Canada’s battered forest industry continues to struggle with sluggish demand, pricing pressures from competitors in developing countries, bankruptcies, plant closures and job losses across the country.
Still reeling from continuous setbacks over the past five years—such as a drawn out softwood lumber dispute with the US—the sector is in dire need of a solutions in order to return to stability and maintain and support its workforce of 270,000.
In search of a long-term solution to revitalize the industry, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) commissioned a year long-study—The Bio-pathways Project—that revealed forestry companies can capitalize on the bio-age by integrating bio-energy production with existing operations.
“It’s really about the transformation of the sector,” says Catherine Cobden, FPAC’s vice-president of economics and regulatory affairs.
The study, headed by Don Roberts, managing director of CIBC world markets in Ottawa, pulled together more than 60 industry experts, executives and governments to assess 27 traditional and emerging bio-chemical and bio energy technologies on an economic, social and environmental level.
What they discovered was that forest product producers need to look no further than their existing operations. By integrating biotechnology, forestry companies can convert biomass (wood fiber) into bio-energy and bio-chemicals while producing traditional products.
“There are some segments that are always going to be profitable. Lumber is the most obvious one. It will be cyclical in nature, but at the end of the day it will be profitable,” says Cobden, who admits much of the pulp and paper segment needs transformation.
Pulp mills have the most significant opportunities in the bio chemical field because they are more chemical based, but to take advantage of them, saw mills and pulp mills need to work together.