During the FIBRE 2014 Conference, the coverage team met with FPInnovations' CEO, Mr. Pierre Lapointe.
1) What does the FIBRE Network conference bring to the Canadian Forest sector?
The FIBRE network conference provides a comprehensive, one-stop overview of a significant portion of the university-based activities that can contribute to FPAC's ambitious Vision 2020 goals. Developed in alignment with the Canada's Forest Sector Transformation Strategy, Vision 2020 seeks to:
- Create $20B in economic activity from new innovations and growing markets
- Reduce the environmental footprint by 35 percent
- Renew the workforce through the recruitment of 60,000 new employees.
The last ten years has witnessed a renaissance of novel applications and demonstration projects for materials based on wood, cellulose and lignin. Activities within FIBRE help "fill the funnel" with novel ideas that could become tomorrow's new products. Research on energy efficiency, the proper use of biomass energy and supply chain efficiency will help the forest sector reduce its fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions even further below the impressive gains already made. Additionally, the use of wood-fibre in light-weight composite materials for the transportation sector will further help reduce fossil fuel consumption.
The transformed forest sector of the future will require highly qualified people with cross-disciplinary technical skills, as well as training in networking, communication and business understanding. More than 400 such students are involved in FIBRE. The FIBRE conference is an ideal forum for students to understand how their specialty connects with others in the forest value chain and to receive training in soft skills. Events such as the poster sessions and this year's Marcus Wallenberg Prize competition provide an excellent opportunity for the industry to see the forest leaders of tomorrow in action.
2) What are the key elementsfor new product support that FPInnovations receives from the university-based forest research communities?
Developing new products requires that the forest industry understand new customers and needs outside of its traditional value chain. Both university- and college-based forest-research communities have access to a large network of contacts through their research activities or through other members of the research community. Thus they are positioned to help build bridges to other value chains and help the industry understand the most logical point of entry.
In this way they can help significantly reduce the risks of new product research. "Blue-sky" projects can often be assessed over the 2 – 4 year period of a student's thesis using existing resources of an appropriate faculty member, before making significant expenditures on new research infrastructure such as pilot or demonstration plants.
3) What areas of the research do you anticipate will generate breakthroughs in 2014?
A great deal has happened in the bioeconomy since the FIBRE networks were established. FPInnovations has four significant projects in various stages of development: •The Celluforce CNC demonstration plant was constructed in Windsor QC
- The FPInnovations kraft lignin precipitation pilot plant was built in Thunder Bay ON
- A FPInnovations-Kruger collaboration is constructing a demonstration plant for cellulose filaments at Trois-Rivières QC
- FPInnovations process to fractionate hardwoods into fermentable sugars and hydrolysis lignin is at pilot scale
- The NewBuilds Network and FPInnovations have made great strides in developing codes and design standards for advanced and tall wood buildings.
Elsewhere in the world, Domtar has built a kraft lignin plant in Plymouth NC and a second plant has been announced at Stora-Enso's Sunila mill in Finland. There are almost weekly announcements about joint-ventures between multinational companies and small start-ups to convert cellulosic sugars to platform chemicals (of particular note in Canada, the BioAmber succinic acid plant in Sarnia ON).
The stage is set for a "virtuous cycle". As revenues begin flowing for key areas more interest will be generated in those materials and their potential for yet more applications. These revenues will drive future research and breakthroughs.
4) What can and/or needs to be improved through the university tech transfer process from discovery to product?
There will always be many more interesting and intellectually stimulating research ideas than available funds. The challenge is to identify those that are not only interesting, but also will solve an important need of the industry and its customers. When developing major research proposals, we must get better at applying the same quantitative rigor and discipline that we apply to scientific and engineering questions to understanding the business case for the endeavour. For example: •How large could the impact be? Are the potential volumes appropriate to the scale of forest industry production?
- Do we understand costs and pricing enough to say that northern-sourced biomass could compete?
- Do we understand the alternative solutions? Why are we better?
- What does the value chain look like and where do we fit in? Would the benefit of the proposed solution flow to the forest industry or someone else in the value chain?
Such questions need to be posed not only at the beginning of a project but at regular intervals throughout its life, if we are to accelerate the identification and commercialization of promising technologies.
Source: FIBRE 2014