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Forest Bioeconomy: Transition Path towards Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence

Where might the transformation of the forest sector be heading? Towards a bioeconomy or a green economy? Clearly, these two concepts are currently unfairly regarded as being simply sustainable routes in the academia and policy-making spheres. Bioeconomy is not a matter of the economy or simply a response to environmental issues and challenges. It represents a major shift at the global level. According to Zabouri et al., 20151, "the potential of bioeconomy will bring about a significant increase in the value of the forest. Forests will become a vital multiservice ecosystem and a sector that provides resources that are much more vast and important than wood fibre." A bioeconomy is resource-focused whereas green economy considers the role of all ecological processes. With respect to their social dimension, green economy is more inclusive and sensitive to local concerns (e.g. biodiversity, education, etc.) than bioeconomy. However, both bioeconomy and green economy strategies involve economic diversification and stability. They also consider foreseen cyclical economic crises and climate change issues, as well as potential long-term environmental challenges. Both concepts are emerging and synergistic and open mutually promising new opportunities for the forest sector in terms of advancing science and technology, economy, international partnerships, and attracting investments and talented personnel from all parts of the world.

It is within this context that a forest bioeconomy framework for Canada was established and released in September 20172. The following vision was stated for the framework: "Canada will be a global leader in the use of forest biomass for advanced bioproducts and innovative solutions. There are multiple sources of clean energy in Canada-hydroelectric, wind, tidal, geothermal, solar and bio (for electricity, heat and fuels) – yet biomass is the only renewable source that can substitute the carbon from fossil fuels found in chemicals, plastics, and composites". This framework, built on four pillars to enhance policy coherence and collaboration across jurisdictions, sends a clear message that the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers is engaged to coordinate and tackle the challenges in the forest sector, and develop unique innovation opportunities.

Although the transformation of the forest sector is taking place progressively, it faces several challenges with respect to massive data that is often collected in a random manner. Thus, multi-dimensional big data concepts, data analytics and new approaches for creating predictive models are necessary to enhance the performance of equipment used to collect data, and to better manage the forest and the supply chain associated with bioeconomy markets. In this respect, artificial intelligence concepts and techniques such as machine learning and deep learning, supported by automated planning can play an important role in making Canadian forests more intelligent. The ultimate goal is to combine the data collected from intelligent forests with human expertise to optimise forest use and supply chains based on specific needs and requirements of the bioeconomy markets.

 1 M. Zabouri, M.A. Demers, E. Johnson, A. McCracken, R. Swanson, M. A. Liboiron, and M. Lakhdari, Bioeconomy and green economy: Report on International Scan, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, July 2015.

2 A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada, September 2017, Report, Cat. no.: Fo79-23/2017E-PDF.

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