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Standards — the Key to Unlocking Canada’s Bioeconomy

Canadian Flag-Standards Council of Canada
Canadian Flag-Standards Council of Canada
Chantal Guay-The Standards Council of Canada

Chantal Guay

CEO, Standards Council of Canada

The Standards Council of Canada works with both government and industry to advance new technologies and strengthen their value chain by leveraging the standardization network. CEO Chantal Guay tells us how it can help grow Canada’s bioeconomy.

Why are standards important to building Canada’s bioeconomy?

A country can have the most abundant bio-resources and innovative technologies, but other elements are essential to ensure global success for its bioeconomy. Regulation and government policies that enable innovation; a strong, reliable supply chain; and an ecosystem that fosters business scale-up and exports are key to Canada’s success which includes investment — and standardization is foundational to each of these components.

Standards can be used to support regulation and policy because they are more agile and can be kept up to date with technological and environmental changes. They also provide a mechanism for ensuring health and safety, as well as quality, of products and services, which is particularly important in new industries.

With emerging industries such as those in the bioeconomy, the market desire is to shift from using traditional products to new, bio-based ones. So not only do consumers need to feel trust to purchase, but funders, manufacturers, distributors, and all parts of the supply chain need to trust enough to invest. Standards can be used in countless ways to achieve this, including supporting the infrastructure, such as the recent work we’ve done around establishing agri-blockchain, to ensuring interoperability between products and systems, like standards related to the Internet of Things (IoT).

What’s the biggest misunderstanding about standards?

There’s a longstanding belief that standards are barriers to innovation rather than enablers. People often think an ingenious idea can’t get to market because it doesn’t meet certain specifications. Yet the reality is, in fact, the opposite. It’s true that products need to be safe, but demonstrating compliance to a standard provides evidence of safety, which builds confidence for regulators to allow that product into the market, and for investors. In addition, designing with international standards in mind that could impact interoperability opens the door to global markets. And with new technologies like those for bioproducts, companies have the opportunity to help create the standards that will shape the market. 

What are some examples of standards that benefit the bioeconomy in Canada?

Ontario-based Ecostrat Inc. is a biomass company that leveraged standardization to solidify its position as a leader in the Canadian bioeconomy. Ecostrat works in the extraction and use of biomass products. It had difficulty obtaining financing for bio-projects because a standardized way to evaluate risk didn’t exist. We worked with them to support the development of CSA W209 Biomass Supply Chain Risk as a National Standard of Canada and create a validated method to price feedstock risk and accelerate bio-project financing.

Another good example is Quebec-based FPInnovations which specializes in scientific solutions for the forestry sector, one of which is a proprietary process that recovers a highly versatile waste product from the pulp industry called lignin. This renewable bioproduct can be used as a replacement for fossil-based raw materials in things like carbon fibre, adhesives, resins, and various chemicals. Efforts to commercialize lignin exposed a lack of reliable and market-accepted methods for characterizing their chemical composition, structure and properties. We supported them in developing international standardized methods to quantify lignin purity and suitability in various applications. The four ISO standards (ISO 24196, ISO 24215, ISO 6350, and ISO 9795) will help promote the commercialization of lignin and lignin production processes.

Nature Fibres, also from Quebec, was the first in North America to manufacture bio-based hemp insulation material for the construction industry. The lack of a North American standard for bio-based construction materials made it challenging to bring its product to market. By using the standardization system, Nature Fibres collaborated with National Research Council’s Canadian Construction Materials Centre to identify testing and performance requirements for compliance with the National Building Code, which resulted in a published Technical Guide for bio-sourced products.

What’s the one thing you would want people to know about standardization?

That standards are made by real people. These are experts and interested parties who influence the development of standards and therefore help set the market rules. Representatives from government, industry, consumer groups, and academia all have a voice and can especially impact new areas, like bio-based products. There are many ways to get involved and lots of committees that could benefit from the input.

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