Canada: Biofuels Heating Up: But Are They Greener?

Last Updated: November 29 2012
Article by Marketing, Advertising & Regulatory Group

Bottom Line: Biofuels are all about making fuel out of things that grow rather than using limited, greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. Corn, sugar cane, algae, waste from wood chips and corn husks – these are some of the many renewable bases for biofuels. There can be a complex set of trade-offs with some biofuels, however. They may help solve CO2 problems but raise other concerns. They are also at a relatively early stage in development, so the long term implications of some of them may not yet be understood. If you want to make claims about their virtues, then, you should tiptoe carefully, ensuring that your substantiation is tight, authoritative and on point, that your claims don't overstate your products' benefits and that material disclosures are made as appropriate.


Moving toward sustainability does not happen with easy, straightforward steps. It repeatedly feels like a 'one step forward, two steps back' journey as we stride and stumble towards solutions to our challenges. One such example is biofuels. These fuels demonstrate a complicated product set where the devil is always in the details – some may present a better eco-balance than others and some are criticized as simply greenwash.

What will the real impact be of changing lands for food production to lands for fuel production? Does the growth, processing and use of biofuels really result in lower greenhouse-gas ("GHG") emissions than fossil alternatives? Are government regulations moving the development of biofuels in the right direction? Many vital questions are being raised – and the answers will vary depending on which of the many sources of biofuels are being used and how efficiently they are processed. What seems clear for marketers, at the least, and as we canvassed in our 2011 Green Marketing & Advertising Law Update, is that environmental organizations have their eye on this issue and are on alert for what they perceive as greenwashing attempts by those promoting biofuels.

Who is Using and Developing Biofuels?

Currently in the automotive industry, gasoline can comprise up to 10% of ethanol in North America. This results in the use of about 15 billion gallons of ethanol annually in the US alone. However, recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") approved the use of "E-15," a 15% ethanol-gasoline blend, which will increase the amount used. Many targets have ambitious goals of increasing ethanol use in vehicles to much higher levels.

Biofuels are also being actively adopted by the airline industry. One of the first robins in this biofuel spring has been Boeing, which is reportedly planning to generate at least 1% of its fuel from biofuel sources by 2015. This "minuscule" amount adds up to about 600 billion gallons of fuel annually. Lufthansa is preparing to build an algae aviation fuel production plant and also plans to buy at least half of the produced fuel. British Airways is going to open a biofuel producing plant and plans to start using biofuels in 2014. Virgin is working on a project of recycling waste gases from steel production into aviation fuel and routinely testing other new technologies.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In terms of airlines testing biofuels, Biofuels Digest published an article on June 5, 2012 chronicling airlines doing this around the world. This included Porter Airlines which, in April 2012, reported the first biofuel-powered revenue flight in Canada, from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to Ottawa. It used a 50/50 blend of biofuel and Jet A1 fuel in one of its engines. Air Canada followed in June with its first biofuel flight (from Toronto to Mexico City) using biofuels made from recycled cooking oil.

Following the trend, oil and gas companies are actively directing R&D and production resources to biofuels. For some examples, BP is investing in research to extract biofuels from sugar cane. Exxon Mobil is working on a project to turn algae into biofuel. Shell is purchasing sugar-producing facilities to convert beet and organic waste into biofuel. Some skeptics consider this activity constructing a green smoke-screen, to divert attention from extensive oil explorations. The effort – and debate – surges on, however.

What's the Political Landscape?

Some governments address the environment by ignoring the issue altogether and some by solving it with the full power of their bureaucratic fist. The EU, for example, imposes emission limits on GHG, forcing the replacement of fossil fuels with lower carbon alternatives. Other jurisdictions may use carrot and stick approaches, such as incentives, taxes and limitations to regulate the fuel producing and fuel consuming industries. In the US, for example, there are renewable fuel standards to ensure that transportation fuel sold in the US contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel/biofuel consumed each year. On top of that, the US, Canada and EU governments provide grants and loans to ethanol producers. This practice, however, can negatively affect the food supply for consumers and livestock, who become direct competitors for the crop.

In any event, it is clear to most that the development of alternatives to fossil fuels is an important initiative. Besides the obvious environmental aspects, the development of biofuel addresses concerns of, "What will power our engines when the price of oil reaches economy-shaking levels?" and, eventually, "What will replace depleting oil supplies altogether?"

Getting to the Punch Line: Are Biofuels Actually "Greener" than Fossil Fuels?

Several studies have been published on the eco-efficiency of biofuels. On the good news front, some studies have found that CO2 savings with the present biofuel technologies can be significant, estimating them to be between 20% and 80% compared with using conventional petrol. This may increase to 90% – and higher – for second-generation biofuel such as cellulosic ethanol or syn-diesel. Why is that not unqualified good news? Because biofuels may still lead to other environmental problems. Some of the adverse effects can include soil pollution due to over-fertilization, water pollution in the lakes and rivers, deforestation to vacate more land to grow crops for biofuels, and others. Unfortunately, the biofuel production processes currently utilized are not perfect and more research in the area has to be done to close the gap.

Here's what is reasonably clear: There is an urgent need for cleaner and more cost-efficient biofuels to replace depleting and costly hydrocarbons.

Here's what is less clear: How we can eliminate the environmental impact of biofuel production instead of deflecting it into other areas, and when will the industry start addressing it as a primary goal and not simply, according to some, as high school projects.

What To Wish For When You Blow Out The Candles

As in so many areas, the best scenarios and solutions may come from a closer collaboration between government, industry, and agricultural and environmental groups. Hopefully, that collaboration will ensure that at the end of the day we all will have food on our plate and planes in the air, while keeping clean rivers and air to breathe. It is hard, it is expensive, but many believe it is achievable.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions