The Ontario government is proposing to double the minimum amount of ethanol in gasoline, a step that would form one of the province's biggest moves toward hitting its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. 

The plan puts Ontario on track to become the first province to require fuel suppliers to put at least 10 per cent ethanol in regular gasoline, starting in 2020. The province's current minimum ethanol mandate is five per cent. 

The proposed changes would reduce carbon emissions by about two megatonnes per year. That's the equivalent of taking about 130,000 cars off the roads, according to Chris Ballard, minister of the Environment and Climate Change.  

"Increasing ethanol content in gasoline is a very significant step forward in helping us meet our targets," Ballard said Friday in an interview with CBC News. "We're trying to drive down what's coming out of people's tail pipes in terms of carbon content."  

Ontario's proposal would require the ethanol that is blended into fuel to be 35 per cent lower in net greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. 

Ethanol in Gasoline

Ontario is the first province to propose forcing fuel suppliers to put at least 10 per cent ethanol in regular gasoline. The new minimum would take effect in 2020. The current minimum ethanol content requirement is five per cent. (Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press)

Transportation produces about one-third of Ontario's carbon emissions, more than any other sector. 

"It's a really important move to make sure we're de-carbonizing our transportation sector," said Erin Flanagan, a director of policy for the Pembina Institute. "These kinds of policies make a lot of sense." 

"This is really going to help spur investment in our industry," said Jim Grey, chief executive of IGPC Ethanol Inc. and chair of Renewable Industries Canada, the national association of biofuel producers.  

"It is probably the most significant, and one of the quicker ways that the government can help move toward its target on GHG reductions," Grey said in a phone interview. 

The federal government is in the midst of creating a new cleaner fuel standard that could involve mandating an increase in the minimum required ethanol content nationally, currently set at five per cent. 

Ethanol

The Liberal government in Ontario mandated the five per cent minimum ethanol content rules in 2007. Since then, the government pumped some $500 million in public money into ethanol producers. An ethanol company is the biggest corporate donor to the Ontario Liberal Party in recent years, a CBC investigation found. (Jeffrey M. Smith/The Associated Press)

Canada's Ecofiscal Commission, an independent group of economic policy analysts, reported recently that while biofuels like ethanol have resulted in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, they have done so at a high cost to taxpayers and the economy.

The commission recommends governments phase out their ethanol content rules, rather than increase them as Ontario is doing. Their report argued that the quota gives an unfair advantage to ethanol producers and inhibits the development of other low-carbon technologies.  

"Decarbonizing the transportation sector will involve many different and competing technologies; the technologies that prove the most effective and economically viable should win the day," said the report.   

The Liberal government in Ontario mandated the five per cent minimum ethanol content rules in 2007. Since then, the government pumped some $500 million in public money into ethanol producers

An ethanol company was the biggest corporate donor to the Ontario Liberal Party in recent years, a CBC News investigation found in 2016. GreenField Specialty Alcohols Inc., its related companies and its founder donated more than $480,000 to the party since 2007, while receiving more than $160 million in public funding.

Ethanol

A motorist fills up with gasoline containing ethanol in Des Moines, Iowa. (Charlie Riedel/The Associated Press)

On Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that refiners must use 15 billion gallons of conventional renewable fuels (predominantly ethanol) next year, holding steady with the quota it set for 2017. There has been pressure on the Trump administration from oil-producing companies to reduce the renewable quota, while midwestern corn-producing states wanted to see an increase. 

Some critics have blamed rising ethanol demand for soaring food prices, but the scientific evidence is unclear.