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10 years later: What’s Next for Biomass?

Oct. 3, 2018 - To mark Canadian Biomass' 10th anniversary, we asked four industry leaders to comment on the past 10 years of development in the biomass industry and reflect on what the next 10 years holds for Canada's bioeconomy.
 
Here's what they had to say: 
 
Jim Grey
Chair of Renewable Industries Canada and CEO of IGPC Ethanol Inc
 
The story of the Canadian biofuels sector over the last decade is remarkable. Our industry has existed in Canada for about 30 years, but it was the Federal Renewable Fuels Strategy in 2006 that sparked our growth into a billion-dollar industry providing home-grown, clean-burning fuels to Canadians.
 
Today, the contributions of the biofuels sector are focused primarily on achieving substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector. However, 10 years ago, biofuels were discussed primarily in the context of agriculture. From the beginning, the industry recognized its role within Canada’s circular economy, directly supporting the agricultural sector by providing a stable market, while continually creating environmentally sustainable economic growth in rural communities right across the country.
 
This confidence and commitment from the agricultural community has built an industry in Canada that generates $3.5 billion worth of annual economic activity and has created over 14,000 jobs. Ethanol production for 2016 was 1.7 billion litres, with an estimated sales value of $1.1 billion. To support this production, 4.2 million tonnes, or $800 million worth of feedstock were purchased, providing a significant and predictable revenue stream to Canadian farmers. As by-products of ethanol production, $260 million of distillers’ grains were sold.
 
 
John Swaan
Original founder of PFI Pellet Flame, and co-founder of FutureMetrics
 
It has only been about 25 years since the Canadian pellet industry started. But its early days set the foundation for today’s global leadership.
 
The early to mid-1990s saw the establishment of B.C.’s early wood pellet producers. They started in response to the fledging demand for residential heating pellets in the Pacific Northwest; primarily in the Seattle region. These early entrepreneurs included the wood pellet pioneering companies that still exist today: PFI Pellet Flame (now known as Pacific BioEnergy Corporation or PacBio), Pinnacle Pellet (now a publicly traded company known as Pinnacle Renewable Energy), and Princeton Co-Gen. Soon to follow was Armstrong Pellet.
 
In Eastern Canada, also during the 1990s, early producers like Energex, Lauzon and Shaw Resources established and began production to meet the Northeast U.S.’s developing residential heating market.
 
Jordan Solomon
President and CEO of Ecostrat Inc.
 
Many people believe that the next 10 years will bring step changes in bio-technologies. I don’t disagree, but I believe that one of the most undervalued and important developments that will take place in the next 10 years will be the creation of de-risking and credit-enhancing mechanisms for bioeconomy projects.
 
These advances will be accretive and immediately transferable across the full spectrum of the bio-based industries; the benefits will impact advanced biofuels, bioenergy, bio-based heat and power, pellet production and bio-products among others.
 
When bio-projects choose to site in Canada, the Canadian economy enjoys a wide range of benefits. Recognizing this, in the past 10 years the federal government has taken meaningful steps towards its goal of promoting the bioeconomy in Canada. However, there have been few, if any, initiatives that address the vital issue of biomass supply chain risk in a way that allows capital to flow easier, faster and less expensively to the wide range of bio-projects. This is about to change.
 
The next 10 years will show a more nuanced approach by governments. In addition to supporting development of new and better bio-technologies, government will take us towards a de-carbonized future by supporting initiatives that eliminate barriers to bioeconomy development. One of the biggest barriers that is going to be eliminated in the next 10 years is inflated perceptions of biomass supply chain risk on the part of capital markets.
 
A key challenge to the rate of growth of the bio-industry is that risks associated with biomass supply chains are not well understood. While concerns about technology, construction, and offtake have clear paths to resolution, at present there are no established protocols, standards, or recognized industry best practices that developers, investors, commercial lenders, insurance companies and rating agencies can utilize and rely upon to empirically demonstrate biomass supply chain risk.
 
 
Marie-Hélène Labrie
Senior vice-president, government affairs and communications at Enerkem
 
Traditionally, Canada has been a leader in biomass via its traditional natural resources, but was not necessarily at the forefront of the bioeconomy. This is partly due to the country not having had a national policy framework to foster innovation and facilitate the transformation. The first major federal policy enabling a real shift toward the bioeconomy that comes to mind is the Renewable Fuels Standard in 2010, imposing a binding share of renewable energy in the transportation sector, as well as the creation of the cleantech funding agency Sustainable Development Technology Canada. At the same time, the U.S. was already well engaged in developing the bioeconomy and was putting in place national strategies, regulations and policies. A key driver of this movement was the release of the 1 billion tons study published by the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture in 2005, which confirmed the nation’s capacity to produce a billion dry tons of biomass resources (composed of agricultural, forestry, waste, and algal materials) annually to produce enough biofuel, biopower, and bioproducts to displace 30 per cent of 2005 U.S. petroleum consumption without impacting other vital U.S. farm and forest products, such as food, feed, and fibre crops.
 
Until recently, most of the Canadian policies, programs and initiatives stimulating the development of a bioeconomy were led by provinces, regions and groups like the Forest Products Association of Canada. Regional bioeconomy clusters were developed, including, for example, in Sarnia, Ont., with its bio-based chemistry cluster; in Quebec where several biomass and biofuels projects were being developed; and in B.C. with its forest bio-products cluster.
 
A major shift occurred in the last two to three years when the new federal government presented its vision to diversify the economy and address climate change where a clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. The objective is to build a clean growth economy in Canada. The bioeconomy is the means to achieve lower carbon growth where innovation is a key enabler. In these last few years, many federal policies and programs were developed and implemented. In the last budget alone, the federal government proposed to increase financing support by nearly $1.4 billion to help bolster and grow Canada’s clean technology firms.
 

 

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