Bioeconomy Conference delivered 100% online, sets attendance record

October 20, 2021

As the bioeconomy emerges as a critical contributor to Canada’s net zero aspirations, collaboration is crucial. That was the message delegates heard during the 2021 Canadian Bioeconomy Conference and Exhibition (CBCE): collaboration among different levels of government, between government and industry, between different industrial sectors, and involving communities, creators, academics, investors, scientists, and foresters.

It was a message well-received by delegates who attended from 15 countries and nearly every province/territory, representing governments, industry, suppliers and service firms, NGOs, and academic institutions. It was the largest group in the conference’s history. Stretching back to 2004 when the conference was conceived as the International Bioenergy Conference and Exhibition, it had never attracted as many delegates (there were nearly 520 in 2021) and it had never been fully online. Every conference prior to 2021 was held in Prince George, BC, on the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation.  

Though the conference took place on June 22 and 23, all of the sessions, welcome videos, and sponsor information are available on the conference platform – free of charge – for one year. Visit the conference homepage and click the button to “enter the virtual platform.”

Here is an excerpt from the conference closing remarks provided by Rob van Adrichem, Chair of the Board of Directors for the society that presents the CBCE:

I’m going to start at the beginning and quote Suncor CEO Mark Little when he described our collective net zero ambition as a journey. That’s a good word to describe the past two days. Our two keynotes talked about collaboration but they also prepared us to think differently and not to be surprised when we see energy coming from garbage or sinks made out of wood chips. That idea of moving from “niche to mainstream” was picked up by BC Minister Ravi Kahlon in his reference to mass timber as the construction material of the future. Together with his colleagues, Catrine Conroy and Bruce Ralston, they talked about a cross-government approach to recovery that’s inclusive, based on innovation, and low-carbon. Having three BC ministers at our conference was a first.

We went deeper into the role of government in the Building Blocks panel, featuring senior staff at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. As BC Chief Forester Diane Nicholls said, “doing something new requires funding and programs” and we certainly heard about them: the Green Municipal fund, IFIT, the clean fuels program, and the mass timber demonstration program. We were also introduced to an idea Tara Shannon called “the mainstreaming of biodiversity” and that an increased focus on biodiversity may actually increase opportunities for diverse Bioeconomy opportunities. Certainly something to watch in the years ahead.

Day two started where discussions about the Bioeconomy should always start: in the forest. According to Rolf Bjorheden, the carbon story in the forest is a lot about trees and a little about soils, and that active forestry is needed for long term climate benefits. Kristen Vice reminded us that the biomass carbon cycle story has five elements, and one of those involves replacing carbon-intensive products, which is so key to the growth of the Bioeconomy.

Implementing those elements falls to government, industry and communities. On the communities panel, Joensuu Finland, was showcased and even with all of their success in wood buildings, district energy, and R&D over decades, Lauri Sikanen expressed that they’re still not satisfied and have more ambitious goals. Closer to home for me, is Kluskus, a small remote community of 30 people, who have implemented a biomass energy system to displace diesel and manage for wildfire risk.

The scaling up panel highlighted opportunities and challenges, starting with feedstock and continuing through investment decisions. Incentives, codes and standards, and the partnerships were all described as critical for operations and product distribution.

“Collaboration” was the title of the final panel, which was certainly appropriate given the nature of conversations we’ve had, whether it’s for energy and fuels, or new products from wood fibre.

Themes that emerged over the two days of the conference:

  • collaboration (and not just among levels of government or between government and industry)
  • The use of story to communicate and inform, but also to influence and persuade.
  • Innovation, and actually being an innovation powerhouse
  • Flexibility and adaptability. What Don Roberts called “optionality” in order to make investment decisions
  • Action. As Beth MacNeil said, there has never been greater policy alignment for the Bioeconomy. And as Minister O’Regan said “We’re absolutely committed to the bioeconomy.”
  • Patience. Significant change in policy and technology can take time and not everything can – or even should – be done overnight.

And one last quote, courtesy of Beth MacNeil, who reminded us to also remember “that forests are simply good for the soul.”

Thank You

First to our sponsors. It has been said many times through the conference and the lead up to it that we couldn’t have done this without them. It’s true. Thank you.

To our event managers. It was Cam McAlpine for so many years and we transitioned this year to Anne Lewis of CSR Management. It was her team that held our hand in this virtual world and they did so from their home base in the Yukon. It has been terrific for this conference to gain added profile and capacity in the North. Thank you Anne and your team!

To the volunteers on our program and marketing committees. They put in untold hours identifying topics and speakers, figuring out the logistics, and promoting the conference among their colleagues and networks. Thank you!

And on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Bioeconomy Conference and Exhibition, our greatest thanks are due to you, the participants and delegates. We do this because you show up and you get engaged.

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Related links:

Coverage of the conference in Canadian Biomass magazine: https://www.canadianbiomassmagazine.ca/canadian-bioeconomy-conference-and-exhibition-returns-in-virtual-format/

Conference wrap-up in Tree Frog News: https://treefrogcreative.ca/collaboration-collaboration-collaboration/

Article about the Conference in the Biofuels Digest to mark World Bioproducts Day: https://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2021/07/07/on-the-path-to-net-zero-canada-must-grow-a-circular-bioeconomy/