by Catherine Cobden, Executive Vice-President, FPAC

As we enter 2015, there is little doubt that you will be hearing more and more about the bio-economy.  Broadly speaking it refers to the conversion of renewable resources into food, bio-based products and bioenergy via innovative technologies.  The potential is vast, in the hundreds of billions of dollars economically and a way to green our environment by replacing products with a heavier carbon footprint.

In December, Canada held its first bio-economy conference in Toronto which attracted representatives from the energy, agriculture, forest, automotive, and chemical sectors as well as technology suppliers and government decision-makers from both the federal and provincial level.  


Catherine Cobden, Executive Vice-President, FPAC, at the Canadian Bio-economy Conference

The conference covered a broad range of topics from global trends and advancements in biofuels to new innovations in bio-chemicals.   Much of the conference focused on projects using agricultural raw materials. 

However I was pleased to moderate a panel profiling the bio-economy potential of the Canadian forest industry using residual wood fibre as the raw material.
As part of its Vision2020, the forest industry is on a mission to extract more value from the Canadian forest resource.  This journey is well underway and the panel was a great opportunity to demonstrate this momentum.

Jean Francois Levasseur, on behalf of the Canadian Forest Service (CFS), presented the results of the first round of the exciting “Investments in Forest Industry Transformation” (IFIT) program and provided a peak into widespread interest in the next round of the program.  The second wave of IFIT has generated interest in an impressive range of transformation projects from bioenergy, to biomaterials, to bio-chemicals as well as solid wood, worth close to $2B across the country.  CFS also reported that the level of detail of the project submissions and the sophistication in partnerships have improved tremendously since the program was first launched back in 2010.  That leads to an obvious conclusion—that forest company interest and expertise in the bio-economy is growing significantly. 

The conference heard from specific examples of Canadian advances using wood fibre.     Performance Biofilaments is a joint venture launched in June of 2014 between Mercer International and Resolute Forest Products—two traditional forest product companies creating the future for the forest sector together.  The managing director, Gurminder Minhas, says the company is seeking high value applications for cellulose filaments (CF), one of the world’s most exciting new bio-materials.  CF improves the strength, flexibility and longevity of a variety of materials including composites, coatings and consumer product, including automotive and construction materials.

West Fraser Timber is also pursuing a wide array of bio-projects from lignin to resin applications to activated carbon to a name a few. The Manager of Energy and Bio-product Development, Rod Albers, explained that West Fraser does not just want to be a supplier of raw material but is looking at new innovative products to create additional value for the company. He also said the forest industry is looking to pursue new business opportunities with viable partners who have solid well-researched proposals. 

The bio-economy conference helped highlight the significant contribution that the forest sector represents in the evolving bio-economy. As a renewable resource that will be there for future generations, the traditional forest sector is confidently on the move creating a next generation industry.