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Parkland uses oil from canola, one of Canada’s most widely-grown crops, as a significant bio-feedstock in their renewable fuels.Shutterstock

As Canada transitions to net-zero emissions by 2050, decarbonization of transportation is one of the biggest challenges. The sector accounts for 25 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Electric vehicles (EVs) have a big role to play, and adoption is growing rapidly in some markets. Still, EVs made up only about 6 per cent of total new cars registered in Canada during the first three months of 2022. A world with mostly passenger EVs is decades away, so how can we lower the emissions of the vehicles Canadians currently drive?

Using less carbon-intense fuels for conventional vehicles is one way to reduce our carbon footprint. These fuels would also go a long way to greening the aviation, ocean freight and long-haul trucking sectors – areas responsible for a significant amount of transportation emissions.

One company at the forefront is Calgary-based Parkland Corporation, an international fuel retailer, and food and convenience store operator.

In Burnaby, British Columbia, Parkland combines crude oil with 5 per cent of bio-feedstocks that include canola oil, tallow and used cooking oil to produce low-carbon fuels. With the addition of a renewable diesel facility, the bio-feedstock component is expected to rise to 20 per cent in 2026. These fuels have one-eighth of the carbon intensity of conventional fuels, says Bob Espey, Parkland’s President and CEO.

He says this supports “our commitment to customers who want to contribute to lowering emissions, but who are unwilling or can’t afford to make the switch to an EV.”

Parkland is among a handful of Canadian companies to use purely Canadian sourced bio-feedstocks to produce low-carbon fuels. Their value chain repurposes bio-feedstocks from Canadian farms and paper mills, and delivers it as essential fuels into Canadian fuel tanks. Most other sustainable fuels are imported.

The company has doubled its volumes every year since 2017. In 2021, these fuels had the environmental effect of removing 70,000 vehicles from the road, says Mr. Espey. “Our renewable fuel activity is a Canadian success story,” he says.

In May 2022, Parkland announced a $600 million expansion of its renewable fuels capability at its Burnaby, B.C. refinery. This will increase Parkland’s existing co-processing volumes to approximately 5,500 barrels per day, and build a stand-alone renewable diesel complex that can produce approximately 6,500 barrels per day of renewable diesel.

Once complete, the Burnaby expansion will have the equivalent environmental impact of taking one in four of all the passenger vehicles in B.C. off the road. These projects will remove 2 megatonnes of GHG per year, and deliver over 30 per cent of the B.C. government’s GHG reduction targets for the transportation sector.

In addition, Parkland’s sustainable fuels support the marine, aviation, rail road and the on-and off-road segments of the transportation sector, says Ryan Krogmeier, Parkland’s Senior Vice President, Supply, Trading and Refining.

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Global biofuels demand is on the rise

According to the International Energy Association, global demand for all biofuels is expected to increase year-over-year by 5 per cent in 2022, and rise by a further 3 per cent in 2023, driven by government policies in the transportation sector. Demand for renewable diesel is expected to be far higher.

The Government of Canada has set a mandatory target for all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks sales to be zero-emission by 2035. Across all sectors, achieving net-zero means the economy must either emit no GHG emissions, or offset its emissions by employing technologies that can capture carbon before it is released into the air.

In transportation, alternative fuels such as natural gas, propane, biodiesel, ethanol and hydrogen can be used in flexible-fuel and dual-fuel vehicles. These fuels can also be used in vehicles with advanced technology, such as hybrid power systems and fuel cells to reduce emissions.

Not all of these options are created equal.

“Hydrogen is a poor substitute for bio-diesel in terms of energy intensity. If used, significant modifications must be made to the underlying equipment. Comparatively, no changes to equipment are required if biofuels are used. The fuel goes right into the gas tank,” says Mr. Krogmeier.

Electrification is an important part of the greener transportation solution, however, much more is required if Canada is to meet its net-zero ambitions. For example, according to the National Research Council Canada heavy-duty freight transportation is responsible for 10 per cent of Canada’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. The path to electrifying it has a far longer timeline than for passenger vehicles.

Beyond the road, “Biofuels are the only option for aviation to decarbonize,” says Dr. John Saddler, dean emeritus and professor of biofuels/bioenergy at the University of British Columbia.

He adds that it will be hard to electrify transoceanic freight ships, making biofuels a feasible option. And while European rail is largely electric, Dr. Saddler says “It will be a long time before North American rail is fully electrified because we don’t have the population density as in Europe.”

The journey to zero-emission transportation is underway. However, persuading Canadians to switch our country’s existing 24 million internal combustion engine passenger vehicles for EVs will likely take decades. It will also require a combination of greater affordability, convenience and charging infrastructure.

Parkland is currently planning its EV Fast charging network “We aim to offer customers unrivalled amenities with quality convenience, food and wi-fi,” says Mr. Espey.

He believes giving customers choice is critical. “Canadians want to contribute to a lower carbon future, but they’d like to have choice in terms of how they participate,” Mr. Espey says. “We aim to meet customers where they are, and offer them choices to lower their environmental impact, through biofuels and other renewable fuels, carbon offsets, or EV charging.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Parkland Fuel Corporation. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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