Don’t miss the bioeconomy opportunity, Canada

 Jeff Passmore, CEO, Passmore Group Inc.
November 22, 2016
Written by Jeff Passmore, CEO, Passmore Group Inc.
Nov. 24, 2016 - Imagine a future world where our grandchildren will be purchasing all their paints, plastics, energy, and personal care products without ever knowing that once upon a time, these items were not derived from biomass.

For as the OECD has said in its Bioeconomy 2030 report, by the 2025 – 2030 period, the bioeconomy will have reached “an estimated world market of between USD 2.6 and 5.8 trillion.”

But transitioning to the bioeconomy will not just happen. And while Europe, the U.S. and more recently China, are aggressively pursuing this new industrial revolution, Canada, if we want to stay competitive with our trading partners, needs to get a coherent, 20 year bioeconomy effort launched.

Indeed, according to the communique issued following the first Global Bioeconomy Summit in November 2015 in Berlin “more than 40 countries are actively promoting bioeconomy with a view to meeting the grand societal challenges of sustainable development.”

This is the opportunity that now presents itself to Canada – an opportunity that, as part of achieving our low carbon agenda, the Trudeau government should consider getting up to speed on. Why low carbon? Because most consumer products we use today could be made from carbohydrates (biomass) instead of from fossil hydro carbons.

Forest/wood residue, agriculture residues such as straw, and dedicated crops and grasses can be sources of this ‘biomass.’ Products from these materials include paper, packaging, engineered wood products, wood pellets, biofuels, insulation, and most recently biochemical and biomaterials including paints, solvents, lubricants, plasticizers, cosmetics, textiles, inks, diapers, fragrances, fertilizers, composites – the list goes on.

And whether we’re talking farm or forest, or even marine, Canada is well endowed. Canada has 10 per cent of the world’s forests – over 700 million acres – and 160 million acres of farmland. Seventy percent of that farmland is in Saskatchewan and Alberta. What an opportunity to create new jobs and renew prairie agriculture!

In February of this year, the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture released their “Federal Activities Report on the Bioeconomy.” This report outlines a vision for the U.S. bioeconomy including “sustainably expanding the production of biomass-based fuels, power and products.”

According to this report, “expanding the bioeconomy in a sustainable manner will increase energy diversity and long term security, (and) provide additional economic, environmental and social benefits such as reduced GHGs, job growth, and responsible management of diverse sources of biomass and waste materials. (It) will result in a greener, stronger nation with diverse, new economic sectors that enhance U.S. competitiveness.”

Part of this initiative includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) BioPreferred Program. To make it easier for consumers to purchase biobased products, USDA has created a “Certified Biobased Product” label, which assures consumers that the product to be purchased contains a verified amount of renewable biobased material. There is even a Bio-preferred catalogue to help you find the products you’re looking for!

We know how to reduce GHGs in electricity (wind, solar, hydro cogeneration) and transportation (biofuels, and more long term, electric vehicles). And these clean technologies must continue to thrive.

But what about the millions of plastic bottles, gallons of paint, thousands of diapers, and even tubes of lipstick consumed daily? Biomaterials can provide the answer. The only question is whether Canada will be part of the “value ad” solution, or simply import products and materials that others have manufactured.

The bio sector is up against well connected, established, incumbent industries. To flourish, as the Global Bioeconomy Summit stated, “governments are responsible for creating an enabling environment for biobased industries.”

New economic opportunities like these don’t come along every decade. If Canada hopes to be more than an importer of the rest of the world’s technology, we need to get started.

With properly focused policy initiatives, our grandchildren will be pulling biobased products off the shelves without even thinking about it.

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