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Until the 1920s, most Canadian industries depended on renewable biological resources, such as trees, crops and other forms of biomass, to manufacture products. These early bioproducts industries were largely displaced as new industrial technologies made energy, plastics and other materials from fossil fuels more efficient and economical to produce. As the population and the economy grew during the past century,
Industrial growth fed by fossil fuels followed. So, too, did major advances in technology, medicine, food production and, for many, quality of life.
Canada’s early dependence on renewable, biological resources, such as trees and crops, was far from environmentally benign. Large tracts of forests were lost. Biodiversity suffered. Burning biomass scattered ash, smoke and other pollutants across the landscape.
Bioproducts in Canada
More than 80 per cent of the bioproducts companies in Canada are small and medium-sized enterprises. The number of enterprises continues to grow (but the number reported may not be completely representative since some bioproducts are also manufactured by firms not recognized as biotechnology companies in the Statistics Canada survey).
Some Canadian bioproducts manufacturers are subsidiaries of large corporations. One example is Dow Bioproducts of Elie, Manitoba, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Canada that makes construction materials out of straw and resin. Other large corporations, such as DuPont, BASF, CASCO and Cargill Dow, are investing in bioproducts.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2001 Canadian industry invested $60-80 million in the research and development of bioproducts – a significant sum, but considerable less than investments in the United States, Japan and Germany.
Canadian forest Products
The Canadian forest products industry is an important industry that has always used biomass. Canada exports more forest products than any other nation in the world. According to figures compiled by the Canadian Forest Service, in 2002 the Canadian forest industry exported almost $4.3 billion worth of products and was the nation’s largest industrial employer. The industry is also considered the most geographically dispersed industrial employer in the country, supporting more than 300 rural communities.
This Primer does not consider traditional forest products (e.g., timber, pulp and paper); instead, it focuses on bioproducts that have the potential to complement or replace products currently made from petrochemicals and fossil fuels. This does not mean that Canada’s forestry industry has no role to play in the development of a bioproducts industry. On the contrary, trees are essential as a source of biomass for both traditional and novel bioproducts. Several forestry companies already use branches, bark and other wood waste from their operations to generate electricity for their own operations. For example, Pacifica Papers of British Columbia – a producer of 1,300 tonnes of newsprint and other products per day – uses bark from its stone-ground wood mill and other wood residues to run a 40-megawatt generator that powers its facilities.
Bioproducts in other nations
United States: Sales of bioproducts more than doubles between 1983 and 1995, from $5.4 billion to $11 billion. In 2002, the US Department of Energy published its Vision for Bioenergy & Biobased Products in the United States, which recommended that government and industry work to increase the share of biomass power to five per cent, transportation fuels to 20 per cent, and biobased products to 25 per cent of their respective markets by 2030.
Japan: Is encouraging growth in bioproducts research and industrial development.
Germany: Is a leader in developing a suite of programs, product standards and regulatory frameworks designed to promote the use of renewable fuels, chemicals and materials, as well as the development of environmentally friendly industrial processes.
Brazil: Brazil requires vehicles to use gasoline with at least 20 to 24 per cent ethanol, which is locally produced from sugar cane. This regulation to reduce dependency on foreign oil has resulted in as much as 40 per cent of Brazil’s vehicles being powered by 100 per cent ethanol. The government is also encouraging the country- now the world’s largest ethanol producer – to seek export opportunities.
Scandinavian countries: Are actively encouraging the planting of fast growing poplars and willows to make paper products and composite construction materials.
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