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Developing Sustainable Biomass Management in Canada

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The growth of Miscanthus (on left) and hybrid poplar (on right) in Halifax (This picture is provided by Dr. Kevin Vessey).
BioFuel-Header
Supported by:
The growth of Miscanthus (on left) and hybrid poplar (on right) in Halifax (This picture is provided by Dr. Kevin Vessey).

BioMass Canada (BMC) was developed by BioFuelNet, with support from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and other industry partners. The first five-year cycle of BMC work improved technologies and market opportunities for biomass and bioenergy, benefitting agricultural producers across Canada, including in the northern regions.

Here we present three successful examples of BMC research during its first cycle (2018 to 2023):

A research team led by Dr. Charles Xu of Western University, partnering with Western Maple Bio Resources Inc. (WMB), has developed novel formaldehyde-free bio-based wood adhesives from agricultural biomass/residues. Currently, WMB is developing a full-scale production plant with an 8,000-tonne annual capacity and seeking commercialization in China and North America.

A research team led by Dr. Kevin Vessey of Saint-Mary’s University investigated the establishment and yield potential of four purpose-grown biomass crops (switchgrass, Miscanthus, coppiced willow, and coppiced hybrid-poplar) at seven marginal land sites across Nova Scotia with the support from Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the Nova Scotia Innovation Hub Fund, the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, Saint Mary’s University, and other local industry partners. They were also evaluating the potential of three locally sourced, low-cost biological inputs (pulp mill residue, anaerobic digestate, and seaweed extract) for growth enhancement of these crops and developing mathematical models to predict yield for these biomass crops based on meteorological conditions. 

The four crops did grow successfully at all seven sites, but yield varied significantly among sites. From a plantlet-production system developed in their lab, Miscanthus is particularly successful with yields greater than 19 tonnes of dry weight per year. Pulp mill residue and anaerobic digestate significantly increased crop yield at most sites. This research provided first-hand information on the yield potential and the best practices for producing these biomass crops, reducing the financial risk to potential producers and users of the biomass in Nova Scotia. These crops may help create new revenue streams for agricultural producers from underutilized, marginal lands and help diversify the biomass feedstock base and attract more biomass processing facilities to Nova Scotia, plus help create new markets for pulp-mill residue and aerobic digestate.

A research team led by Dr. Donald Smith of McGill University discovered and developed new phytomicrobiome-based technologies causing increased crop biomass and food production. They identified new microbial strains that promote plant growth, particularly under abiotic stress — stresses that will become more prevalent as climate change develops. A phytomicrobiome-based commercial product based on newly identified microbial strains is being developed by the industrial partner —Agroworld. Commercial products stemming from this work are inexpensive and environmentally compatible, and thus an overall positive to the Canadian farming community. 

Over the coming five-year cycle (2023 to 2028), BMC hopes to continue work that enhances biomass production, to underpin the growing Canadian bioeconomy through new research in key areas. We also include considerations around greenhouse gas reductions to mitigate climate change effects, particularly on agriculture. We will approach this by reutilizing materials that would have been agricultural residuals/food wastes and using microbes associated with plants to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through increased biomass production.

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