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Home » Environment » Lakehead University Using Biorefining to Transform Forestry

Dr. Andrew Dean

Vice President of Research and Innovation, Lakehead University

Dr. Pedram Fatehi

Director of the Biorefining Research Institute, Lakehead University

Dr. Mathew Leitch

Chair of the Forestry program, Lakehead University

Dr. Sam Salem

Associate Professor of Structural and Fire Safety Engineering, Lakehead University

Situated in the heart of the boreal forest in Thunder Bay, Ontario, the Biorefining Research Institute (BRI) at Lakehead University is leading the transformation of the forestry sector.

Founded in 2008, the BRI has worked with local, national, and international organizations to develop novel biochemicals and biofuels from wood and agriculture, and to test and impart valuable characteristics to wood timber for the construction industry. Its multidisciplinary team of researchers, including wood scientists, chemical and civil engineers, chemists, and biochemists, collaborate to enable research and innovation all the way from harvesting the biomass to developing bioproducts.

Photo courtesy of Lakehead University.

National standards for biochemicals

With the recent appointment of its new Director, Dr. Pedram Fatehi, the BRI is part of the Canadian Standard Association to develop national standards for the characterization of lignin. “By being part of this initiative, the BRI has the capacity to be at the forefront of characterizing and valorizing lignin to meet the needs of industry and end users,” explains Dr. Fatehi. “This is an exciting time as biochemicals are emerging as the best viable substitute for petrochemicals and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

These biochemicals, generated in the Green Processes Research Centre under the BRI, have been proven to be cost-effective for use in water purification, wastewater treatment, and have a significant opportunity for several products including textiles, concrete, and environmentally-friendly solutions for mining and oilsands effluents.

The Fire Testing and Research Laboratory

Further, as building codes are expanding to enable greater use of mass timber in the construction sector, the BRI has been working with the industry to ensure standards are met in terms of strength and fire resistance. The Fire Testing and Research Laboratory at Lakehead University, led by BRI member Dr. Sam Salem, is the only structural fire testing facility of its kind in a Canadian university.

Mass timber structural elements, like beams, columns, and floor and wall assemblies, can be tested, in some cases utilizing lignin-derived bio-adhesives, to enhance strength and fire resistance. With the ability to conduct tests to CAN/ULC, ANSI/UL, ASTM, and NFPA standards, researchers, industry partners, and clients from various sectors have access to a broad range of professional fire testing services.

The Wood Science Testing Facility

In order to develop new value-added wood products and biochemicals to advance the bioeconomy, understanding wood properties is also important. In Lakehead University’s Wood Science Testing Facility, BRI member Dr. Mathew Leitch has developed a wood properties mapping program that can fully map the properties for individual trees — or even entire landscapes.

“If a company comes in and says, ‘We have this requirement for our products,’ we can point them in the direction of where that resource is — and even who has the licenses and where on that license exactly they will find the quality they require,” says Dr. Leitch. A good example of how this can be used is to further develop cross-laminated timber panels and Glulam products to meet the needs of the emerging mass timber sectors in Ontario and across Canada.

BRI leading forest economy innovation

Dr. Andrew P. Dean, Vice President of Research and Innovation at Lakehead University, acknowledges the importance and strength of the BRI.“Lakehead University has a strong history of responsible research in resource extraction and, in particular, in Forestry,” he says. “Through BRI and our researchers in the Faculties of Engineering and Natural Resources Management, we’re finding novel approaches to forest economy innovation.”

Whether you’re looking for the right wood supply or to develop novel biochemicals, the BRI has the capacity to meet your needs. The BRI and Lakehead University are committed to advancing the bioeconomy and building partnerships to enhance commercialization of value-added forestry products.

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