Tiny molecules add new life to B.C.’s pulp and paper industry
With the decline in demand of newsprint and other traditional paper products, and the need to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for challenges in other industries, there is huge potential for the forestry industry to boost uses for by-products.
Two novel projects, funded by Genome BC and BC Pulp & Paper Bio-Alliance (the Alliance), are applying innovative genomics technologies to address these issues.
“Genome BC invests in these types of projects because there is economic value attached to the science,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, chief scientific officer and vice president, sectors, at Genome BC. “There is a huge opportunity to enhance the value of forestry by-products to not only add to advances and innovation in BC’s economy, but also in the interest of preserving the environment.”
Led by UBC’s Dr. Sue Baldwin and valued at close to $315,000, one project will use the concept of a ‘circular economy’ to take pulp and paper mill residues, currently landfill, and use it to sequester nutrients from water at mine sites. This method would remove toxicity from the water and rehabilitate the soil. Collaboration with the mining industry is already underway to test this solution.
“We appreciate the investment from Genome BC to support the diversification of the B.C. pulp and paper industry into higher value sustainable markets.” says Bob Lindstrom, spokesperson for the BC Pulp & Paper Bio-Alliance.
A second project, led by UBC’s Dr. Lindsay Eltis and valued at over $500,000, will develop biological methods that can be used to transform ‘black liquor’, a mixture of lignin and cooking chemicals which is an energy source and part of the chemical recovery system, into usable consumer goods such as adhesives, foams, and other applications. This would dramatically increase the value of black liquor and potentially enable a total increase in process output.
Both partnerships are being run in collaboration with B.C.’s BioProducts Institute and FP Innovations, working directly with industry partners of the Alliance. Along with UBC, FP Innovations are jointly delivering the research program to the Alliance and playing a significant role in both projects. FP Innovations also contributes $300,000 annually to the Alliance on behalf of the member companies who are part of the Alliance.
An estimated 141,000 jobs in British Columbia are directly tied to B.C.’s forestry industry, generating $12.94 billion towards the province’s GDP, with pulp and paper accounting for 16 per cent of that total.