The International Forest Biorefinery Symposium, under the umbrella of PaperWeek Canada in Montreal, launched with a keynote presentation by Gerd Unkelbach, of the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processeses CBP in Germany. Unkelbach focused on the role of the Fraunhofer center on pushing biorefining processes past the pilot and development phase into industrial scale production (crossing through the so called “valley of death”) by offering a modular demonstration scale plant, funded by public and private investment, for use by interested parties. Located in the old Chemical Triangle south of Berlin, Fraunhofer is now a corner of a new bioeconomy triangle, focused on Germany’s abundance of beechwood. Fully modular, Fraunhofer offers researchers access to fermentation plants, lignocellulosic fractioning equipment, olefins production, downstream processing and enzyme digestion. No similar plant or project exists in Canada.
The symposium, held on Feb. 3-4, also heard from Maria Wellisch of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, highlighting Canada’s involvement with the International Energy Agency (IEA), in particular task 42, which focuses on the development of biorefineries as part of a global bioeconomy. She focused on the importance of sustainability, and the goal of making sustainable practices standard in the industry.
Warren Mabee, Queen’s University, offered a quick overview of the state of biofuels worldwide, with an emphasis on the domestic situation. Mabee’s main points highlighted the crucial need for policy support in this sector of the bioeconomy: lower future demand, competition with traditional products and energy, and cheaper global alternative all point to the role of strong policy in supporting biofuels in Canada. Mabee noted that Canada has few such policies at the moment, and that in addition to biofuels, other higher value bioproducts would benefit from policy changes to drive them forward. Straight-forward economics simply do not support a Canadian biofuels industry at this time.
The dearth and unevenness of Canadian policy and political attitude towards a sustainable, robust bioeconomy has been an important topic of discussion in the forest product industry for some time. Examples like Germany’s Fraunhofer show that political will, coupled with private industry, can produce substantial results.
The PaperWeek Canada event, organized by PAPTAC, runs from Feb. 3-6 in Montreal.