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Canada's forests can sustain domestic biomass industry

FPAC study says Canada primed for bigger piece of forestry bio-product pie


February 7, 2011
by Matt Powell

MONTREAL‑Canada is set to strive in the bio-age of forestry products, says a study by the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC).

The expanding global bio-economy market reflects continued environmental sensibility and a paradigm shift towards capitalizing on products extracted from renewable sources.

The two part study outlines Canada’s opportunity to capitalize on increasingly sought-after bio-products found in wood from our forests. The biomass products extracted from trees has been found to enhance numerous consumer products such as plastic and even generate green-energy.

“A number of companies are integrating bio-energy applications to their industrial operations,” said project manager of financial components for the study Andrew Goodison.

He explained that forest products companies are using new technologies to produce bio-fuel by rapidly heating wood fibers, turning them into a liquid that powers industrial generators, reducing the need for fossil fuels.

The newest study The New Face of the Canadian Forest Industry: the Emerging Bio-Revolution, suggests Canada’s forest products industry is positioned to take advantage of the burgeoning bio-economy and a $200 billion global market for bio-materials extracted from trees.

“This study produced a roadmap for a new business model that consolidates the economics of wood and pulp and paper production by extracting additional economic value from each tree harvested,” said FPAC president Avrim Lazar. “This will have a huge economic, environmental and social impact for Canada.”

The Bio-pathways project was broken into two studies released a year apart. The first phase highlighted the economic benefits and how investment in new bio-technologies will add value to Canada’s already high-valued lumber and pulp and paper industries.

The second phase shows there are markets for these add-on products, and how to incorporate them.

The Canadian forest industry continues to approach the highest environmental standards for forest management in the world, but has fallen behind in implanting greener technologies for bio-products.

Goodison added that the results of the study show bio-technologies will not only create jobs for Canadians, but also enhance current ones.

“These new ventures will definitely create jobs at processing plants and in the forests,” he said. “But, it will also strengthen jobs that are already there. By integrating these new practices into pulp and paper operations, it will make them more profitable, ensuring continued job security for those in the forestry industry.”

He says investment in bio-technologies will help communities and the economy in general because the forest industry produces more jobs and more GDP than emerging bio-industries could by simply growing on their own.

Bio-products extracted from trees could include renewable fuels, lightweight plastics, non-toxic chemicals and food additives.

Catharine Cobden, vice‑president of economics and regulatory affairs at FPAC, said the project was about understanding how to add value to every tree cut down by the forestry industry.

“It’s not about cutting down more tress,” she said. “It’s about extracting as much value as possible from each tree. These niche products developed from the trees are much more valuable than commodities.”

For example, nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) extracted from pulp fibers has a strengthening quality that could make plastics three times stronger while using about half of amount of product. Aerospace manufacturers could even use the extract in airplane wings to make them lighter, meaning lower fuel costs and fewer emissions.

The nanomaterial improves strength and solidity while reducing damage from wear, humidity and UV rays. Its attractiveness only increases because of its abundance and because it has virtually no damaging environmental effects.

The extract has had such an impact that forestry research firm, FPInnovations, and paper-giant Domtar have teamed up to invest in a $32.4 million transformative-technologies pilot plant at Domtar’s Windsor, Que. pulp and paper mill. The plant will have the capacity to produce almost a tonne of NCC a day to make specialized coatings and advanced materials out of hardwood chips.

Increased production of pulp and paper products worldwide pushed global trade of wood chips up by 25 per cent in 2010. China leads growth in chip imports with an increase of more than 400 per cent in the last two years, said Wood Resource Quarterly, a global sawlog and pulpwood price data and market information quarterly report.

Trade of wood chips in the Pacific Rim is still the highest, accounting for almost 60 per cent of the total global trade and 95 per cent of water-born trade.

Australia, Chile, Vietnam, the U.S. and Thailand together exported about 10 million tons in 2010 as leaders of wood chip exports.

Trade is likely to increase in 2011 as the global economy continues to recover, increasing demand for most forest products, said a report by Wood Resources LLC.

The report also says Europe is set to the increase investment in bio-energy from forest products, which could increase their lead in global biomass investment.

Companies in Europe currently have a 44 per cent share of global biomass investments. Canada holds two per cent of global investment. China sits second to Europe at 23 per cent.

The Domtar and FPInnovations partnership could represent significant prosperity for Canada’s bio-products industry. The demonstration plant in Quebec is the first of its kind in the world. But, it’s still not enough to commercialize the product at this point, especially for consumer products.

Once extraction processes are fine-tuned and NCC is more widely available, it will be used in more commercial applications.

Optical films enhanced with NCC could be used in specialty packaging, biosensors, security devices and could be used to prevent counterfeiting.

Also, because NCC is affected magnetically and electronically, it could be used as filler in magnetic paper and electronic memory cards and readers.

Indeed, it could very well represent a new export product to electronics companies around the world. No doubt, a significant boost to Canada’s floundering forest products industry.