Program ID: Innovation Anthology #475
Program Date: 05/17/2012
Program Category: Agriculture, Bioeconomy, Biotechnology, Energy, Environment, Forests, Genomics, Waste Management
AI Bio Solutions Promotes Bioenergy Development
PROGRAM #475 INTERVIEW WITH DR. STAN BLADE
MP3: 5.0 MB
TIME: 5.32 MINUTES
Intro: Dr. Stan Blade is the CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions. He spoke at a recent CanBio conference on the potential for research and development of bioenergy from Alberta's huge supply of biomass.
Dr. Stan Blade
CC: STAN, WHAT’S THE LINK BETWEEN BIO MASS, BIO ENERGY AND THE BIO ECONOMY?
SB: That’s a good question. I have this phrase that I’m using these days that the only thing that’s growing faster than the bio economy are conferences and meetings about the bio economy. And I think it’s because people are trying to understand these things related.
In the case of Alberta, we know we can produce bio mass very effectively. It’s the reason why we have agriculture and forest industries in the province.
But now I think when we start considering bio energy and the bio economy, it’s about using those resources in different ways. Maybe the crops, the livestock co-products, the forest fibre, making different kinds of products than the ones we’ve provided to the world over the last 50 years.
CC: NOW THAT’S LOOKING AT A WHOLE RANGE OF USES FOR BIO MASS. YOU’RE HERE TODAY GIVING A PRESENTATION AT THE CONFERENCE ON BIOENERGY. WHERE DO YOU SEE ALBERTA AND ALBERTA INNOVATES FITTING INTO THIS WHOLE BIOENERGY FIELD?
SB: We certainly can look at it as a whole portfolio approach. Energy seems to be the first thing that’s possible for the private sector to move on. Here in Alberta, of course, the traditional energy companies are trying to think about how they can use sources that are different from the non-renewables that they have.
But we think that when it comes to producing biomass in the Province, certainly we can produce bioenergy. There are new technologies that are coming on board. There are new ways we can produce this bioenergy economically but with also a very interesting environmental footprint.
But I think we also look beyond that. It’s not just about bioenergy, it’s about those bio materials, bio chemicals that we can also produce for the world.
CC: DO WE HAVE ENOUGH FEEDSTOCK?
SB: An excellent question. I would divide that into two areas. In the agricultural end of the world, we haven’t even pursued this very far. We’re good at exporting oilseeds and cereals and for producing the fodder that our cattle need. But we don’t even know how to arrange those kinds of supplies.
In the case of the forest industry, that’s the kind of business that we’ve been in for some time, but we have some policies in the Province of Alberta. We have forest management agreements. There are certain companies that actually own access to fibre supplies in various parts of the Province. And it’s clear that if the bio economy is going to move forward, it’s going to be about partnerships . It’s going to be about technology companies, it’s going to be about the companies that control biomass supplies or the farmers that produce biomass. And for all of those groups to come together, to produce the products that the world is looking for.
CC: NOW IN YOUR PRESENTATION THIS MORNING, YOU MADE ONE COMMENT THAT I REALLY FOUND INTERESTING. AND THAT IS, YOU SAID IN CANADA, WE CAN’T NECESSARILY BE THE LOWEST COST PRODUCER. SO WE HAVE TO START LOOKING FOR VALUE ADDED. WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT? AND THEN WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THAT TO THE NEW INDUSTRY?
SB: Well when I look around the world, we know that oil seed prices are driven off the kinds of cost structures in Brazil and Argentina and other places. And if I use the example of something like canola. it was oil seed that we were supposed to turn into a base market.
Now we all kinds of new, interesting cultivars for making sure consumers have access to oils that reduce transfats and those kinds of things.
I think we’re thinking along the same kinds of things when it comes to our biomass fibre supply. There are lots of places in the world that can produce pulp far more cheaply, more efficiently than we can here in the Province of Alberta.
So what can we do with those fibres to add value, to use new technologies, to make them attractive to consumers and to the world market?
CC: CAN YOU GIVE ME SOME EXAMPLES OF SOME OF THE SCIENCE AND RESEARCH THAT IS GOING INTO THIS?
SB: Sure. From an Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions standpoint, we start right from the very beginning. We’ve made some major investments in genomics, in the crop industry especially, thinking about how we can change oil seeds so that there would be different oil compositions.
We’ve invested in cereals like triticale, thinking about new sorts of starches and sugars that might be available.
It really comes down to the molecules that these processing companies want to use and we think that changing the nature of especially crops, can be very valuable..
We’ve done the same thing when it comes to fibre supplies, thinking about new technologies like nano crystalline cellulose where you can take these materials and they can change the characteristics of products. You can put them into everything from television screens to improve drilling muds for our oil industry.
So they really are unique kinds products. They’re driven by technology. And the research is being done here in Alberta as supported by Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.
CC: HOW SOON ARE WE GOING TO SEE THESE THINGS COME TO MARKET? IS THIS SOMETHING THAT IS HAPPENING NOW OR ARE WE THINKING MORE TEN, TWENTY, THIRTY YEARS DOWN THE ROAD?
SB: I think there will be incremental increase. We see now that Alberta forest companies are producing electricity. They’re producing methanol from wood that we would never have anticipated 20 or 30 years ago.
We see other kinds of companies now that are creating strengthened concrete products, different kinds of fibre boards that we never were able to do with the standard wood processing technologies that we did.
So I think there is current value in the kinds of products that companies are making. But all of the predictions are that demand will continue to grow for products that have a low environmental footprint, that are renewable. And we think that Alberta is well positioned to answer that call.
CC: THANKS VERY MUCH STAN.
SB: Thanks Cheryl. It’s a great pleasure.
Dr. Stan Blade is the CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.