Ontario hiking ethanol content in gasoline to help fight climate change

The Chatham Greenfield Global plant on Bloomfield Road in Chatham, Ont. (Ellwood Shreve/Postmedia Network)

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Ontario plans to raise by half the ethanol content required in gasoline in a move to fight climate change that could also dangle benefits to Southwestern Ontario’s vast corn belt.

The province says it will gradually increase the required ethanol content in gasoline to 15 per cent from 10 per cent by 2030.

Made from corn, most of which in Ontario is grown in Southwestern Ontario, ethanol is also produced in the region, home to major refiners in Sarnia, Chatham and Aylmer.

Ontario would be the first province to raise the fuel-additive ratio to the level it plans, which Queen’s Park says would be the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the road every year in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.

“We know about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the province come from transportation, which is why increasing the amount of renewable content in gasoline is such an important step towards fighting climate change and driving down emissions,” said Environment Minister Jeff Yurek, MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London.

Yurek said the changes will also have a significant impact for corn producers across Ontario.

“This change will also help attract investment in ethanol production, create jobs in rural communities and assist the bio-fuel and agriculture sectors in their long-term economic recovery from COVID-19,” he said.

The higher required increments of ethanol in gasoline will be made gradual, the province said, going from 10 per cent to 11 per cent by 2025, to 13 per cent by 2028 and 15 per cent in 2030.

The planned changes are part of Ontario’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

Andrea Kent, vice-president of industry and government affairs for Greenfield Global Inc. that has an ethanol plant in Chatham, welcomed the news.

“It sends a good signal. It’s certainly good for Ontario,” she said. “We’ve been working on it with (the province). We were waiting for them to do their due diligence and fulfil that commitment that they made in their environment plan.”

Kent, who is also a board director of Renewable Industries Canada — an umbrella group for the bio-fuel sector — said there is enough time allocated for businesses to make the necessary adjustments.

“I think you’ll see a lot of Ontario’s ethanol producers continue to ramp up and make decisions to meet demand,” she said. “We know certainly that there’s enough corn to satisfy the needs. … There is a booming and strong industry in Ontario that’s ready to go.

“I think that you will see domestic production continue to rise to the required levels.”

During the pandemic, Kent said the ethanol industry was fortunate to be able to pivot to assist with such products as hand sanitizer.

She said the latest announcement will only help with future economic stability.

“Going forward, certainly a green recovery is very much on the minds of governments, including Ontario,” she said. “This is one step they’re taking to ensure that the domestic provincial industry is able to continue to grow and kind of build back better.

“The health of the planet will improve, as well as the health of the economy, because of news like this.”

Crosby Devitt, chief executive of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, also called it a good news announcement, noting producers are excited to see corn ethanol play an bigger role.

“It’s certainly something we’ve been working on and looking towards,” he said. “We definitely as an organization, as farmers, see the ethanol being an important part.”

Devitt said it’s too soon to say exactly what effect the increased production could have on jobs within the region, but expects there will be positive spinoffs.

“Farmers in Ontario generally have a good crop rotation that includes corn, soybeans and wheat, especially in southern Ontario,” he said. “We wouldn’t expect a big change in that. But what we are seeing, and we’ve seen this over the last number of years, is that our ability to produce higher yields per acre have been going up.

“As a result of that, we’re able to produce more corn on about the same amount of land. … It’s nice to see a domestic market wanting to use our product in a good way.”