France, Canada to cooperate on use of seaweed for biofuel

Memorandum is an attempt to change EU concerns over Canada's environmental record.

March 14, 2013
by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – France and Canada will sign a joint declaration on a research co-operation initiative that will focus on creating biofuels from seaweed.

The announcement builds on last year’s breakthrough in biofuel technology when scientists found a way to use seaweed as an alternative fuel source.

That discovery helped alleviate the controversy around using corn to create ethanol, because critics questioned the use of food as an energy source.

The co-operation deal is also important for the Harper government because Alberta oilsands crude faces the prospect of being labelled as “dirty oil” by a European Union committee.

The EU’s proposed new Fuel Quality Directive would assign greenhouse gas emission values to different sources of fuel, sparking Canadian concern that oilsands crude would be unfairly categorized.

Though separate from the ongoing and unresolved Canada-EU free trade negotiations, the issue has been a major irritant between Canada and a continent that views it as a laggard on the environment.

Harper and Ayrault will preside over the signing of an agreement between Canada’s National Research Council and France’s Commission on Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies on using seaweed as an alternative fuel source.

The memorandum will be an attempt to change the channel on the unfavourable narrative unfolding in Europe about Canada’s environmental record and the level of greenhouse gases being produced in Alberta’s oilsands.

The debate over the Fuel Quality Directive has forced Canada to lobby heavily in European capitals against being given an unfavourable designation.

Canada sells very little, if any, oil to Europe, but the industry fears a “dirty oil” label could set a dangerous precedent.

Such a designation could also have major implications for Canadian industry, which is expecting a US decision on the Keystone XL pipeline that would link northern Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.

If the directive is approved, it will go on to the full European parliament, where it will either be vetoed or passed into law.

A decision on the directive was expected sometime in early 2013, but has yet to occur.

During a speech at a dinner for Ayrault on Wednesday night, Harper noted that France has interests in Alberta’s oil fields.

“Recent numbers put trade between Canada and France at close to $9 billion dollars annually,” Harper said. “French companies combined have more than $15 billion dollars invested in Canada including a significant presence in the Alberta oil sands.”

Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver will meet with Delphine Batho, France’s minister for the ecology and sustainable development, sources say.

Harper and Ayrault met privately on Wednesday, where the two would discuss the ongoing Canada-EU free trade negotiations “and some of the economic challenges we have” and “peace and security issues.”