Fuels in Canada
Natural gas, ethanol, methanol, propane and wood pellets have all been in use in Canada for a number of years. As in Brazil, the United States' other major oil provider, ethanol is the most popular and widely distributed. In 2007, there were over one thousand retail outlets offering ethanol or blends throughout the country and there are a number of production plants with more scheduled for construction.
Additionally, biodiesel has started to gain a foothold, replacing diesel fuel in buses, trucks and even cruise ships. More biodiesel service stations are popping up across the country. Hydrogen fuel has also been the subject of much experimentation and some buses in British Columbia are starting to use it.
Canada's Alternative Fuel Strategy
There are four simple components to Canada's alternative fuel strategy:
- Develop and enact regulations to make alternative/renewable fuels more widely available on the retail level.
- Grant government support so that national production of alternative fuels can expand.
- Give government support to farmers so that they might increase production of crops that can be used for alternative fuels.
- Promote the rapid development of new technologies and their commercial prospects.
The Components in Detail
The current goal of Canada's alternative fuel strategy is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by four megatons a year, which is the equivalent of taking nearly one million cars and trucks off the road. The regulations demand that 5% of fuel be renewable by 2010 and 2% of diesel and heating oil come from renewable sources. Of course, if businesses and homeowners go further and incorporate more solar and wind power to heat buildings, and if the push for improved mass transit continues apace, even more greenhouse gas reductions can be achieved.
The government has committed to an investment of $1.5 billion over the course of nine years to increase production of ethanol and biodiesel. Of course, it takes into consideration the fluctuation of prices and feedstock. An initiative called ecoAGRICULTURE Biofuels Capital (ecoABC) assists farmers in the expansion of area and outlay so that they might grow more crops suitable for alternative fuel use.
Funds are also allocated to the private sector for the development of production facilities. It's understood that non-food products such as wheat straw, corn stover, wood residue and switchgrass can all not only make workable fuels but have a more positive environmental effect. One of the major drawbacks of ethanol is that it uses food that could be used to alleviate hunger and turns it into fuel instead. With world food shortages rising, along with prices, and hunger an increasing concern, it is not only environmentalists who are criticizing the push for ethanol above the development of non-food based fuels. It is hoped that much of the current strategy towards pushing for increased use of alternative fuels is really only a beginning and that, with the investments in research, yet more viable renewables will be on the market in due course.
Canada's environmental strategy overall is far from perfect - the government has expressed some positive anticipation about the Arctic melting because it sees it as an opportunity to improve shipping - but its willingness to invest in the continued development of alternative fuels, as well as educate citizens on the importance of reducing greenhouse gases and improving fuel efficiency are all good steps in the right direction.