Foresight Cleantech Accelerator and BC Bioenergy Network (BCBN) hosted a roundtable with a number of leaders and innovators in the liquid fuels industry at the Vancouver Economic Commission boardroom in Vancouver BC, on Nov 13, 2019.

British Columbia’s energy resources include a number of liquid fuels (including bio-fuels which are derived from biological sources such as lipids/fats, grains, wood, algae, etc), and this discussion was convened to discuss the developing economy of biofuels in BC in a cleantech context.


The discussion began with an overview of what’s happening in the province around energy, in order to understand the role that liquid fuels has to play in the transition to a low carbon, low polluting economy.

BC’s energy plans are outlined in the CleanBC strategy, which defines the province’s goal for economic development and energy management. The liquid fuels industry involves both the transportation and the energy side. Here are some targets and goals that the industry needs to consider as they discuss the future of the industry:

  • The CleanBC Liquid Fuels Target requires 650 million litres of renewable liquid fuel by 2030 which represents 8% of transportation fuels consumed in BC.
  • By 2025 the goal is to produce biofuel in the province at the same cost of petroleum fuel. Currently, the options are: ethanol, biodiesel, HDRD, and biocrude (pyrolysis oil and HTL).
  • The Low Carbon Fuel Standard calls for a 20% reduction in carbon intensity of fuel by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.

What are the Strengths of this Industry in BC?

(Photo credit: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

The CleanBC policies, the low carbon fuel standards, the mandate from all levels of government, and the clarity and future-focus of these mandates are seen as an overall strength. Having a clear mandate and carbon price/carbon economy makes it easier to sell to both investors (who will be involved in infrastructure and project development) and end users (they can invest in new fuels as they know the economic policies are supportive over the long term).

Transportation infrastructure was also seen as an overall positive. The fact that we have access to ports and shipping avenues, as well as the road and rail networks can support the growth of the industry (especially as the industry grows, it will become more important to have the support of the transportation infrastructure).

There was also a discussion around the state of the technology to produce the fuels and while in some areas, the technology is commercial and ready to go, in other cases, the technology is still in the pre-commercialization stage. (Here’s an article from the Biofuel Research Journal that gives a good overview of the state of the technology: “Current state and future prospects for liquid biofuels in Canada”).

Feedstock was seen as a strong resource in BC, as there are sources of biomass, lipids, etc.. in the province. (see discussion below)

BC also has a strong network of academic support – there are many world-renowned academic institutions and capabilities here in B.C. with international influence (e.g. The BC Smart Biofuels Consortium, the Carbon Capture & Conversion InstituteUBC’s Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility).

There are also opportunities to create new markets – for example, the aviation industry used 8 billion litres of jetfuel in YVR in 2018, and moving forward, YVR will need bio-jet fuels.

What Needs to Happen for this Industry to Thrive?

For the biofuels industry in BC to thrive and grow (and meet the goals set out for them), there are a number of things that need to happen and a number of obstacles to overcome.

There was a discussion around the need to balance public costs and economic tenability when addressing renewable targets.

There was also a perceived need for all the players to come together with an overall economic plan. For example, while access to ports was considered an advantage, there are restrictions in place at the Port of Vancouver about transporting liquid fuels. There are also storage issues, as there are limited places to store liquid fuels in the region. Lack of storage space is hindering the growth of the industry right now, and will be important to address as the industry grows.

Part of the economic plan should include a review of the permitting processes and regulatory constraints in place for biofuels in BC – is it too restrictive and inefficient? Could this process be modernized and streamlined while still meeting high safety and environmental standards?

Another area of concern included the overall space requirements as the industry grows – while there’s a number of research centres and labs for small scale testing, there are limited locations for commercial scale product quality testing in BC, a lack of technological assessments/ feasibility studies and not enough third-party industrial park spaces. There was overall agreement that liquid fuel companies need more space to scale up and innovate.

Public education and telling the story of biofuels is also important if this industry is to thrive. Cleantech innovation, and the transition to a low carbon, sustainable economy is a global story, and liquid biofuels have a part to play. Telling this story and educating the public is an important part of developing the industry – participants in the roundtable don’t believe public understands enough about liquid/biofuels, their potential contribution to the economy and GHG reductions, and the relative price and economics of fossil fuels vs. biofuels.

Feedstock Supply Discussion

(Photo Credit: Nexterra)

There was a great deal of discussion around the supply of feedstock, as this was seen as one of the main economic drivers and uncertainties in the whole economic system.

The industry as a whole is trying to figure out how much fuel they can make, and what feedstock(s) they will use and how will they get it. The feedstock supply issue will require an integrated, whole system approach to making fuel.

Here are some of the questions, ideas and possibilities regarding feedstock:

  • What are the fibre opportunities from the closing pulp mills?
  • There needs to be an effort to quantify forest feedstock supply and economic availability of biomass.
  • How do they quantify particulate matter and emissions from slash-pile burning in order to develop business plans?
  • There will be a need to diversify feedstocks, and this should be market-driven and flexible, as opportunities open up.
  • In lumber and pulp, they should strive to get absolute most value for each tree for market competition – this will mean that they should develop an economy (with supportive policy) that allows capture of financial incentive and translation into value-added bioproducts.

Next Steps – Research, Communication & Moving Forward

There was a consensus that more research is needed, particularly in biomass estimates, feedstock supplies and the overall economics of liquid biofuels.

Although several attendees work together in various ways, and communicate often, the CleanBC targets demand structuring communication between all relevant stakeholders in a more focused way. This will require a systems approach, an expansion of the network into different industries (e.g. forestry, mining, transportation, shipping, etc), and a larger-scale communications effort to encompass all the multiple stakeholders in the province.

Finally, there was a discussion around moving into action and making choices. The world is changing and the scale of the energy industry is often forgotten when we get caught up in the details of building the biofuels economy in BC. The amount of product the world is going to demand in this space is huge, and we have the resources and drive in BC to build this as a thriving industry that will build wealth and provide economic opportunities for generations.

While we are going to have to make choices, the pieces are in place to have a project-by-project approach to developing the infrastructure, ecosystems and markets required to be a leader in this growing industry.

Catriona Power

Director of Partnerships & Strategy,
Foresight Cleantech Accelerator
Twitter: @catrionapower

Catriona is the Director of Partnerships and Strategy for Foresight Cleantech Accelerator, taking a lead on delivering high profile programs around cluster development, partnerships, collaboration and communications.

Catriona has worked at the intersection of business, sustainability and technology for the last nine years with organizations in Canada, UK, Europe and India, and has an MA Environment, Development and Policy from the University of Sussex, UK and a BSc International Development from University College Cork, Ireland.