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How a unique set of building blocks have created a vibrant and growing bio-economy in Canada.

Posted on Jan 31, 2019 1:30:00 PM

How Canada has all the ingredients needed to lead the global bio-economy.Imagine for a moment that you were building a bio-economy from scratch.

What would you need to make it a success?

You’d need to start with easy access to bountiful and diverse feedstock. Then you’d need some world class educational institutions to help people learn the skills to transform it into products and materials. A strong spirit of entrepreneurship and commercialisation to take advantage of these innovative ideas. Followed by a steady source of funding and support from an understanding, ambitious but patient government. And how about a populace deeply connected to nature, increasingly aware that the traditional ways of producing products and chemicals is no longer sustainable.

This sound about right?


Well, a few countries would tick these boxes, Finland is one, as is the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland another. But even they would find it hard to disagree that its Canada that is best placed to take advantage of commercial growth of bio-based products, chemicals and materials. The nation’s growing commitment to sustainability was visible in its 2018 G7 presidency, where Canada exercised its leadership to promote among other sustainable issues efforts to combat the scourge of marine plastic litter. A key outcome of the G7 Leaders’ Summit held in Charlevoix, Quebec in June 2018 was the Ocean Plastics Charter, which included ambitious targets to move toward a more resource efficient and sustainable approach to the management of plastics. Canada itself will invest $100 million to bolster this initiative.

There is a clear desire at government level to make changes. But as we know, political support is only part of the story. So let’s look at what else Canada has to help further grow its bio-economy.

How Canada has all the ingredients needed to lead the global bio-economy.To begin at the beginning, what about that feedstock? Canada has a remarkable 3.47 million square km’s of forested land - that’s 9 percent of the world’s forests. But it’s not all traditional forest products, Canada also produces dedicated crops such as industrial oilseeds, switchgrass, miscanthus and algae. Plus there are abundant alternative feedstocks such as forest residues, crop residues, fish processing waste, and municipal and industrial waste all available for use in bioprocessing facilities. You’ll never be short of biomass feedstock in Canada!

Universities from Canada have a long history and good reputation in terms of academic performance and have particular strength in research. More than half of its population aged 25-64 having a tertiary level education. Its larger institutions such as Toronto, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and McGill are renowned around the world. Whilst smaller colleges also offer a great education, Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario for example has established specific courses for training students in the bio-economy and last year hosted the inaugural Canadian BioDesign Conference with Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC).

Allied closely with innovation springing out of education, Canada actively fosters a vibrant R&D environment that promotes collaboration between the public and private sectors in developing bio-products. This co-operation allied with the huge quantities of feedstock have attracted global companies such as Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Roquette. have established operations in Canada. Whilst small and nimble startups are finding traction in developing niche and smaller products, chemicals and materials.

The companies that are already active in Canadian bio-economy, reflect the variety of opportunities that exists with commercially available products across bio-based materials and composites, cellulosic ethanol, platform chemicals and intermediates, fermentation technologies, nanocrystalline cellulose, pyrolysis technologies, and waste-to-energy technologies to name just a few.

One such company is EcoSynthetix, who won our Bio-Based Chemical Innovation of the Year (Americas) 2017 for their bio-based alternatives to a host of products, in particular within the paper and paperboard packaging industries.

Jeff MacDonald, their CEO told us more about why they are based out of Ontario; “EcoSynthetix made a strategic decision to establish our global operations in Canada because of the ability of our scientists to develop new technologies with university researchers, Canada’s ‘open for business’ policies and strong commitment to the bio-economy through supporting associations like Bioindustrial Innovation Canada. This decision has paid off, giving us strong relationships with world leading universities and support from government throughout our growth. This has led to success for our innovative, green technology with customers in international markets”.

To look a little closer at Jeff’s ‘open for business’ comment - Canada has competitive bio-products industry clusters across the country and is the first country in the G20 to offer a tariff-free zone for industrial manufacturers, having reduced tariffs on all industrial manufacturing inputs to zero in 2015. KPMG describes Canada as the most tax competitive country in the world, whilst its banking system is ranked 3rd by the World Economic Forum. The Canadian bio-economy also stands to gain under the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which came into force in 2017 and removes all tariffs on clean tech products.

Canada really does offer it all and is open for bio-economy business.

How Canada has all the ingredients needed to lead the global bio-economy.To conclude, I ask Sandy Marshall the Executive Director of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada who is particularly well placed to comment on the growth of the bio-economy. He grew up on a farm, and gained a Masters in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo in Ontario before embarking on a 30 year career in chemicals and polymers, largely at home but also overseas in Germany and the USA – so he’s lived most of the reasons outlined in this feature outlining why Canada is a perfect fit for bio-economy!

“For me, Canada is a vast country which is blessed with enormous quantities of sustainably harvestable biomass both from forestry and agriculture. The access to raw materials is critical for the success of any business venture. Furthermore, Canada is known for its strong innovation capacity and its collaborative work culture. Together, these attributes make Canada an ideal home of the bio-based economy.” 

For learn more about engaging with the Canadian Embassy contact Judith Baguley, Trade Commissioner, Embassy of Canada to the Netherlands and read Invest Canada's focus on Bio-products.

Canada will be well represented at World Bio Markets in Amsterdam 1st - 3rd April. The 
Government of Canada are a Silver Sponsor and a number of leading figures will be speaking and attending as delegates. 

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Read: Commercialization opportunities of biomass to sugar conversion boosted by Canadian study.

VisitWorld Bio Markets, 1st-3rd April 2019, Amsterdam.

NEW! And available to download: Issue #12 of the Bio-Based World Quarterly.

Read: 5 Minutes With… Antoine Charbonneau, VP Business Development at CelluForce. 

World Bio Markets 2019

Topics: bbwnproducts, BBWNChemicals

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About the Author

Luke Upton
Luke Upton
Luke is the editor and co-founder of Bio-Based World has edited this site since its launch and previously worked for b2b media companies across industries including energy, advertising and sport. His more