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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Soil and Agriculture > Resource Development > Future Directions > Alternative Fuels

Resource Inventory

Alternative Fuels

Multiphase FlowmeterAlberta is rich with energy resources in the form of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal). Unfortunately, when fossil fuels burn, they release emissions containing greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases, measured in carbon dioxide equivalents, build up in the atmosphere and can affect climate and weather patterns. Global climate change, sometimes called global warming, is considered to be a widespread effect of greenhouse gases.

One method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to find cleaner burning fuels. Coupled with this burden is also the realization that Alberta will eventually run out of fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource, at some point in the future. Alternative fuels produced from renewable resources, such as cereal grains, oilseeds and forages, can be more sustainable and burn cleaner than fossil fuels.

Ethanol is an example of a clean-burning fuel that can be produced from the fermentation of cereal grains (wheat and barley). Compared with other alternative fuels, ethanol performs well but has high production costs. As a result, ethanol will most likely be used as a fuel additive to improve the performance characteristics of gasoline. Gasoline containing ethanol burns cleaner and releases less harmful exhaust gas emissions. A by-product of ethanol production from grains is a high-protein livestock feed ingredient.

Biodiesel is another alternative fuel. Burning biodiesel in diesel motors sharply reduces emissions, including particulates. Biodiesel is made from renewable resources, such as soybean, canola or other oilseed and vegetable oil sources, through a simple refining process.

The current key biodiesel markets are mass transit, marine vessels and other environmentally sensitive areas, such as mines. Biodiesel's potential in these markets is still under investigation. However, over 100 cities around the world have run demonstrations or test projects using biodiesel, involving more than 1,000 buses and several million kilometres of travel. France is currently the world's largest producer of biodiesel, using it as heating oil and also in 50-percent blends with petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is undergoing extensive testing in Canada and the United States. Currently, there are no biodiesel production plants planned for Alberta.

Department of the Environment. State of the Environment Report, Terrestrial Ecosystems. Edmonton: n.p., 2001. With permission from Alberta Environment.

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