Canada's forest sector: Leading the way in bioeconomy

For a tree coping with drought or a lumber exporter riding the wave of fluctuating markets, the ability to adapt to changing conditions is key to keeping a competitive edge and surviving. Canada’s forest industry knows this reality well.

Canada’s forest products portfolio is changing

From a legacy that began with firewood, lumber and shipbuilding timber, Canada’s forest sector has adapted and reinvented itself time and again to meet the demands of changing and emerging markets. Investments in research and advanced technologies have led to the development of innovative wood, pulp and paper products that are keeping Canada’s forest industry competitive, even as markets for traditional forest products fluctuate.

And through the extensive redesign of industry processes, a host of bioproducts are becoming part of this country’s forest product mix, too. The production of advanced materials, green chemicals and renewable energy sources is helping Canada break into new product markets. As a result, Canada’s forest sector is emerging today as a leading actor in the burgeoning bioeconomy.

Bioproducts provide low- or no-waste alternatives for non-renewable resources

In the bioeconomy, renewable resources such as trees and agricultural crops are being converted into many types of consumer and industrial products. These range from food additives and textiles to construction materials, auto parts, bioplastics, biochemicals and fuel for vehicles and planes.

Bioenergy is already the second largest source of renewable energy (after hydroelectricity) in Canada. In 2000, there were five biomass-powered community heat projects in the country. By 2014, that number had grown to 150 projects.

An advantage of bioproducts is that they provide a way to generate more value from trees while minimizing waste. Even the sawdust and wood chips left over from milling and other forestry processes can be used to create bioproducts. And, when used as a substitute for non-renewable materials and energy sources, bioproducts can help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, cut greenhouse gas emissions and minimize environmental impacts from industrial operations.

This is good news for Canada, whose sustainably managed forests hold a vast supply of renewable wood fibre and other types of forest biomass. Canada’s bioeconomy is well supported by a plentiful supply of raw material.

A close-up photo of some of the advanced materials in a wood building under construction and a construction worker. Advanced materials made from wood are used in the construction of mid-rise and tall buildings – 6, 10 and even 18 storeys high.

Bioproducts are hastening Canada’s transition to a low-carbon, high-growth economy

A photo of a wooden scoop surrounded by birch leaves with Xylitol sweetener in it and spilling onto the table.Trees are used to make low-calorie sweeteners, clothing, biodegradable plastic, and much more.

As the forest sector’s portfolio of bioproducts grows, Canada is gaining a sharp competitive edge in world markets, where modern social and consumer expectations place a high value on clean growth.

Delivering a greater number of bioproducts to market also requires having more highly skilled labour. And that means an increase in well-paying jobs throughout the forest sector and related industries across the country. This is creating new economic opportunities in urban, rural and Indigenous communities. (See Spotlight article: Indigenous communities and the forest economy)

Keeping pace with the bioeconomy depends on continued forest sector innovation and adaptation

Like trees adapt to ever-changing environmental conditions for survival, so the forest sector must continue to innovate and evolve to respond to and anticipate consumer and market demand for new forest products.

This has been the key to the forest industry’s survival for more than 150 years.

But the global market potential for bioproducts, estimated at well over $100 billion, looks to be a gamechanger. In the new global bioeconomy, Canada’s forest sector is poised not just to survive, but to thrive.

A forest of bioproducts is being made from Canadian trees

  • Renewable biochemicals made from the sugar and lignin converted from wood chips are used to manufacture everyday products such as glues, cleaners, solvents and insulation foam.
  • High-value biomaterials derived from wood fibre are used in many energy production and industrial manufacturing processes. For example:
    • Cellulose nanocrystals are used to make paints, varnishes, LCD electronics, sensors and composites for planes and cars, and to act as carriers for medical drug therapies.
    • Cellulose filaments are used in composites, packaging, and paper and plastic products.
    • Biomethanol can be used to make solvents, antifreeze and fuel.
  • Research is now underway to expand pulp mills into biorefineries where residues from the pulp-making process can be used to make new bioproducts.

See Canada’s Timber Forest Products glossary for descriptions of these and other bioproducts..

 
Sources

Mason, Glenn, Assistant Deputy Minister, Canadian Forest Service [speech given at the annual Conference of the Pulp and Paper Industry in Canada, Montreal, QC, February 13–17, 2017.]

Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service. Bioenergy from biomass.

Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service. Forest bioeconomy, bioenergy and bioproducts.

Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service. Wood products: Everywhere for everyone.

Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service, Industry and Trade Division, Annual Report 2015/2016. [Unpublished internal report.]

Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service, Industry and Trade Division, Results Bulletin Board, 2014/2015 [Unpublished internal report.]

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