When we think of the natural resources that drive the Canadian economy, it’s easy to focus on non-renewable resources like metals and fossil fuels, despite our wealth in one very important renewable resource: our forests.

At the Biorefining Institute (BRI) at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, ON, researchers are hard at work developing ways to leverage our forests and other biomass sources into products and chemicals that can reduce our reliance on non-renewable reserves. The uniqueness of BRI, apart from its geographical co-location in the Boreal Forest with large pulp and paper mills and wood-processing industries, is that BRI is the only academic research institute in Canada that is fully dedicated to forest biomass research.

“BRI was established 10 years ago with the objective of developing transformative, cost-efficient, and environmentally friendly technologies,” explains BRI Director Lew Christopher. “We’re working to replace oil and petrochemicals with renewable, non-toxic, biodegradable resources such as non-food biomass.”

Bioproducts abound

Some applications, such as biofuels, are already well entrenched in the public consciousness but BRI is casting a far wider net. Current projects range from bioplastics to textiles, and from biofertilizers to hyper-absorbent materials such as those used in baby diapers. “We’re not limited to any particular area of study, which is what I love about BRI,” says Christopher. “There are applications everywhere.”

Thus, BRI partners with businesses across all industries to find real world applications for existing bioproducts while seeking opportunities to develop new ones. In these partnerships, equal focus is placed on how renewable resources can also benefit the bottom line. “The economic benefits are as important as the environmental benefits,” says Christopher. “The ideas of being environmentally sound and cost-effective go hand in hand. We work with wood, agricultural biomass, and industrial residue. These are low-value, low-cost materials, that are waste byproducts from other industries, but we don’t think of them as waste anymore.”

For BRI to continue this important work, they need Canadian companies of all sizes to reach out and discuss the potential for bioproduct implementation within their operations. It’s good for budgets, it’s good for the economy and perhaps, most importantly, it’s crucial for the planet we live on.

A Renewable Future on Canada’s Horizon

Dr. Andy P. Dean, Vice President, Research & Innovation, Lakehead University

Thunder Bay may seem an unlikely place for groundbreaking biotech research, but only to those who are unfamiliar with Lakehead University.

Making Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce a Reality

Dr. Sudip K. Rakshit, P.Eng., Canada Research Chair (Tier 1), Bioenergy & Bio-refining Processes, Lakehead University

At BRI, the question of how best to transition to a renewable economy is about applications that make sense now.