by Vicky J. Sharpe, President and CEO, Sustainable Development Technology Canada
I often point to the forest products industry as a leading example of the potential of clean technology to create new opportunities and open up new revenue streams within established sectors. Here in Canada we have seen forest companies capitalize on cleantech to convert wood waste into energy for their plants, or to create value-added spin-off products that diversify their businesses.
The value proposition is powerful. By-products that were considered waste are being transformed into saleable chemicals, solvents and even consumer goods. Mills are cutting their energy costs and reducing their reliance on external sources of heat and power by re-using their own waste biomass, or reselling it as an additional source of revenue.
The benefits of cleantech multiply when one factors environmental impact into the mix. The forest sector generates roughly 66 megatons of carbon a year in residual or waste biomass. Nearly all of that—60 megatons—is considered available for energy generation or transformation into useful products. Conservative estimates suggest these biomass resources could generate 1.5 to 2.2 exajoules of energy per year, replacing 18 to 27 percent of the energy currently generated by fossil fuels in the country.
In other words, the potential for emission reduction and energy generation in the forest sector is immense. More importantly, it is being realized across the country.
Consider a technology that uses wood waste biomass to heat lime kilns in conventional pulp mills, allowing pulp and paper manufacturers to generate their own cleaner energy, cutting costs and emissions.
Another SDTC-funded technology turns forest sector waste into fuel-grade cellulosic ethanol, the use of which has potential to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Delivering higher yields at a lower cost, the company’s technology uses less fresh water and creates less waste than comparable corn-based fermentation processes for producing ethanol.
Finally, a third company is developing a proprietary system that transforms sawmill waste into biofuels and more than 30 valuable chemical products including food ingredients and resins. The conversion process takes place at high speeds and creates high yields, keeping costs low and value high.
These are just a few of the projects and technologies being developed for and adopted by forest sector companies with support from our team at Sustainable Development and Technology Canada (SDTC). Our mandate is to help Canadian companies bring innovative clean technologies to market, providing funding for development and demonstration, and connecting Canadian innovators with early-adopters and investors. Since 2001, we’ve provided $33.5 million in funding for companies operating in the forest products industry.
That support translates into a meaningful opportunity for the forest sector: the opportunity to transform forest operations. These projects, and others like them, provide a viable alternative for what would otherwise be considered waste. Mill operators can make even more of the wood they process. And Canadian companies can discover a new and eager clientele. It works for everyone.
Seizing the cleantech opportunity is good for the forest sector, and for the country as a whole. Clean technology represents a $1.1 trillion global market. Countries everywhere are looking for solutions that will allow them to re-use waste, generate economically viable renewable energy, and bring greater sustainability to existing industries.
The world is still looking for cleantech leaders. Canada has the opportunity to be one—especially in the forest products industry.
With an additional $325 million allocated to SDTC by the Government of Canada in its 2013 Budget, we are positioned to continue this support of Canadian cleantech companies as they develop, demonstrate and commercialize revolutionary new technologies. What we’re looking for today are industry partners, in the forest sector and in Canada’s other economic sectors, who have a need, and see the opportunity, to transform their business with the application of clean technology. Working together, we can drive the development of technologies tailor-made to the requirements of the sector, catalyzing innovation and the bottom-line benefits it brings.