The Bioeconomy is the Evolution of our Economies
- Canada has strong bio-resource industries, which provide a solid foundation for its emerging bioeconomy.
- The creation of common databases and information systems across provinces will be beneficial and is already underway.
- We need to have more success in terms of the number of products and materials that can be brought to market that truly outperform and are cost effective against existing materials.
Although Canada has focused on R&D and regulatory incentives, it should also prioritize the commercialization of innovation and products in the bioeconomy.
How do you assess the current state of the Canadian bioeconomy and our sectors’ participation within it?
The bioeconomy is represented by markets in energy, chemicals, materials, food and products that derive from renewable and sustainable resources. Considering this scope, and the limitations to serve a growing global population with finite, non-renewable resources, I see today’s material economy continually evolving into a bioeconomy. Canada is not new to the bioeconomy; we have a strong heritage of generating economic value from our renewable natural resources. At last measure, $23 billion of our GDP and $63.3 billion in revenue is generated from Canada’s forest related manufacturing industry. We are home to over 9% of the world’s total forested area. Only a small portion of this is commercially harvested, and of that portion we have the largest amount of third party certified forest area in the world. So, we have made tremendous advances in terms of managing that bio-resource in a sustainable way, and Canada is uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of serving the growing needs of the bioeconomy. We also have a hardy agricultural sector and a growing ocean-based bioeconomy. Canadian ingenuity is also finding innovative ways to recover valuable bio-based materials from municipal waste streams.
“Having a reliable, available and cost-effective supply of feedstock is the starting point for any successful downstream bio-product development.”
We have gone through a prolonged period of low oil prices. I have worked with large organizations in the oil and gas industry who are seeking renewable, benign materials for some of their extraction process solutions. These organizations consider themselves as energy providers not just oil and gas providers, and they are beginning to take leadership positions in areas of low carbon energy and petro-chemical alternatives. Ultimately, the goal of using bio-based materials from renewable, sustainable resources needs to resonate with everyone.
How do you view the carbon tax?
Carbon pricing and cap-and-trade mechanisms make sense. They may not be easy for everyone to understand, so it might be difficult to sell politically. However, I am not sure there is a better solution. The hard fact is that there is an environmental cost related to green house gas emissions and it will need to be addressed. Whatever emission reduction mechanisms are used, they need to be market-drivers, they need to be put in place fast, and they need to be long-term because industry needs to be able to invest with confidence.
How can Canada boost the growth and impact of its bioeconomy sector?
BioApplied is very ‘hands-on’ when it comes to supporting companies innovating with renewable materials. We see a wide range of innovation that is in the pipeline. But innovation is incomplete unless it gets to market. Canada needs to support the commercialization process of promising technologies that utilize renewable bio-resources. Currently, Canada provides significant R&D support, and there is considerable focus on regulatory and policy considerations. There needs to be an equal measure on the commercialization of these products and materials.
“Canada needs to support the commercialization process of promising technologies that utilize renewable bio-resources.”
From my perspective, as with any product, bio-based products need to provide performance benefits and to do so cost effectively. At this stage it is less about Canada having an aggressive marketing campaign than it is about bringing more bio-based alternative products to market. More success in terms of the number of products and materials brought to market that truly outperform and are cost effective against existing materials will lead to strong growth.
“Accelerating commercial readiness to bring more products to market will attract additional investment, thus starting a virtuous cycle.”
The bioeconomy is not just about competition – mutual benefit can be achieved through collaboration and complementary efforts with other jurisdictions. We should not restrict ourselves to the US market. Canada should consider the European markets as well as its own domestic demand.
How do different provinces compare in terms of their relative success in attracting foreign investment to develop their bioeconomies?
We see a growing interest and investment by different industries, as well as municipal, provincial and federal governments in innovation, cleantech and bioeconomy related initiatives. We are most familiar with Nova Scotia and actively participate in the workings of the Nova Scotia Innovation Hub. There is a great degree of collaboration between industry, government and academia in Nova Scotia. Perhaps it offers a model for other jurisdictions in terms of methods of attracting bio-resource investment. A lot of this activity is facilitated through the Nova Scotia Innovation Hub. An initial strategy set the course, resources were deployed to address issues, and investment readiness conditions were improved to provide fertile ground for bioresource investment. Perhaps this can be a model for other jurisdictions to consider. The Innovation Hub also connects into a number of national initiatives that are underway, such as BIC (BioIndustrial Innovation Canada) and BiRNet (BioInnovative Renewables Network); a national network facilitating BioDesign. All of these efforts can be complimentary to one another. The creation of common databases and information systems can be of value to the national bioeconomy sector as a whole.
Where do you see Canada’s bioeconomy in the coming years?
BioApplied is active in projects where new technology is deployed to support the sustainable extraction and management of natural resources. There is significant investment required to continue the deployment of that technology, which in turn improves the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of providing those bio-based feedstocks. Having a reliable, available and cost-effective supply of feedstock is the starting point for any successful downstream bio-product development.
“We should not restrict ourselves to the US market. Canada should consider the European markets as well as its own domestic demand.”
There are a number of bio-based product innovations that are in the pipeline. Where there is a lot of effort on technical development, there needs to be an equal measure applied to advancing the commercial readiness of those developments. Accelerating commercial readiness to bring more bio-product innovations to market will attract additional investment, thus starting a virtuous investment cycle.
It is still a bumpy road, but over the last five years there has been heightened interest, growing awareness, and momentum building in this area. We see bright young people entering college, university and PhD programs to apply themselves to finding sustainable solutions. Not only do they see the virtue of this field of study, they see the need and an economic future for themselves.