The long-term solution
By Murray McLaughlin
March 29, 2016 - Biomass is the real long-term opportunity for Canada to build a global leadership position in the bioeconomy and the development of clean and sustainable technologies such as biomaterials, bio-based chemicals and biofuels. To see this as a reality we need to have good support for research and development and commercialization. Overall today, Canada has a good R&D system that may need some focus, but we are weak in supporting the commercialization of new technologies, particularly in areas such as biomass conversion.
By Murray McLaughlin
This has created completely new market opportunities for clean and sustainable technologies such as bio-based chemicals and biomaterials, which have benefits to climate change management and mitigate CO2 reduction, benefiting the cap-and-trade policies of the future.
The two primary existing industries that can benefit from biomass are agriculture and forestry with connectivity into plastics, chemicals, feed, materials and from those further downstream to automobiles, carpets, furniture, toys etc.
Managing the development of healthy biomass to maximize the benefits will be a significant challenge as crops are susceptible to threats from diseases, insects and weeds. Challenges can also be looked at as opportunities, and in this case, it is leading to a new industry in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and data collection and management. Between 2015 and 2025, the agricultural UAV market will generate $82 billion in economic activity (Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research Report). This development will provide producers with an unprecedented level of timely information leading to a more sustainable, reliable supply of quality biomass. The development also leads to new business opportunities in UAVs and data management and fits well with the biomass opportunities.
Biomass development, new technologies, and data are leading Canada into a leadership position in the bioeconomy. Combine that with a new focus on how clean and sustainable technologies are critical to helping Canada meet its climate change targets, and it puts agriculture and forestry front and centre as a key part of the solution.
Let’s put this in perspective with an example of a near-term market opportunity: the conversion of biomass (corn stover) in southern Ontario to sugars and lignin, where the sugars become the feedstock for bio-based chemicals. The technologies for such a sugar mill are available today; the only need is to develop the value chain from the farm to the mill to the sugar and create the off takes for that sugar. To deal with the value chain – from the farm to the mill – a group of farmers have formed the Cellulosic Sugar Producers Cooperative (CSPC). It may sound easy, but financing and a good, sound science-based regulatory process are also critical factors in getting to market as a leader.
Even though we can point to examples, we need to recognize that we are just beginning and that the bioeconomy will be a global phenomena, hence we need to be thinking about global partners (like-minded countries and industries) to create growth and to access the best technologies. At Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) we are already linking with groups in The Netherlands, Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, Germany, Argentina and the U.S. to exchange information, research and business ideas, and market opportunities.
This is a true Canadian opportunity for rural Canada, for job creation and for Canada to step up and show global leader-ship in the bioeconomy and climate change management.