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MTA wins round in biodiesel battle


WINNIPEG, Man.A government listens to the people? Since when?

Since 2015, apparently, if you live in Manitoba and represent the province’s trucking industry. That’s according to Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, who told Truck West recently that after the Manitoba government decided to up the biodiesel mandate above the national figure, his organization fought back and, at least so far, appears to have caused the politicians to back down.

“Currently in Manitoba,” Shaw said, “the mandate for biodiesel is a 2% limit, which coincidentally is also the federal mandate.”

The MTA’s concern came when the province said it would raise the biodiesel mandate to 5% in an effort to mitigate greenhouse gases, which Shaw said would mean that “at point of sale we’re getting 10 or 12% (biodiesel) during the summer months and 0% during the winter months and that obviously does nobody any good.”

So the MTA made its case to the province’s NDP government, with results that appear generally positive. “Manitoba to their credit had heard our concerns in regards to biodiesel,” Shaw said, “and their suggestion was that for the next 3%, to achieve the 5% limit, they were going to go with something called biodiesel two, which is also known as renewable diesel or HDRD (hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel).”

The reason for changing from the currently-used biodiesel one, Shaw said, was that “biodiesel one has significantly different properties than diesel fuel, which is causing the problems with our engines.”

On the other hand, Shaw said biodiesel two, the HDRD renewable diesel, is more chemically similar to diesel, so the prevailing thought is that it shouldn’t cause the problems that the FAME-based biodiesel does. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though.

“The concern we have with the HDRD biodiesel that it’s only produced in one location in North America – Louisiana – and as we understand it 100% of the sales of that product are already earmarked for US distribution and as such, the HDRD that we would be getting in Manitoba would be coming from Singapore or the Netherlands, so there’s some real supply chain considerations.”

The MTA also questioned the environmental benefits of “kind of clear-cutting palm forests in Singapore to turn it into biodiesel so you can ship it halfway across the globe and mix it into fuel tanks here in Manitoba.”

Shaw also noted that, because biodiesel two is a supposedly a “better product,” it’s also about 40 cents a litre more expensive than regular diesel, “so even at a 3% injection, 3% of 800 million litres is like a $13 million a year touch to our industry.”

That argument was “Point A” of the MTA’s two-pronged response to the threatened increase in the biodiesel mandate. Point B was that, “We for many years have been working with the government on regulation and other tools that will help us reduce our greenhouse gas footprint,” Shaw said. “We recognize the impact we have on the environment. We use the equipment we do because it is the best equipment available to meet the needs of our industry and our national economy right now, and we shouldn’t be penalized for that.”

Shaw stressed that today’s fossil fuel-consuming vehicles are the most efficient and effective ones the trucking industry can use, though he also admitted that they do have some associated impact in regards to greenhouse gases. His suggestion? “Instead of penalizing us by forcing us under the banner of greenhouse gases to use products or equipment that doesn’t meet our needs, (the province should) work with us on tools that we have readily available, so we can implement those quickly, in greater numbers. And by that I mean changing regulation.”

Shaw was quick to note that the Manitoba government has already listened to the industry, changing the rules around the use of the wide-base tires that can increase fuel economy significantly, but he added that’s it’s only one step toward a greener trucking industry in the province.

“What we also did was to tell them that there’s a whole host of other products – APUs, aerodynamics, boat tails, fairings, tire inflation systems, all that good stuff – that industry wants to use, but maybe doesn’t have the information it needs in order to make an informed decision and maybe doesn’t have the capital to purchase.”

To help make its case, Shaw said, the MTA partnered with Manitoba’s Buller Centre for Business to come up with an alternative to biodiesel: what they ended up calling the GrEEEner Trucking Fuel Efficiency Initiative.

“For many years we’ve been active participants in something called the Tomorrow Now discussions,” Shaw said. “It’s basically the province of Manitoba’s green discussions, recognizing the impact we have and, more importantly, recognizing the opportunity our industry has.”

He said the MTA connected with the Buller Centre at those meetings and since then has “partnered on a host of papers and other projects that we have gone to the government on together and showed them there is an independent third party who’s also in agreement with us.”

That “unbiased agreement” seems to have helped sway the bureaucrats, though Shaw noted it’s a shame that, while his organization has been advocating for many years, “until we kind of got that independent third party involved we hadn’t really received much attention. We haven’t changed our messaging at all but I guess maybe there might have been a perception that if the trucking guys are asking for it, then it can’t be good.”

Shaw said the partnership with the Buller Centre has produced “a lot of real significant wins for the province – our industry specifically, but for the province too in regards to some of these environmental initiatives. And because of the work the MTA did in communicating the concerns (about upping the mandate) and more importantly in communicating the better alternative, to their credit the Manitoba government listened.”

Politicians, of course, are known for paying lip service and then going off and doing what they want anyway, but Shaw doesn’t think that’s going to be the case here.

“I genuinely believe they’re very interested, absolutely,” he said, adding that “they heard our presentation on the GrEEEner trucking fuel efficiency initiative and they said it passed the smell test. So let’s hammer out the details on how we can proceed.”

He said those discussions are ongoing and that, so far, it’s been very positive.

“I’m very confident, based on the reception we received from the province, that (it) will be a go,” he said. Shaw also admitted, however, that they haven’t received any formal word from the province – which is still reviewing the GrEEEner initiative – but said “informally, they said it makes some sense…and we expect to be proceeding at some point in the future, in partnership with the province, on working towards (the GrEEEner trucking fuel efficiency initiative) here in Manitoba.” 

Shaw would like to see the current federal mandate for biodiesel removed as well, saying it’s definitely hurting the industry. He doesn’t appear to be wearing rose-coloured glasses about it actually happening, though.

“As much as we would love to see it removed, I don’t think that’s a practical reality, so we’re focusing on (convincing the province to not) raise the biodiesel mandate and hoping they will partner with us on our alternative program.”

He noted the MTA is actually supportive of alternative fuels, saying “We’ve got members who are dabbling with natural gas and other considerations, but the problem we have with biodiesel is that in its current form it doesn’t meet our needs.”

The MTA’s official stance on biodiesel is that it has to cost the same as, or less than, diesel, provide energy equal to or greater than that of diesel, produce tangible environment benefits compared to diesel, meet Canadian standards, be acceptable to the engine OEMs and not impact the equipment negatively. “Biodiesel one doesn’t tick any of those boxes,” Shaw said.

On the other hand, while he believes biodiesel two won’t hurt the engines and could produce tangible environmental benefits, the fact that it costs a lot more than diesel is a deal-breaker.

“We’re not talking a couple of pennies different, he said. “We’re talking 40% difference or more and, while it’s got greater energy than biodiesel one, there’s still about 6% less energy content than traditional diesel. So (when you add all that up), we’re looking at $13- or $14-million in additional cost to industry, at a time when the alternative – the GrEEEner trucking fuel efficiency initiative – is going to only cost industry a couple of million dollars annually and helps us reduce our fuel consumption, which means reduced fuel costs.”

Shaw said the GrEEEner initiative will be better both environmentally and economically as well as costing less to implement, calling it “a real win-win-win situation.” 

He said that’s the main reason why, when the MTA eventually got the province to the table, “they kind of recognized that and said they have to give it some really serious consideration.”

The message from Manitoba right now, then, is “Stay tuned.”


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