Canola to your furnace’s rescue? – Yukon News
Like the Faro Mine, your polluted oil stove will be surprised to find out that it could have a future.
While the potential revitalization of lead-zinc mining in Faro is thanks to a new partnership between the Ross River Dena Council development company and private mining interests, your furnace could be saved by the humble rapeseed plant.
Petrochemical engineers have worked hard to turn rapeseed oil into a low-carbon substitute for diesel and its chemical cousin, household heating oil.
Why? You may not have known, but your oven is a big problem. The Yukoners imported 234 million liters of crude oil-related products in 2018, and a good part of that was heating oil. The Yukon government’s climate change plan states that one fifth of our CO2 emissions are caused by heating, including oil and propane.
Canada has promised to cut carbon emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2030 in less than a decade and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The Yukon will have a very hard time achieving such goals if we continue to heat our homes with fossil fuels.
Many new condominiums and houses are being built with electric heating. But most Yukon people live in older houses, many of which still use oil.
You could re-insulate your home or replace your oil stove with propane. Either of these could lower your monthly energy bills and cut your CO2 emissions a bit. But you’re still burning fossil fuels.
You could switch to wood heating. Carbon emissions are low, but wood isn’t as cheap as it used to be, and you may recall the 2018 government study of the worrying effects of wood smoke on Whitehorse air quality.
The most obvious option is to switch to some form of electrical heat. Even if Yukon Energy burned liquefied natural gas to produce some of its electricity, your emissions would decrease significantly.
For example, you can use baseboard heating or install a heat pump. But electric heating is not cheap either. Not only do you have to spend thousands on new heating appliances, but you may also need to upgrade your home’s electrical supplies. This is a significant investment for a Yukon family. Plus, you’re at the mercy of future Yukon electricity prices.
Enter the low oilseed rape plant.
If we pay attention to rapeseed at all, then mostly as an edible oil. But since most of us ignored the plant, two things happened. Initially, Canada became the largest rapeseed producer in the world. Second, these petrochemical engineers managed to figure out how to convert rapeseed oil into something that you can burn in your furnace.
Renewable fuel made from rapeseed works as follows. The rape plants suck climate-changing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. The fuel is then burned after its processing into fuel and the carbon dioxide is released again. The net effect, even after emissions from agriculture, manufacturing and transport, is a fuel that some experts believe could emit 40 to 80 percent less carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels it replaces.
This summer, two large new canola fuel production facilities were proposed in Saskatchewan and Alberta. One of them, Covenant Energy, says the proposed hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel facility will produce approximately 300 million liters of renewable diesel, arctic-grade renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel annually. It should go into production in 2024.
This results in the fascinating possibility that you can drastically reduce your heating emissions in the next few years without having to invest in a new heating system. This is important for Yukoners who have oil stoves with a decade or more of life ahead of them. It is a major challenge for them to dispose of these assets early. But if they could bring them low-carbon fuel, it would help cut our emissions now, not in the 2030s or 2040s.
The Yukon government’s climate protection plan includes measures requiring that diesel and gasoline for transport be blended with renewable fuels in a blend similar to that in leading provinces by 2025. Something similar could happen with fuel for house heating.
In fact, it might make sense for us to go further and faster than the provinces, as heating is so important in the Yukon, both economically and climatically.
One of the big challenges is the cost. We don’t know what Covenant and its competitors will be selling their renewable fuels for, but some analysts expect such fuels to be two to three times more expensive than traditional fuels. In this way you avoid a large investment in a new oven, but you would pay significantly more each month.
Even with the planned CO2 tax, which should amount to around 45 cents per liter of conventional heating oil for households by 2030, heating with rapeseed fuel per month would be more expensive than heating with heating oil.
Despite the cost, all of this opens up some fascinating possibilities. Could a Yukon fuel contractor work with Covenant or any of the other renewable fuel manufacturers? How many green Yukoners would pay extra to cut their heating emissions until they can find a long-term replacement for their oil stove? Could there be a triple play between renewable heating fuel, street diesel and sustainable aviation fuel? Could the Yukon government use its climate change budget to promote renewable heating oil in ways that cut Yukon emissions at a lower cost per tonne than existing programs?
It may turn out that renewable fuel can never compete with electric heat or wood. On the flip side, it can be a pragmatic way to cut emissions while thousands of Yukons still have an oil fired animal in their basement.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist, author of the youth adventure novel Aurore of the Yukon, and co-host of the Klondike Gold Rush History podcast. He is a Ma Murray Award winner for Best Columnist.