By Gurminder Minhas, Managing Director, Performance BioFilaments

Canada’s forest products sector is transforming and becoming more innovative―it's moving towards extracting more value from every tree in the form of bio-energy, bio-chemicals and other bio-materials.  Canada is in an international race to produce these products and one of our key competitive advantages is our robust innovation system that includes the exciting research and development being undertaken by the academic sector.

I recently attended FIBRE Day and the Forest Bio-refinery summits which were held in Montreal earlier this year and I was truly impressed with the quality of the research taking place at Canadian universities as well as the calibre of the students conducting the work. FIBRE stands for Forest Innovation by Research and Education.  It was first announced by the federal government in 2008 to build synergies between university research and development (R&D) networks and the forest products sector. More than 500 bright minds have been doing ground-breaking research under FIBRE.

In the past few years, the academic researchers have been working hard to further align their work with forest companies with an eye to accelerating commercialization.  It is exciting to witness this increase in receptor capacity on behalf of industry.  Take my own company, Performance BioFilaments, a joint venture between Mercer International Inc. and Resolute Forest Products, focused on the development of high-value commercial applications for cellulose filaments, one of the world’s most dynamic new biomaterials. And there are other examples such as the lignin production at the West Fraser mill in Hinton Alberta; the Kruger Cellulose Filaments plant in Trois-Rivières plant and the production of nano-crystalline cellulose at the Domtar Celluforce plant in Windsor Quebec. All these new technological initiatives have benefitted from Canada’s dynamic innovation system which includes the important work of FPInnovations as well as the ground-breaking work coming out of the university network.  And there is more to come, such as the potential  use of forest fibre in auto part components as just one example.

The funding for the FIBRE network ends in March 2015 and the industry is now asking the government to establish a dedicated innovation fund to expand and accelerate university  R&D to help advance the innovation priorities of the forest sector.   The industry is also trying to engage more players in the forest innovation system, notably colleges.

The forest products industry is on the move but can’t do it alone.  I have seen first-hand how the key to success is a robust research and development system and collaborations among partners.  And academic institutions have become a vital partner that is helping Canadian forest product companies establish themselves as an innovation leader in the global context.  

By harnessing the creative juices and brainpower of our academic researchers, we can build a prosperous future together.