During a discussion arranged and moderated by Opportunities NB on the transition towards biofuels, Irving Oil President Ian Whitcomb said he believes shorter, harder targets will be more effective than long-range ambitions when it comes to achieving environmental change.

The Opportunities NB discussion was part of the International Economic Forum of the Americas. Entitled A Conscientious Transition Towards Biofuels, the discussion featured Whitcomb and two energy analysts: Peter Green, deputy director of science and technology at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Adel El Gamal, secretary general of the European Energy Research Alliance.

While there were discussions about the many different technologies that are in play and will come into play in the future, including biofuels, Whitcomb said the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 is a distant timeline. He said businesses prefer “manageable bites” and shorter time horizons.

“Unless we have a target in the next five year window and we actually work really hard to achieve it as a society, a target beyond that is just talk,” Whitcomb said. “Our company is in favour of an ambition for 2050 but a target for a shorter period of time where you can actually hook in organizations, governments and industry to achieve the goals that were set.”

El Gamal said the world needs a disruption of the same magnitude as the Covid-19 pandemic every year for the next 30 years to achieve meaningful emission reduction goals. He said the transformation will fundamentally require international collaboration.

Whitcomb said that to achieve carbon neutrality, the world has to start moving today and can’t wait for possible new technologies down the road. “We cannot wait for a silver bullet,” he said.

“Business and consumers must start now by implementing the technologies that exist today because if we don’t make that seven per cent improvement in year one, two or three, by the time we get to year 10 it’s a monumental task. In our businesses, we are significantly investing in EV charging stations, solar canopies and also in the electrification of many of our core processes in our business. To repeat, we need to start with the technologies that exist today and are economically feasible today.”

He noted that biofuels have been around for a long time and there is promise in use of blended products. He said the technology has advanced and at the Irving refinery in Ireland, for example, there is co-processing of bio feed stocks with traditional refinery feed stocks. That allows the molecules to be commingled.

“If Ireland’s motor diesel was replaced with 100 per cent biofuels they could achieve one third of their 51 per cent planned reduction in co2 emissions by 2030,” Whitcomb said.