Canadian biofuel industry benefits from bioclusters

By Luke Geiver | August 17, 2012

A Canadian biobased industry cluster developer believes that “the ability to learn faster than the competition is often the only sustainable competitive advantage,” a company might have. The Bioindustrial Innovation Center, located in Ontario, Canada, provides the ability for startup biobased chemical companies and others to do just that, according to Murray McLaughlin, executive director of the BIC. During a recent webinar offered by Westar Trade Resources, McLaughlin and David Minicola, applications manager for Sustainable Development Technology Canada, explained the role places of the BIC or the SDTC in the development of Canada’s bioenergy industry.

Minicola reviews applications for the SDTC’s cleantech fund, a government backed $1 billion funding source. Since the fund started over 10 years ago, SDTC has reviewed over 2,000 applications for pre-commercial demonstration technology. Minicola believes the feedstock availability and the help of the SDTC is a great option for pre-commercial companies in Canada, noting that even non-Canadian based technology developers can apply for SDTC funding under certain circumstances.

For parties interested in applying, the next call for funding submissions begins September 5 and closes in late October. Although the SD Clean Tech fund is only open for submissions twice a year, the Next Gen Biofuel funding opportunity that has helped companies like Biox go commercial is open all year.

Minicola said for interested applicants, a call to his office before submitting an application will help both parties understand which sections of the application could use tweaking for better results. Before the September 5 application opening dates, Minicola also said his team will be holding webinars and workshops throughout Canada to explain the process.

As part of the Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, McLaughlin said his group can only offer up to $500,000 in funding from its $5.2 million fund, but his team can offer an extensive list of industry experts, former CEO’s, current presidents and others as an entry point into the right networks. “Connectivity is really a key piece of what we can try and do for companies,” he said. The SCA currently has 45 technologies in its development pipeline, and every week McLaughlin said, it adds another two or three.

The main goal of McLaughlin right now is to develop more bioindustry clusters like that in Sarnia where Bioamber just broke ground. In Sarnia he said, biobased chemical production facilities or demonstration plants have an advantage, as nearly $6 billion in chemical shipments leave the area via pipeline each year. Canada as whole, he added, can support roughly 10 biobased industry clusters.