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How the Sarnia-Lambton cluster’s spirit of collaboration gives Canada’s bio-economy a global platform.

Charles Darwin, a man who knew a lot of science and innovation, once said: “It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” For all of us working in the bio-economy, we know that you can’t do it on your own, that effective and genuine partnerships are needed to take your product, material or chemical successfully from lab to market. One of the most efficient ways of nurturing collaboration and further developing an industry is in a cluster – a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated institutions in a particular field. Famous examples of this approach include Hollywood for films, finance in the Square Mile in London and Burgundy in France for wine.

And within the bio-economy, one of the most exciting examples in the world is the developing hybrid chemistry cluster found in Sarnia-Lambton in Ontario, Canada. To learn more about the cluster, Canada’s unique offering and the importance of collaboration today we speak to Dr. Murray McLaughlin, president of McLaughlin Consultants, and an advisor to Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) who are driving the development of the cluster, and becoming a model for other communities across Canada.

“We are now really seeing the benefits of the cluster system coming to fruition. In the past few years, consumer concerns have led to an increase in interest and demand for sustainable products and for those wishing to develop them. And with this maturity of the industry comes a growing recognition of precisely what is needed to bring them to market. If you anchor your business in Sarnia-Lambton, you gain access to infrastructure, diverse feedstock and a culture of collaboration between industry, government, education and R&D organisations., a true ecosystem of what is needed to create growth.”

To look at just one example found in Sarnia-Lambton, Comet Biorefining, in 2018 received CA$8 million in investment support through Ontario’s Jobs and Prosperity Fund (JPF) to build a new production plant in the cluster.  The company’s proprietary ingredient technology converts agricultural residues, such as wheat straw, corn stover and wood products, into high purity ingredients for the food and beverage, animal nutrition and biomaterials markets. This investment will help to directly create 82 new jobs and 158 new indirect jobs, including those in the wider supply chain in farming, harvesting, construction, and manufacturing.

The location of the cluster for Murray is one its many strengths: “Agriculture is a major partner of the cluster. Lambton County has over 500,000 acres of cultivated land, with particularly large quantities of soybeans, winter wheat, and corn plus related agricultural by-products and wastes. Add to that the surrounding counties and farm land within 100 km and we have well over 1 million acres providing plenty of biomass.”

The petrochemical industry has a significant head start on us, so we need to build a community to match this…”

A great example of this is the Cellulosic Sugar Producers Co-operative (CSPC) an Ontario based farmer’s co-operative that develops new markets for crop residue materials that support new business opportunities such as Comet for extracting cellulosic sugars from crop residues. The Coop was formed to manage the front end of the process for Comet, from field to mill, and the Coop also is an investor in the Comet facility in Sarnia that will be operational in 2020.  In the future through the Coop, farmers will have the ability to explore new markets without having to compete for land.

Added to this agriculture backbone is an established process infrastructure ideally suited to emerging bio-based industries. Over 80 local firms offering the expertise needed to build your bio-based business, from plant concept, through to construction, to full operation and maintenance. And once your product or material is manufactured, Canada offers a tariff-free zone for industrial manufacturers, having reduced tariffs on all industrial manufacturing inputs to zero in 2015, incentives and grants, and the BIC accelerator facility at the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.

For Murray, it’s bringing all these aspects together that is essential for the bio-economy to grow: “The petrochemical industry has a significant head start on us, so we need to build a community to match this and truly have a Hybrid Cluster with an ecosystem of sustainability and growth. And yes this is a big shift that we are undertaking.  Clusters are great at helping to do this and really foster that spirit of collaboration, entrepreneurship and progress. Here in Ontario we back that up with the access to agriculture, infrastructure, and support needed to grow the bio-economy. Our aim is not just focussed in Sarnia, our approach of collaboration and partnership extends across Canada and around the world, we are doing plenty of work in Europe and building more relationships all the time. Working with the Sarnia-Lambton cluster means that everything is in place, and we look forward to further growth and more and more partners.”

Canada will be well represented at World Bio Markets in Amsterdam 1st – 3rd April. The
Government of Canada are a Silver Sponsor and a number of leading figures will be speaking and attending as delegates.

You may also be interested in reading…

Read: How a unique set of building blocks have created a vibrant and growing bio-economy in Canada.

Read: BlackRock among the investors as Enerkem raises C$280 million in largest ever funding round.

Read: Commercialization opportunities of biomass to sugar conversion boosted by Canadian study.

Visit: World Bio Markets, 1st-3rd April 2019, Amsterdam.

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