Thursday October 26, 2023

What’s the Best Use of Biofuels?

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Net-zero models increasingly suggest that biofuels — such as renewable natural gas, biodiesel, and ethanol — will play a significant role in a decarbonized future, yet we rarely stop to ask: what’s the best use of biofuels?  

On October 26, 2023, join international experts, brought together by The Transition Accelerator, to explore the best possible applications for biofuels and their role in a net-zero future. Panelists will explore the role of sustainable feedstocks, refining capacity, innovative technology and high-priority uses compatible with getting to net zero. Biofuel applications are burgeoning, but sustainable sources are limited. An immediate opportunity lies in reshaping the $3.5 trillion global aviation industry — register now to be part of the conversation. 

Webinar Summary

Webinar Highlights:

  • Sector after sector continues to look to biomass products as a viable decarbonization pathway, says Ita Kettleborough, Director at the UK-based Energy Transitions Commission (ETC). But don’t assume that increasing biofuels will lead us in the right direction, she warns. “There’s a very real risk that [biofuels] will not actually help reduce overall emissions, but will indirectly or directly increase them.”
  • Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are considered an optimal use of biofuels, according to energy experts. Canada has a unique opportunity to lead in their development, says Transition Accelerator Pathway Principal Bentley Allan, who was the lead author of the C-SAF Roadmap, a guide to decarbonizing aviation. The report identifies SAF as the only viable decarbonization pathway for long haul aviation, compared with other sectors which have multiple technology options.
  • Wendy Avis, Director of Climate and Environment at the Vancouver Airport Authority, thinks sustainable fuels alone won’t be enough to decarbonize the aviation industry. “Airports are increasingly starting to think of themselves not just as transportation hubs, but as energy hubs,” she says. That’s the work that we’re doing right now: what are all of the energy needs going to be for the airport, for tenants, for ground support, for aviation, for everything, and where are those potential supplies for biofuels, hydrogen, electricity, and how do we make best use for each of those energy sources?” 
  • Demand is pulling biofuels into sectors like road transport, which is not an optimal long-term use from a net-zero systems perspective, says Allan. In Canada, where production of renewable diesel is mandated by federal clean fuel regulations, biofuels are politically incentivized for use in road transport. “So biofuels are going, from a long term perspective, where you don’t need them because there are commercial or nearly-commercial solutions [already available for eliminating emissions] in those sectors.”
  • “You have to take a systems view. It’s only when you add up all of those different demands that you really realize we can’t use biofuels everywhere,” emphasized Kettleborough. “We want to be creating conditions for optimal biofuel use in the appropriate sector. Use of biofuels for cars and power were policy priorities for the climate community 20 years ago… But other technologies have evolved in the meantime that have overtaken them.” Kettleborough suggests looking at regulations and different kinds of implicit and explicit carbon pricing to make sure biofuels are applied in the most impactful ways.
  • The bottom line for advancing biofuel production? “A really important priority for biofuels is the non-biofuel alternatives,” says Kettleborough. “We have to have wind and solar racing ahead [to meet global decarbonization goals]. We need to look at developing the clean hydrogen economy, to use it where it makes sense. And we need that vital but limited role for CCUS, where alternatives aren’t available.” 


Bentley Allan, PhD

Transition Pathway Principal

Bentley Allan, PhD, is a Transition Pathway Principal at the Transition Accelerator, as well as an Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Allan is an award-winning scholar who has written on the dynamics of international order, science and politics, climate policy, and the political economy of decarbonization. He provides regular advice to government and industry on geopolitics, industrial strategy, and policy.

He has co-lead the development of three sector strategies and roadmaps in collaboration with industry partners. He is the co-coordinator of the Centre for Net-Zero Industrial Policy which advances research and action to strengthen and mobilize Canada’s expertise in modern industrial policy, enabling strategic collaboration between government, industry, indigenous communities, labor, and financial institutions in pursuit of good jobs and a competitive economy.



Ita Kettleborough

Director, Energy Transitions Commission

Ita is the Director of the ETC. She is responsible for managing the delivery of the ETC’s analytical workstreams, coordinating the international programmes, and supporting the ETC’s Commissioners and Representatives. 

The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) is a global coalition of leaders from across the energy landscape committed to achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century, in line with the Paris climate objective of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and ideally to 1.5°C. The ETC Secretariat is provided by SYSTEMIQ. 

Prior to this, Ita was a Manager at Bain & Company working with business executives to address strategic challenges at international organisations in the UK, Europe, and the USA. Ita worked across industrial, consumer products and heavy transport sectors, in addition to advising central government and not-for-profit clients. Ita worked as a policy advisor at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. As a core member of the team delivering the 2017 Industrial Strategy White Paper, Ita developed the UK’s ‘Grand Challenges,’ including the Clean Growth Challenge. This included brokering consensus across critical government, civil service and industry stakeholders. Ita holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies from Harvard University. 


Wendy Avis

Director of Climate and Environment, Vancouver Airport Authority

Wendy is the Director of Climate and Environment at the Vancouver Airport Authority where she is responsible for executing YVR’s Environmental Management Plan, Noise Management Plan and Roadmap to Net Zero by 2030 along with creating innovative new approaches to deliver on environmental targets. Wendy has 25 years’ experience in the sustainability field specializing in environmental management systems on issues from energy, waste and water management to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

With a BA in Environmental Studies from Brock University and a Masters in Geography from the University of British Columbia, Wendy has worked as a climate change specialist for Environment and Climate Change Canada and for BC Hydro, was the Manager of Environmental Sustainability for Vancouver Community College and worked on the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan.

She is the Chair of the Canadian Airports Council Environment Committee, a member of the ACI World Environment Standing Committee and the ACI North America Environment Committee. She also sits on the Board of the BC Chapter of Women in Aviation and the BC Aviation Council Climate Committee.



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