Scaling up bioeconomy to appeal to the masses

Tamar Atik
November 28, 2017
Written by
Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr addresses crowd at Scaling Up 2017 in Ottawa.
Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr addresses crowd at Scaling Up 2017 in Ottawa.
Nov. 28, 2017 – Making the global bioeconomy mainstream is the theme at this year’s Scaling Up conference being held in Ottawa.


“The world is talking about the transformation to a new bioeconomy… And Canada has every opportunity to lead,” Canada’s minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr told the audience on Tuesday.

Biomass is the only renewable resource that can substitute carbon for fossil fuels.

Canada has nine per cent of the world’s forests, more than 40 per cent of the world’s certified forests, and those forests are the world’s largest reserves of biomass, Carr said. “For Canada, the bioeconomy is here, it’s driving innovation.”

Global bioeconomy future

You can’t have a low-carbon future without a major contribution to bio-energy. That’s what Adam Brown, senior energy analyst, Renewable Energy Division, International Energy Agency (IEA) said in his presentation.

He said there is a need for policy support in order to get through the barriers.

Half of the world’s energy is used for heat production, one quarter for transportation and the other quarter for electricity.

People will flock to the bioeconomy vision if they see that it’s better than what they have now, said Ralph Torrie, president of Torrie Smith Associates.

He said there is a need to promote innovation and education, and a company may fail many times before it reaches a successful outcome in making the bioeconomy mainstream. “Go out there and fail, fail creatively,” he said.

Bio-technology today

David Mackett has led community development initiatives for Whitesand First Nation since 2009. That’s the year that the northern Ontario reserve’s Community Sustainability Initiative (CSI) began moving forward with the goal of eliminating the use of diesel within the community.

But Whitesand’s sustainability vision dates back to 1992. “The community took it on their own to say ‘We want to do something different,’” Mackett said. That first proposal for change was turned down but the community never gave up. “That’s our social capital on this project. Never give up, keep moving forward.”

Whitesand First Nation is located in northern Ontario near Thunder Bay. The reserve has a population of about 500 with a land base of 615 acres. 

David MackettMackett said there was little value going to the community. There was diesel-generated electricity, high-unemployment. “It’s similar to many First Nations across Canada,” he said. “I’m blunt about it, but we looked at how we could change this and we moved forward.”

The CSI is based on five pillars of sustainability: society, culture, capacity, economy and ecology.

“It’s really about improving the livelihoods of people,” Mackett said. “It’s not just an energy project, it’s a sustainability project.”

The community-owned project will be the first to replace primary use diesel generators.

As a result of the CSI, Whitesand’s “Bio-Economy Centre” is being built through a joint contribution of $3.76 million from the federal and provincial governments and will provide a wood yard, biomass power generation facility and a wood pellet facility. That will create approximately 136 jobs generating $4 million in wages.

It will also reduce and eliminate 140,000 litres of diesel. The diesel generators currently use about one million litres of diesel fuel every year.

This is Ontario’s first biomass project using Renewable Energy Approval – it’s a 20-year power purchase agreement.

Being conceived in the early ‘90s, the project took many years to come to fruition. “It’s very frustrating, and you can expect delays in projects like this in Ontario, but you just have to keep pushing,” Mackett said. “Whitesand took control of its own future. “We were told ‘You’re a First Nation… You’ll be a minor player in the project.’”

Mackett said there are 12 other First Nations that are also committed to moving off of diesel.

“You have to build a relationship first with the community,” he said. “When you look at a project like ours, carbon reduction translates to poverty reduction. And that’s the same message to First Nations across Canada that are on diesel.”

“People tend to shy away from the issues, and they don’t want to drill down deeper and find the solutions.”

Government role

It’s all about the interface between business and government. That’s what panel chair Velma McColl, managing principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, said.

The Ministry of Natural Resources just launched its $155-million Clean Growth Program on Nov. 22. It will fund clean technology projects with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving environmental performance in the natural resources sector.

Canada is also investing $21.9 billion over 11 years in green infrastructure.

Cam Carruthers, executive director of Oil, Gas and Alternative Energy at Environment and Climate Change Canada said he is focused on developing regulations on the Clean Fuel Standard.

He said the goal is to get the framework out before Christmas, after which more intensive rounds of conversations would take place with the federal and provincial governments and stakeholders.

“We want to make sure we promote innovation for 2050 not just 2030… We’re looking at all pathways to get us there,” Carruthers said. “There’s investment, but the rules of the game will be really important in determining the speed of the change.”

The panelists’ main advice? Don’t be shy to get in on the conversation because government bodies are willing to work together and are here to help the industry succeed.

In the end, it’s about how Canada will meet its target in time for the Paris Climate Agreement, McColl said.

Forestry role

There’s nothing like a softwood lumber dispute and a drop in the market to spur the move to innovation, Forest Products Association of Canada chief executive officer Derek Nighbor said.

The forest bioeconomy framework has four major components: communities and relationships, supply of forest resources and advanced bio-products, demand for advanced forest bio-products and services, and support for innovation.

forestry panelAssistant deputy minister of the Canadian Forest Service at Natural Resources Canada Glenn Mason said ultimately, it’s about preserving the communities and the jobs.

It’s about finding hybrid solutions and using wood for more commercial buildings, Mason said adding that a national bioeconomy strategy could be the next big thing that’s needed for the forest bioeconomy. “A healthy planet depends on healthy forests.”

Canada has more biomass per capita than any other country, and one of the central ideas here today is that the potential is great.

In Minister Carr’s words, “Together, let’s chart a path for a bio-future that is within our reach.”

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