More than 80 people gathered at the Lambton College Event Centre Thursday to work on the long-term project of building Canada’s bio-economy.
They came from across the country, representing industries, agencies and governments, to attend the second annual BioDesign conference hosted by the college and Sarnia-based Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC.)
Last year’s conference led to the creation of a national bio-economy strategy, led by a partnership of industry groups that included Bioindustrial Innovation Canada.
BIC executive director Sandy Marshall said this year’s conference “is really our attempt to start to put action to that strategy.”
The agency he leads has been working for several years on helping new biochemical technologies and companies reach the marketplace, and helping Sarnia and Lambton County develop what local officials refer to as a hybrid chemistry cluster of biochemical manufacturers setting up shop alongside the community’s traditional petrochemical companies.
When the strategy was released earlier this year, the partnership noted Canadian companies turned more than 21-million tonnes of farm and forestry material into bio-products in 2015 – creating more than $4 billion in revenues.
“This is a long game,” Marshall said. “BIC has been around for 12 years, officially, and we’re just starting to see some outcomes. We have to look at this in decades and not in quarters.”
In Sarnia, the new owners of the former BioAmber plant – LCY Biosciences – have been hiring staff to restart production at the facility while California-based Origin Materials continues to work on setting up a demonstration plant to use bio-materials, such as sawdust, to make chemicals for use in plastics and other products.
Alex Ward, president of Origin Materials Canada Research, told the conference the company has faced challenges, but “we’ve been making progress here.”
The plant is being built from several modules fabricated at other sites and shipped to a site in Arlanxeo’s Bio-industrial Park next to Vidal Street.
“We already have several modules on site,” Ward said. “The foundations have been poured. There’s work being done” and additional modules are being built.
The company has said a few dozen people are expected to work at the site intended to show how the company’s technology can be successful at a commercial scale.
Origin Materials is part of an alliance with Danone, Nestle and Pepsi to develop bottles made from renewable plastic.
Ward said there are also opportunities for Origin Materials’ biochemicals to be used in textiles, and the company is finalizing a second alliance with companies in that sector, including “marque brand owners in athletic appeal, as well as automotive.”
Thursday’s conference discussed priorities from the national bio-economy strategy, which include creating a modern regulatory system, establishing supplies and stewardship of farm and forest lands, promoting a business climate supporting the scaling up of Canadian companies and “strong sustainable ecosystems,” which include job training.
During the conference, Lambton College announced it has received $2.75 million in funding over five years from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada to support bio-focused companies with research and development.
Published on theobserver.ca