Scott Wilson, MSc, EP
By Scott Wilson, MSc, EP on April 10, 2017

Bio-Industrial Innovation and Investment in Alberta Communities

The economic landscape is changing and communities are looking for new ways to sustain their economies.

Local Economies Switch Things Up

Economic diversification is the focus for many communities and organizations, and the opportunities to take advantage of one of Alberta’s most abundant resources, biomass, is a prospect that shouldn’t be ignored. Advancing the bio-economy offers Alberta communities several advantages including the ability to increase economic returns from the province’s natural resources. It also encourages innovation in clean-tech to help meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. As a renewable resource, biomass offers opportunities to transform agricultural and forestry residues into sustainable products or energy. Waste materials previously landfilled can be (and are being) transformed into new bio-products every day in Alberta.

The First Step in Advancing the Bio-Economy

One of the first and most important steps in encouraging and advancing the bio-economy is to assess the resource potential. Investors are interested in the location and amount of available biomass, as well as, the make-up or quality of the biomass. For a community looking to attract investors and diversify their economy, a comprehensive assessment of biomass resources is a significant asset.

Understanding and Using Biomass for Sustainable Growth

Several biomass assessments have been conducted in Alberta using the Bio-Resource Information Management System (BRIMS). These assessments identify and locate the biomass surrounding the areas of interest. In 2014, Silvacom, in association with Alberta Innovates and the Alberta Industrial Heartland Association (AIHA), assessed the biomass potentially available around the AIHA region. Regional biomass assessments have also been conducted for five communities in Alberta, in partnership with Alberta Economic Development and Trade and Alberta Innovates. Two of the communities, The Town of Whitecourt and the Town of Sundre have recently released their regional biomass assessments which map and profile the potential biomass resources surrounding the communities. The community biomass assessments also describe the chemical makeup of the biomass in the area. Understanding the chemical makeup and properties of the biomass allows investors to better gauge the quality and usefulness of the biomass supply for particular bio-products. Evaluating the makeup of the biomass surrounding a community gives local decision-makers a better idea of their bio-resource strengths and the possible opportunities available to them. This helps hone in on which areas or industries to focus on when developing community growth strategies. For example, the resource potential of some communities may lie mostly in agriculture, while others may be mill waste, or some may have a more balanced profile. The communities and associations involved are trying to get ahead of the curve and establish themselves as leaders in the new and growing Alberta bio-economy.

biomass assessment report Town of Whitecourt Alberta

Alberta biomass assessments are also garnering attention in the media, and from international organizations, as highlighted in an article in the Lethbridge Herald. The article describes how an Italian company, Beta Renewables, is in discussions with Lethbridge County about ways to use biomass products from southern Alberta producers. Lethbridge County is using their biomass assessment data as part of the discussions.

What’s Next?

Recent Biomass Potential Analyses of Alberta

The BRIMS web application is set to launch later this year and will be a fully functional easy-to-use web application that will facilitate access to Alberta’s potential biomass and ecosystem services inventories. This application will serve as a launch point for assessing bio-resource potential across Alberta by providing the foundation of theoretical biomass supply. The next step is to undertake further market research, focusing on the economic feasibility and sustainable supply of biomass resources. Silvacom has significant experience and knowledge leveraging BRIMS data and other resources to help communities identify biomass potential and beyond. For more information, contact us.

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