Canada’s bioeconomy needs direction
By Maria Church
Oct. 3, 2016 - The U.S. Department of Energy has a mission when it comes to biomass: to foster, by 2040, the production of “at least one billion dry tons of biomass resources on an annual basis without adversely affecting the environment.”
It’s a weighty goal (pardon the pun). And in July, the department released its third instalment of the Billion-Ton Report, which, since the first version was released in 2005, has been studying the potential supply of biomass in the United States.
Tied into the report, earlier this year the U.S. government unveiled its Billion Ton Bioeconomy Vision. The document is a single, co-ordinated multidepartment vision for developing a plan to use biomass to increase economic activity in the country. As with most government documents, it’s wordy and full of jargon, but it’s still a strategy.
Here in Canada, clean energy will soon be in the spotlight with the federal government expected to unveil its national climate plan by the end of the year. While biomass will undoubtedly be mentioned in the plan, there is no indication that the plan will include or be followed by a federal vision for the bioeconomy. Instead, strategies are forming province by province (territory by territory). Yukon is the latest to map out its bioeconomy plan, unveiling its biomass energy strategy in February. In Northern Ontario, the Ontario Union of Indians and the Biomass Innovation Centre are forging ahead with their own Northern Ontario Biomass Strategy.
BioEnergy 2.0 – a not-for-profit in B.C. dedicated to the growth of bioenergy industries – pointed out Canada’s lack of federal direction for the biomass industry in its May 10, 2016 submission: BioEnergy Vision for Canada.
Referring to the U.S. Billion Ton Bioeconomy Vision, the organization says it would like to see Canada initiate a Mega Tons Biomass Vision. This vision would be overseen by the Prime Minister, and would develop a strategy encompassing agriculture, municipal and forestry biomass streams, and all federal ministries and agencies. The vision would build on existing science and technology developments in the country and abroad, make the most of limited federal funds for biomass initiatives and cultivate collaboration with post secondary institutions, among many other things (find the full submission at www.bioenergy2-0.org).
It seems like a good plan. And given the worrisome effect of low oil prices on the bioenergy industry, specifically pellets, a plan is needed.
In November, the City of Ottawa will host the first Scaling Up Conference – a meeting of industry, political and environmental stakeholders to discuss the bioeconomy in Canada. One of the goals of the conference is to understand the role of government.
Perhaps national conferences such as this one are one way that industry can give government the nudge it needs to formally plan for Canada’s bioeconomy.