Canadian Biomass Magazine

Any renewable energy solution requires extracting the full value of biomass

September 22, 2017
By A.J. (Sandy) Marshall Bioindustrial Innovation Canada

Sept. 22, 2017 - Canada’s forestry and agriculture offer an abundant source of biomass supporting our nation to become a global leader in the burgeoning bioeconomy. This biomass can be transformed into a myriad of useful products such as biomaterials, biochemicals, biofuels, renewable natural gas, and bioenergy that can provide alternatives to the traditional petrochemical products.

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For years, the petrochemical industry contributed to significant global growth and, in turn, an expansion of the chemistry industry. However, the industry grew based on its ability to provide society the products it desired at very low cost. The petrochemical industry achieved these significant advancements by ensuring that there was maximum value extraction from their raw materials, particularly crude oil. Petrochemical companies produced chemicals and fuels. Chemicals were further transformed into polymers and materials to maximize value. Energy production was important as it allowed the companies to extract value from the least valuable residual products from the barrel of oil.

Responding to climate change
Today, climate change concerns are demanding an ever-increasing management of greenhouse gases. As a result, society is establishing a pricing on carbon through cap and trade and carbon taxation mechanisms. This shift is driving our transformation to an industrial bioeconomy resulting in an immense global opportunity for the 21st century.

Building the bioeconomy
However, to accelerate the industrial bioeconomy, it is critical that we follow the strategy of maximum value extraction from the biomass. Maximizing the production of biomaterials (such as wood products, cellulose, fibre, and lignin), biochemical, and biofuels will maximize the value extraction from the biomass. Production of bioenergy is important to the bioeconomy as it allows industry to extract value from the residual products remaining.

Building hybrid chemistry clusters and biorefineries are important strategies to maximize value extraction from the various sources of biomass. With the support of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC), Sarnia-Lambton has established its Hybrid Chemistry Cluster and has become a hub for the biochemicals and biofuels industry. Sarnia is known for playing to its strengths and is characterized as a leader in the bioeconomy. BIC is now assessing the potential to generate renewable natural gas and bioenergy from the biomass residuals which will enhance the region’s competitiveness.

Biomass and power generation
In a similar way, the forestry industry is building biorefineries where wood products, cellulose, and fibre are produced. Residual biomass is burned directly on site or can be pelletized for power generation. Ontario operates a biomass power generating station which uses wood pellets. However, today most wood pellets are exported for consumption in Europe where electricity and energy costs are significantly higher than in North America.

In summary, extracting the maximum value from raw materials is critical to establishing strong and robust companies within these chemistry value chains. Bioenergy is an important element of this value chain as it allows value to be extracted from the residual biomass.

A.J. (Sandy) Marshall is the executive director at Bioindustrial Innovation Canada. 

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