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Renewable Diesel ‘Won’t Make a Dent’ in Imperial’s Petroleum Output

Alberta fossil and petrochemical company Imperial Oil plans to adapt to Canada’s forthcoming Clean Fuel Standard regulations by building the country’s largest renewable diesel facility—but has no plans to cut back its petroleum diesel production, and may not be factoring methane emissions associated with “blue” hydrogen into its decarbonization claims.

“The plan comes as oil companies ramp up their emissions reduction goals, responding to investor, policy, and social pressure to meet climate goals,” writes The Globe and Mail.

The facility will process raw vegetable oil by adding hydrogen to convert it to fuel that can work in any diesel engine. Renewable diesel is different from biodiesel, which is converted from used cooking and other oils. 

The new Canadian regulations will require fuel suppliers “to reduce the life cycle carbon intensity of the fossil fuels they supply,” reports the Globe. The Imperial facility could help reduce emissions from Canada’s transportation sector by about three million tonnes d a year, according to the company.

While Imperial Vice President Jon Wetmore “expects the new standards will shift diesel use in Canada from traditional to renewable,” says the Globe, the shift “likely won’t make a dent in Imperial’s fossil fuel diesel production.” The company intends to sell any petroleum diesel not consumed in Canada in countries with less stringent emissions regulations.

“You can ship diesel on vessels going down to Mexico or Latin America and beyond,” said Wetmore. “We want to continue to run our fossil fuel facilities as full as we can.”

The renewable diesel will be made using blue hydrogen and is expected to lower emissions by 4.2% compared to petroleum diesel. Imperial will source both the oil and the hydrogen from third parties, and while the plant oils will come from Canadian crops, the company will coordinate with suppliers to avoid creating shortages in the food supply chain.

There’s been no indication that Imperial plans to factor methane releases associated with its blue hydrogen into the overall emissions profile of its new initiative. Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it’s 80 to 86 times more potent a warming agent over the 20-year span in which humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control.

The go/no-go decision for the facility is expected by mid-2022 and will hinge on government support, market conditions, and confirming final feedstock suppliers. If Imperial goes forward with the facility, diesel production is expected to begin in 2024. The company is already in touch with provincial governments to discuss carbon credit legislation, and has finalized an agreement with British Columbia.

Meanwhile, U.S.-based colossal fossil Chevron intends to reduce emissions by converting methane from cow manure into renewable natural gas, reports BNN Bloomberg.

“The technology for capturing methane from farms, landfills, and other sites has been around for years, and is starting to gain traction as cities and businesses look for ways to curb emissions,” BNN writes.