Canada’s BioDesign Innovation Supercluster: Forestry, green chemistry and genomics team up to compete for supercluster

Guest Contributor
August 21, 2017

By Lynn Gauker

Sustainable living. Clean transportation. Infrastructure. These strategic areas form the basis for a proposed BioDesign Supercluster being pitched by the forestry, green chemistry and genomics sectors as they attempt to take the bioeconomy beyond immediate innovation and environmental challenges.

This unique collaboration is led by the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), the umbrella group overseeing FPInnovations, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) and Genome Canada. The consortium has so far secured over $400 million in commitments from more than 25 large and small companies and 15 academic institutions and research institutes as it bids to move Canada’s bioeconomy to the global stage.

“We believe the bioeconomy is the primary industry that will enable Canada to be a global leader in environmental leadership, transitioning Canada to a low-carbon economy,” says Sandy Marshall, executive director of the Sarnia ON-based BIC.


“Canada’s forest products industry is ideally positioned to excel in the new dynamic, high-growth global marketplace for bio-products. These products include fuels, power, plastics and value-added chemicals from biomass.” — Forest Products Association of Canada


A nationally focused not-for-profit organization, BIC is putting Ontario and Canada on the global map in converting renewable resources, such as agricultural and forestry by-products and residues, into value-added bioenergy, biofuel, biochemicals and biomaterials. These products are used along the chemistry value chain to enhance manufacturing, including the automotive and aerospace industries.

In its letter of intent, the BioDesign Supercluster forecasts adding $6 billion in economic growth to Canada, creating 64,000 new direct and indirect jobs and reducing GHG emissions by four megatons a year.

“We focus on cluster building. We’re trying to bring different companies together, to be successful together,” says Marshall. “We build out their technology to commercialize.”

The BioDesign Supercluster says it will leverage Canada’s natural carbon storage capacity in its forests, along with residues from forestry, agricultural and municipal waste. More than 120 million tons of Canadian biomass are available annually to create additional economic growth and directly offset carbon emissions.

“I believe Canada’s bioeconomy to be an active participant in reducing GHGs (greenhouse gases) if we want to meet our commitment to the Paris Accord,” says Marshall. For Canada to be a global leader in low-carbon innovation, it must cut carbon emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. “Canada can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% through the supercluster,” he maintains.

 Strategic areas of focus

FPInnovations — headquartered in Pointe Claire QC —  will help in playing a facilitative leadership role within the supercluster. Established in 2007, it has been designated by both government and industry as the forest bioeconomy’s creative hub for innovation and a key point of contact for sector stakeholders.

“Supercluster members will address critical gaps in value chains related to the Sustainable Living concept,” says FPInnovations executive VP Dr Trevor Stuthridge, who is based at FPInnovations’ Vancouver office. “These chains link the generation of advanced biomaterials and biochemicals to Canadian companies that supply low-carbon commodities and consumer products, such as lightweight composites, foams and plastics in vehicles, furniture and buildings, to both domestic and global markets.

“For the Clean Transportation and Infrastructure strategic focus, lowering the carbon intensity of industrial processing and transportation within Canada and overseas is key, as it benefits all elements of our economy and addresses our largest GHG emissions.”

Stuthridge says the goal is to accelerate “the scale-up and deployment of biofuels covering aviation, marine, road and rail applications.”

Five gaps in the Canadian bioeconomy

According to Stuthridge, a key purpose of the supercluster “is to address five defined gaps that are currently creating barriers to the growth of Canada’s bioeconomy and its emergent value chains”:

  1. Production imbalance between generation capacity and market demand,
  2. Sub-optimal feedstock value recovery, where production economics demand higher conversion efficiencies,
  3. Value chain barriers, where feedstock supply or downstream infrastructure gaps exist,
  4. End-market diversity, where insufficient breadth of market applications increases investment risk, and
  5. Market access, where regulatory or social licence constrain deployment.

“Overall, we want to empower supercluster members to build new innovation ecosystems that address their individual and collective needs, by aligning them to the growing end-user market demand for unique, bio-based solutions,” says Stuthridge.

“We have an opportunity with the bioeconomy to re-establish the value chain and to become a [global] leader,” adds Marshall. “It would be a shame if we don’t take the opportunity to leverage our biomass. Companies are coming to Canada because they believe it’s the right place to commercialize.”



Why BioDesign?The BioDesign Supercluster will be a critical growth and scaling vehicle for Canadian biotechnology companies, with linkages to academic R&D partners.How do forest products and the bioeconomy connect?

Forestry (and agriculture) are Canada’s two traditional bioeconomy sectors. Canada’s forests are a huge source of biomass and are becoming increasingly vital for the booming global bioeconomy. Biomass underlies renewable bioenergy, biofuels and other bioproducts – all of which are increasingly supplanting fossil fuel-based products.

Who are the BioDesign Supercluster’s key customers?

For biofuels: Air Canada and WestJet

For new products derived from wood pulp (e.g., auto parts and airplane parts): Ford Motor Co and Bombardier

Where is the BioDesign Supercluster based?

The Supercluster has 3 key locations in Canada:

  • Northern British Columbia. British Columbia owns 94% of its land and forest resources
  • Southern Ontario: Canada’s largest chemistry sector
  • Quebec: 400+ primary processing plants support 80,000 direct jobs in the forestry and wood processing sectors



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