Alternative Energy: Greasing The Wheels

Peter Evans
Canadian Business Online
December 5, 2005

Hurricane Katrina’s destructive swath may have caused a spike in oil prices, but it also spiked interest in alternative energy technology.

Take Maple Leaf Foods Inc. Though they earn their bread in the food business, the company recently announced it is set to open Canada’s first large-scale biodiesel plant.

Biodiesel, made from excess food oils and rendered fats, can be blended with diesel fuel to make it environmentally friendlier. The fuel is considered “greener” because it allows engines to use less diesel; it also produces less carbon dioxide than conventional petroleum, and uses materials that might otherwise be wasted.

Maple Leaf’s facility in Rothsay, Ont., won’t be at full capacity until 2006, but there are already high-profile markets for its product.

For example, from Nov. 28 to Dec. 9, Montreal hosts delegates from 157 countries who signed the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases, at the first United Nations conference on climate change since Kyoto took effect in February 2005. Charged with establishing the next round of environmental targets, the federal government has pledged to make even the staging of the event green-friendly; 10,000 delegates will be ferried through the city on biodiesel vehicles.

The exhaust fumes generated by biodiesel supposedly smell like french fries, which may or may not be a good thing. Likewise, the scientific jury on biodiesel is out ─ but skeptics maintain biodiesel’s hype is a lot of hot air.

The main problem, says Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, is its energy efficiency. He cites a Cornell University study that found biodiesel can sometimes require 27% more energy to produce than the resulting fuel is worth. Yet other studies (including one co-sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture) claim a net energy gain.

“[Biodiesel] is a step in the right direction, but in terms of energy for meeting transportation requirements, it’s really not a viable option,” Adams maintains. “There really is no such thing as a free lunch.” Even when you’re feeding the remains of lunch to your car.

From the December 5-25, 2005 issue of Canadian Business Magazine


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