Community fuel

Community fuel

By turning waste crops into fuel, an Alberta researcher is helping his community go green
October 24, 2012

Every year, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of canola and other oilseed crops go to waste across Canada because of extreme heat or frost damage. If these damaged crops were properly processed, however, they could be turned into millions of litres of biodiesel, a promising alternative fuel for diesel vehicles.

This is not lost on Abimbola Abiola, Director of Applied Research and Lead Scientist for the Olds College Centre for Innovation. Having recognized that there is a potential use for field waste, he began researching how to develop biodiesel blends from canola and put them to use as an alternative fuel.

Abiola and his team have developed a biofuel lab at the college’s Bio-industry Resource Centre which has allowed the facility to boost its capacity of 40,000 litres of biodiesel a year to 250,000 litres a year. And the blend they have created works with regular diesel engines.

“We did not have to develop special vehicles to run on the biofuel,” says Abiola. “Most of the diesel engines out there today can run on varied compositions of biodiesel.”  In fact, many new trucks on the market can use up to 20 percent biodiesel blend.

Abiola has involved the community in his research. Not only does his team use a General Motors (GM) truck provided by local dealer, Hildebrand Motors, to carry out their biodiesel research, but in the last few years, vehicles from Olds College, the Town of Olds and Mountain View County, as well as school buses from the Chinook Edge School Division, have all been powered by the centre’s biodiesel. Local farmers, small businesses and members of the public have also used it.

And the benefits are significant. Environmentally, biodiesel creates fewer emissions and greenhouse gases, and it makes use of what would otherwise be waste. The fuel is also non-toxic and biodegradable. Abiola says biofuel can be produced and sold at $1 per litre, which is less than the cost at a typical gas pump. It better lubricates engines, resulting in increased efficiency and lower maintenance costs.

Despite these benefits, Abiola says the biodiesel industry in Canada is not thriving as much as it could. “The main reason is lack of education,” says Abiola. “Many people do not know that their diesel engines can use blends of biodiesel.”

Recent federal and provincial Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) mandate an average of two percent biofuel be included in fuels currently available. Most energy companies import biofuels to meet their RFS obligations. Abiola’s research is trying to highlight how made-in-Canada biofuels can also be economically viable.

“We need to encourage the development of the industry locally as it is not more expensive to produce the biodiesel here in Canada,” says Abiola. Getting his community involved is going a long way to making this a reality.

The ATCO Energy Sense Bus, sponsored by one of the largest suppliers of domestic energy in Canada, has been designed to use renewable fuel. It fills up regularly at the biodiesel pump at Olds College. Close to 20 community partners currently use the biodiesel facility. (Credit: Amanda Farrant)