FREDERICTON – New Brunswick would do well to look to European countries for guidance on how to take advantage of the bioeconomy.
At least that’s the idea BioNB is aiming to get across through Finnish bioeconomy expert Jussi Manninen of the VTT Technical Research Centre in Helsinki, the keynote speaker of the 6th annual Atlantic Biorefinery Conference taking place this week.
The three-day conference is meant to spark discussion and projects that transform the region’s renewable natural resources into business opportunities through biorefining.
According to conference organizers, biorefining is a set of technologies that transform natural materials and waste into high-value products like biofuel, building materials and natural products. The hope is that these opportunities will create a vision for a sustainable future where natural resources are used to their full potential, creating a rich bioeconomy that will support employment and new businesses in the region.
Manninen will speak on the similarities between the bioeconomy in Finland and Canada and how with a bit of focus, New Brunswick could take advantage of natural resources and use them to their full potential in the way Finland has.
He was closely involved in the creation Finland’s national bioeconomy strategy, one that hopes to transform their natural resources sector and create 100,000 new jobs by 2025. He says the development of the strategy involved representation across ministries and industries.
“We wanted to have it that way because bioeconomy is something that doesn’t fit really into a single branch or a single ministry but crosses both industrial and administrative boundaries,” he says. “When we got the strategy ready in 2014, we were ready for implementation because all the hard discussions had already been had.”
Manninen says the interest from government was key in developing the strategy. He explains that after a change in government there was even more of a focus on developing the bioeconomy strategy since those in power considered the development of the bioeconomy to be one of their five key priorities.
“Finland is basically a country that’s one large forest with few people in between and few lakes. Bioeconomy is already something like 15 per cent of our economy,” Manninen says.
“We have a very strong traditional pulp and paper sector and basically what we’re now trying to do with the strategy is to first of all help that sector reinvent itself because some of the traditional products like paper are in declining markets.”
Manninen says with elements of the country like these being so similar to the situation in New Brunswick, it just makes sense for the province to put focus on the bioeconomy. He explains Finland is pushing for a lo-carbon economy and that New Brunswick is just as poised to do the same.
“It was sort of a no-brainer for the government to say that … we need to push to get more out of it. We need to make sure that it provides to bring jobs and growth, especially for rural areas,” he says.
N.B. could follow Finland’s example
“As far as I know, you have natural resources, you have forests, you have fields,” says Manninen. “You have both agriculture and forestry so basically, the basic elements are there so I don’t see why you could not do what we are doing. What it means is that somebody needs to take ownership.”
Manninen says this would require the province to make the bioeconomy a priority, start developing policies that would encourage this and always be looking out for value-added products from both agriculture and forestry.
Manninen’s presentation that focuses on the parallels between Finland and New Brunswick will take place Thursday, June 8 at 3:30 p.m. at the Hugh John Flemming Forestry Centre.
The Atlantic Biorefinery Conference will run June 7 to 9 and will feature talks by various speakers from across Canada and Europe like Neil Morgan of Canutra Naturals Ltd., John Hawkes of Canadian Biogas Association and Mike Doucette of the Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre at CCNB.
The conference will also feature a hands-on day of tours at New Brunswick-based biotechnology companies and research centres like the Cooke Aquaculture Salmon Farm Site, ADI Systems R&D Centre and Envirem Organics.