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January 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

Harnessing Canada's Natural Advantage - Focusing on Bioproducts

Thanks to biotechnology, our country stands on the threshold of momentous change.

Consider some of the potential outcomes identified by the Biotechnology, Sustainable Development and Canada's Future Economy (BSDE) Expert Working Party in its September 2006 report.

It suggests that, by 2020, Canada could see: a flourishing rural economy that supplies one-quarter of Canada's fuel, chemical and synthetic product needs from renewable biomass sources; biological remediation techniques that bring an end to contaminated industrial, mining and other "brownfield" sites; "biowaste to bioproduct" programs that convert waste into biofuels and feedstocks for use in newer, cleaner chemical processes that reduce fossil fuel consumption; biological control for human, fish, plant and livestock diseases; drought-resistant crop varieties; and advanced water pollution control.

NRC recognized the tremendous potential of biotechnology back in 1983 when it established its Biotechnology Program. Since then, we have been playing a leading role and have made substantial contributions to the emergence of a strong biotechnology sector in Canada, building a network of research clusters that stretches across the country, working in partnership with stakeholders within government, in the private sector and academia, and making investments that have attracted even more funding from other partners.

Now we are preparing to take our work in this area to the next level, by working with our partners to focus our collective resources on areas critical to Canadians. Last month, I wrote that NRC was in the final stages of identifying a first national program under our new strategy Science at Work for Canada. I am very pleased that bioproducts has been selected in this regard. We are confident that by exploiting Canada's "green advantage" (i.e. our abundance of biomass) and working strategically with our partners in this area to increase the use of bioproducts (regular products sourced from renewable biological materials), Canadians will see a greater availability of renewable sources of energy, which will ultimately have a significant positive impact on our environment.

This is a choice of great importance for Canada, not just from a societal perspective, but from an economic one as well. To get some sense of the potential impact of this "bio-revolution", consider this: the respected management consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicts that by 2010, as much as 20% (or US$280 billion) of the US$1.4 trillion global chemical market will be based on bioproducts and bioprocesses.

As well, they estimate that up to 30% of the 50 billion kilograms of plastics now produced from petroleum per year in North America could be replaced by bioplastics, derived either from carbohydrates or vegetable/animal oils.

NRC is well positioned to help Canada and Canadians benefit from this transformation, as we are already very active in bioproducts research. We will marshal the resources of a number of research programs to focus on building Canada's leadership in bioproducts. Our experts are making important strides in such areas of research as industrial oils, enzymes, lightweight biopolymer foams, and energy from waste materials, among many others.

Other federal agencies are also well positioned to help Canada in this transformation. For example, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Natural Resources Canada are both involved in research to develop biofuels – energy sources drawn from organic materials, like bioethanol and biodiesel. AAFC is also working to enhance total biomass utilization by working with partners to develop biomass, bioprocesses and biorefinery systems for the production of biofuels, industrial biomaterials and chemicals, and health products.

Our objective in establishing this Bioproducts National Program is to bring together the collective expertise and resources of key stakeholders, including industry partners, to achieve the critical mass necessary to reach Canada's full potential in this area. 

NRC is committed to helping Canada maintain its leadership position in the biotechnology sector, so that Canadians can reap the benefits of these exciting developments, and enjoy the high-skills, high-wage jobs that will be created.

By unlocking the promise of bioproducts, and fostering long-term economic prosperity, NRC, and its partners, will help improve the quality of life of all Canadians.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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