That is the philosophy behind cluster development and something that Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) is doing to support an emerging bio-hybrid chemicals cluster in southern Ontario. BIC is a not-for-profit organization that began in 2008 as a business accelerator for sustainable chemistry. One of the early initiatives at BIC was to evaluate technologies to convert biomass (corn stover and wheat straw) into sugars for producing energy and value-added chemicals for commercial and biofuel industries. Since then, the Sarnia-Lambton-based business accelerator centre’s goal has been to make the province and Canada become globally recognized leaders in the field of sustainable technologies.
“Canada’s agricultural and forest-based residues offer an abundant source of sustainable feedstock to support a bio-economy, allowing our nation to create a sustainable hybrid chemistry cluster,” says Sandy Marshall, Executive Director BIC. “BIC is taking a lead role in developing this cluster.”
With a $12-million contribution from FedDev Ontario through the Investing in Regional Diversification initiative, and with additional support from the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, BIC established the Centre for Commercialization of Sustainable Chemistry Innovation (COMM SCI) initiative program. COMM SCI acts as a hub for the commercialization of sustainable chemistry and bio-based innovation, providing businesses with the help they need to develop and bring new products to market faster.
“Through these efforts, we are accelerating the growth of the Sarnia-Lambton Hybrid Chemistry Cluster,” says Marshall. “Our partners are taking sustainable feedstocks, such as agricultural and forestry products and wastes, and turning these renewable resources into value-added products for use in applications ranging from construction to automotive parts.”
One of BIC’s key roles is to champion cluster and value chain development, which it does by offering business advice, technical services and critical strategic capital investment to participating small- and medium-sized enterprises. BIC’s partners include the Western Sarnia–Lambton Research Park, Lambton College and regional professional service organizations that have committed to coming together to provide assets and services supporting the successful commercialization of start-up companies with clean, green and sustainable chemistry technologies.
Through FedDev Ontario’s support, BIC has provided various levels of critical investment advice and services to 36 companies, which has created or retained 160 direct jobs during the last two years. With this backing, companies have successfully commercialized eight technologies while creating more than 10 new patents, prototypes and licences. BIC, along with its regional partners, has enhanced competitiveness and built workforce capacity by enhancing the knowledge and skills of over 40 highly qualified personnel. BIC has invested more than $3 million in seven companies who have leveraged an additional $57 million from other capital sources.
Burlington-based EcoSynthetix Corporation is one of the early-stage companies that directly benefitted from BIC’s investment. The renewable chemicals company specializes in the transformation of bio-based materials into higher value-added bioproducts. These bioproducts cost-effectively displace synthetic chemistries in several end-use markets, such as coated paper applications and engineered wood panel products. EcoSynthetix Corp. is now able to deliver these bio-based products to customers in a variety of industries.
Recognized by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce as one of Canada’s top resource champions, BIC is a key contributor to southern Ontario’s transition towards a low carbon economy. Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley also lauds BIC’s role in contributing to the region’s bio-hub. “It’s amazing to see how our work in this cluster is improving the environment and the health of Canadian families,” he says.
Sustainable chemistry is crucial in the development of solutions to the impacts of climate change, peak oil, energy security, the need for safe water and the use of scarce natural resources. And with the increasing global demand for green and safer products, BIC’s efforts to build momentum are more important than ever.