Alta. backs biomass fibre brain trust

The Alberta government and private companies will put up a total of $3.5 million to support a new research partnership on the use of farm and forest fibres.

The Alberta Bioconversion Network, to be headquartered at Agri-Food Discovery Place at the University of Alberta, is expected to help boost value from Alberta’s “huge” biomass resource, giving fibre a bigger role in areas such as energy, health and manufacturing and helping position Alberta as an “early adopter” in bioindustries.

The move stems from the recommendations of a 2007 provincial report, “Alberta’s Fibre Roadmap: Getting Value from Every Fibre — Making the Most of Alberta’s Lignocellulose Resource.”

The report “showed us that gaining more value from agriculture and forestry fibres can be a new untapped resource,” Doug Horner, the province’s minister of advanced education and technology, said in a release Monday.

“We’re now targeting some of the products that aren’t currently being used, such as crop and forestry residues or byproducts left from animal rendering,” he said.

“In the future, this may lead to items like fats becoming environmentally friendly fire retardants, crop byproducts becoming food additives and forestry pulping waste becoming a source of electricity and heat.”

The network will be able to access the Alberta Biomaterials Development Centre, a $15 million ag and forest fibre research centre the province announced last month. The centre will be sited at both the U of A’s Agri-Food Discovery Place in Edmonton and the Alberta Research Council’s facility at Vegreville.

The province said Monday’s announcement marks the first time researchers, producers and businesses will have access to such a network. It plans to put forward a “zero waste” approach to the products developed by its participants, including public research organizations and private companies.

“The network will provide access to research facilities and also the talented people and experience that multi-partner projects like this need to bring new ideas to the next stage of development, including prototyping and field testing,” said David Bressler, a U of A ag professor who will serve as director for the Bioconversion Network.

The network’s approach will be “interdisciplinary and inter-agency,” the province said, connecting experts in the fields of thermal, biological, and chemical science from across Canada and internationally.

The province said it will invest $3 million in the new research network, while its private sector partners will contribute $500,000.

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