Under the bold theme “Refining Technology for Biomass Conversion: Conventional Products through Unconventional Approaches”, the Biorefining Conversions Network (BCN) recently held their 2nd Annual Strategic Retreat at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The event, which began with an informal networking reception on Sunday November 7th, was attended by 125 delegates including senior industry representatives and government officials as well as expert researchers from Alberta, across Canada, the US, and Europe. In addition to widespread representation from the forestry, agriculture, oil and gas, and chemical manufacturing sectors, there was a notable presence of smaller renewable energy companies and technology developers. Increased participation of major forest and energy companies was a direct result of the BCN’s strategy in 2010 to engage these sectors.
A particular highlight was the opening address by Alberta’s Deputy Premier, Doug Horner, who set a positive tone for the retreat as he conveyed an extremely encouraging outlook on the future of the bioindustrial sector. Minister Horner participated in the remainder of the morning sessions on November 8, demonstrating that interest and support for the sector extends to the highest political levels.
In a provocative keynote address, Tim Haig, CEO of BIOX Corp., emphasized the need for policy to support and direct the development of the bioindustrial sector. Trevor Kloeck of the Alberta Biomaterials Development Center and Dr. Amit Kumar of the University of Alberta provided overviews of Alberta’s agricultural and forest biomass resources, respectively. Kloeck identified a need to integrate existing ag resources with forestry infrastructure and foster communication between the two historically separate sectors. The logistical challenges of tapping into Alberta’s abundance of available forest residues was discussed by Dr. Kumar, who acknowledged the need to explore alternative transportation methods due to the predicted poor economics associated with trucking this type of biomass.
The BCN highlighted its strong research capacity in the area of biomass conversions and showcased the initial progress of current projects within their four core research themes (i.e. Biomass pre-processing, Chemical Conversions, Biological Conversions, and Thermal Conversions). The resulting atmosphere was rife with enthusiasm as several companies and academics expressed interest in building partnerships with the BCN. In addition, existing relationships were bolstered.
Three industry panels took place on Tuesday morning, providing a forum to consider approaches for overcoming technological barriers in the bioindustrial sector from the perspectives of biomass feedstock, biochemicals, and bioenergy, respectively. All three sessions proved informative and challenging, imparting ample inspiration for the subsequent breakout sessions. The BCN was pleased to witness first-hand the energy and enthusiasm of this year’s delegates during the stimulating discussions that took place in these small groups. The benefits of the 2ndAnnual Strategic Retreat spread beyond the BCN as many other relationships were initiated or strengthened between bio-industrial stakeholders, which will ultimately augment Alberta and Canada’s bioindustrial sector.
Funding for the retreat was provided through numerous supporting organizations including Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, the University of Alberta’s School of Energy and Environment, Faculties of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, Engineering, and Science, and the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science making this a truly collaborative effort. In addition, substantial in-kind support was provided by the audio visual company PSAV. Overall, the strategic retreat was tremendously successful and the BCN is very satisfied with the execution and outcomes.