Manitoba fund to back plant-based bioproducts

Manitoba’s provincial government has pledged $20 million over the next 10 years to support development and manufacturing of ag- and forestry-based bioproducts.

The new Manitoba Bio-products Strategy was announced Thursday at Riverton in the province’s Interlake region, where a local firm, Erosion Control Blankets, makes erosion-suppression products from wheat straw.

The province’s farms and forests yield a “valuable supply” of biomass every year, Premier Greg Selinger said in a release, noting the biomass’ use in biofuels, chemical processing and other materials.

“Research and development in Manitoba is already turning hemp, flax and wheat byproducts into paper, insulation, roofing tiles, biodegradable food packaging and ultra-lightweight components for aerospace and transportation sectors,” the government said.

Out of the $20 million pledged, the province for 2011 has budgeted “more than $4 million in project funding available to research institutions and entrepreneurs working on developing innovative bio-products,” Selinger said.

Over 30 Manitoba companies are now in the bioproducts business, the government noted, citing examples such as a hemp fibre processor, Plains Industrial Hemp Processing at Gilbert Plains, making non-woven mats and fuel pellets; Vanderveens’ Greenhouse and the Rosebank Colony, heating their facilities with flax sheaves from processor Schweitzer Mauduit at Carman; and Solanyl Bio-polymer at Carberry, which uses potato starch from food processors McCain and Simplot to make biodegradable plastics.

Due to previous provincial investment, the bioproducts industry is expected to create 700 more jobs in the next decade and increase the industry’s total annual revenue to $2 billion by 2020, the province said.

Of that revenue, Selinger noted, at least 80 per cent will be produced in rural areas.

The province’s overall bioproducts strategy will focus on five areas, the government said, including establishing “industry champions;” investing in research, innovation and commercialization; creating a skilled workforce; supporting market development; and increasing public awareness. 

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