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Growing Ontario’s Bioeconomy

After four years of providing funding to help grow the bioeconomy in Canada, the Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-economy is nearing the end of its current mandate.


November 29, 2012
By Andrew Macklin

After four years of providing funding to help grow the bioeconomy in Canada, the Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-economy is nearing the end of its current mandate. Established during the province’s 2008 budget under the Ministry of Research and Innovation, the centre’s $25-million grant was given to help support projects in the province that helped establish a strong bioeconomy.

CRIBE1  
The Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-economy is nearing the end of its current mandate.


 

“We are very pleased with what we have accomplished since the beginning of our mandate in 2009,” said Lorne Morrow, chief executive officer for CRIBE. “Northwestern Ontario is becoming a national centre for driving the bioeconomy forward.”

Based at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, CRIBE has been a driving force for a large number of bioeconomy projects in Ontario. Offering up to 50% of the project cost for viable project submissions, CRIBE has provided endless opportunities for the development of value-added wood products.

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The Domtar/Battelle project is the largest venture supported by funding from CRIBE. Up to $6 million has been provided to assist in the project, which looks to convert waste wood into fuel. For Battelle, the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization, this is its first collaboration with a Canadian bioenergy company.

“Having Battelle involved in this project was a major factor for providing the investment in this project,” said Morrow. “Battelle is an international leader in applied science and they provide a great amount of expertise that is invaluable to the project.”

The Domtar/Battelle project will use fast pyrolysis to produce biogas and bio-oil from waste wood. Fast pyrolysis is the rapid thermal decomposition of organic compounds in the absence of oxygen, which can then produce compounds that can be used for biogas and bio-oil. The grant from CRIBE is helping to start the production, optimize the process and refine the material in order to create a high-quality end product. The pilot plant, which is being built at Domtar’s Dryden, Ont., facility, is expected to carry a capacity of 100 tonnes/day.

At Resolute Forest Products in Thunder Bay, the development of a world-class lignin lab and demonstration plant has been created in a partnership with CRIBE, RFP, FPInnovations and Natural Resources Canada. The funding for the project includes an $850,000 grant from CRIBE, $500,000 from NRCan and facilities provided by RFP. FPInnovations staff are involved in the operation of the laboratory facilities, and provided the scientific testing of the materials.

The FPInnovations Lignin Pilot Plant is the only facility of its kind in North America. Companies from around the world have the ability to have lignin, extracted from black liquor, tested, characterized and evaluated. In tandem with the lignin pilot plant, which will produce 100 kilograms per day of lignin from black liquor, researchers will be able to determine the qualities of lignin resulting from different wood species. That information will help FPInnovations create an understanding of the best use for lignin from an individual wood product. That understanding could prove to be invaluable in the future development of the value-added wood product industry in Canada. Both the lab and pilot plant are currently operational, and RFP is in the process of seeking buyers for the lignin being produced.

In Cambridge, Ont., an investment of $180,380 by CRIBE is helping Thesis Chemicals find ways to use lignin in the development of pharmaceutical and agricultural products. With approximately 95% of today’s chemicals being developed from petroleum, there is an inherent value in finding renewable sources for creating medicines and medical treatment applications.

“Thesis is a leader in the development of green technologies for chemical manufacturing that are from sustainable resources,” said Morrow. “This grant will further expand our understanding of what lignin can provide in the creation of green technology.”

Southern Ontario is also home to one of CRIBE’s most significant investments, $3 million in funding to a partnership involving Lakehead University’s Biorefining Research Initiative and G2 Biochem in Chatham. The original grant was given for G2 Biochem, a collaborative partnership that included international partners Novozymes and Andritz, for support in the development and design of biorefining processes. By using poplar, G2 Biochem’s plan is to develop a system for the recovery of lignin, hemicellulose, and bark extracts. That project has since been adapted, and G2 Biochem is now developing a pretreatment stage for the front end of its existing pilot plant.

“The scope change had little effect on the CRIBE project since most of our studies were being done on the existing pilot plant,” said Morrow.

As for Lakehead University, its involvement will be to use its lab facilities to develop value-added wood products from the extracted elements. That is expected to include bioproducts such as biochemicals, adhesives and biopharmaceuticals. As well, the partnership will give Lakehead students access to G2 Biochem’s facilities, as results from the joint studies will be used by CRIBE for further value-added wood products business promotion throughout northern Ontario.

The legacy of CRIBE’s presence at Confederation College has been cemented with the creation of a biomass testing facility being constructed at the campus.

The Bio-Energy Learning and Research Centre will include a demonstration space, a fuel testing lab, and a 150-kilowatt boiler for the study and research of associated emissions monitoring equipment. The new centre will provide a training ground for students looking to get involved in northern Ontario’s emerging bio-economy. The centre will also provide biomass and biofuel producers in the Thunder Bay region with a testing facility for chemical compounds and pellet production. That includes people like Ed Fukishima of Atikokan Renewable Fuels, who received a grant of $70, 839 for the testing and production of natural additives for making better wood pellets. While that project is currently being done in concert with Lakehead University, the Atikokan project will be able to benefit from the facility at Confederation.

“Companies like Atikokan Renewable Fuels will strongly benefit from the facilities at Confederation College,” said Morrow. “It will allow people like Ed (Fukishima) to test their pellet formulas in a boiler facility, have the pellet analyzed and retrieve data that can help to improve his production.”

With several of CRIBE’s investments just starting to provide positive results for the growing bioeconomy in northern Ontario, it remains to be seen if the Ontario government will provide another investment in the organization to continue to move initiatives forward. Unofficially, CRIBE’s mandate has been extended to March 31, 2015, but additional funding for the program has yet to be announced.


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