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OPINION: Nova Scotia well positioned to harness bio-economy potential

The market for products such as biofuel and biochemicals derived from renewable resources is projected to expand with upwards of 15 per cent annual growth over the next five years. This brings a significant opportunity for regions like Nova Scotia, where we have access to vast renewable resources from our farming, fishing and forest sectors.
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Firms like Cellufuel in Brooklyn are forging a new innovative path, developing a renewable diesel that can be made from wood chips, writes Rod Badcock. (www.cellufuel.com)

By ROD BADCOCK

My colleagues and I work with clients and companies across Canada and around the world, helping them innovate with renewable resources. We believe strongly that products made from well-managed renewable resources are key to creating a more sustainable society, and this comes with the added benefit of economic growth and more jobs in rural communities.

Around the world, millions of products are made from materials originating from petroleum chemicals or other non-renewable resources. These materials are extracted and processed using considerable energy, and in many cases, emitting new carbon and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

For example, the touch screen on which you may be reading this is likely made from a conductive material such as copper or silver, a plastic matrix that holds the conductive material in place, and a protective glass — all made from non-renewable materials.

Rod-2-e1479829557380Rod Badcock of BioApplied Innovation Pathways in Dartmouth.

While there will always be a need for these non-renewable materials, we are witnessing a global growth in businesses developing everyday products incorporating renewable resources. Bio-based paint formulations for our homes, biodegradable plastics, electronic product parts from renewable sources, biofuels for transportation, heating and electrical generation, natural-fibre reinforcement in concretes for our sidewalks and buildings, bio-based ink for our pens and printers, bio-based formulations for the rubber and foam on our shoes, bio-textiles for our clothes and industrial applications — to name just a few.

Leading businesses are not doing so out of interest for the greater good; they are doing so because it is good business. They are driven by the rising cost of non-renewable materials, the international focus on reducing greenhouse emissions, consumer demand, regulation and the concern for their long-term business sustainability.

Scientists and engineers worldwide are attracted to the pursuit of developing low-environmental-impact material solutions. Cost-effective, high-performance cellulosic materials derived from renewable and sustainable resources are proving to be a suitable answer (for example, cellulose fibre incorporated into thermoset and thermoplastic automotive parts is proving to be effective at improving the strength and stiffness of the part, but at significantly reduced weight, critical for fuel and battery efficiency).

As a result, we are seeing a rapid increase in the launch of new bio-based products into global markets. Products that are renewable and sustainable, are cost-effective and meet or exceed performance requirements are increasing in demand. So much so that the market for products such as biofuel and biochemicals derived from renewable resources is projected to expand with upwards of 15 per cent annual growth over the next five years.

This brings a significant opportunity for regions like Nova Scotia, where we have access to vast renewable resources from our farming, fishing and forest sectors. And our situation in Nova Scotia is ideal. Our renewable resources are underutilized — the Nova Scotia forest industry, for example, is under-harvested. Using conservative models, actual harvest is at least 30 per cent below what our forests grow on an annual basis. The situation is similar in the agricultural sector, where underutilized farmlands present an opportunity to grow crops that could be used to make a range of valuable bio-products as well.

Today, the bio-products industry is in its infancy in the province. Firms like Cellufuel in Brooklyn are forging a new innovative path, developing a renewable diesel that can be made from wood chips (a byproduct from sawmills). The province has been supportive of this innovation, and hopefully will continue to foster this and other examples of bio-industry growth. This would be consistent with key recommendations from the One Nova Scotia: Now or Never Report — developing our resources, supporting rural communities, innovating.

So what is required? Experience from other regions of the world like Scandinavia, that have thriving industries based on renewable resources, indicate that several pieces need to be in place.

First, clear, consistent and supportive government policy is a must. In Nova Scotia, the government’s mandate to develop a cap-and-trade policy on greenhouse gas emissions presents an ideal opportunity.

As a province, we’ve done a good job of lowering emissions from electricity. The next piece of the "emissions pie" comes from liquid fuel consumption in transportation and heating. Today, these fuels are imported and almost entirely made from petroleum sources, but they can be produced (in part) from renewable materials like wood fibre and energy crops grown on farmland.

Doing so would not only reduce the carbon-emissions impact from the consumption of these fuels, it would also present an economic opportunity to produce the renewable fuel component right here in Nova Scotia. A policy that motivates the production and consumption of renewable fuels would go a long way toward fostering the emergence of this industry.

The second key piece is constructive public dialogue. While there should always be healthy debate over best practices, our challenge and opportunity is to integrate an underlying, unified positive message supportive of the use of renewable resources as a means of economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. This message would be incredibly valuable in positioning Nova Scotia as the "place to be" for this emerging industry. It would attract industry, talent and investment to the province, as well as encourage our focus on these industries from within.

Otherwise, the pieces are in place. We have extra capacity within our renewable-resource sectors. We have a long history of good resource management. We have numerous manufacturing sites around the province with access to utilities, land and transportation hubs that are good co-location sites for a new industry. We have deep-water ports and access to world markets. We have an abundance of human talent, from those experienced in harvest and operations, to those newly minted minds from our many universities and colleges.

We say no to a lot of things in Nova Scotia, and often for the right reasons. But when the reasons are right to align, as they are in claiming our stake in the bio-economy, then we are called upon to rapidly come together and say yes. Encouraging the use and good management of our natural resources is good for Nova Scotians now, and for generations to come.

Passionate about renewable resources, Rod Badcock spent the beginning of his career in woodlands operational roles in the forest industry across Canada. In 2011, he entered the consulting world, which has led to the formation of BioApplied Innovation Pathways in Dartmouth, where he is a principal partner. BioApplied focuses on advanced technologies in renewable resource sectors, supporting clients who are developing new products, services and processes, creating new industrial partnerships and building new businesses through innovation. In addition to an MBA from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Rod holds a bachelor of science in forest engineering from the University of New Brunswick.



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