Thunder Bay will be test-bed for new forest products

By: Northern Ontario Business staff

Thunder Bay's push to become a leading edge bio-economy research and innovation hub in value-added forestry received an early Christmas gift from government.

Ottawa and Queen's Park are delivering funding of up to $20 million for a bio-refinery pilot plant for testing forest biomass towards creating leading edge forest products.

A bio-refinery is the marquee project of the Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-Economy (CRIBE), which is headquartered at Confederation College.

Headed by interim CEO Mike Willick, CRIBE is a not-for-profit institute set up by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation in 2008.

CRIBE's mission is to research new uses for wood, pulp and forest biomass that can be commercialized into next-generation green fuels, fibres, composites and chemicals.

The institute doesn't perform any actual research, but coordinates that kind of activity between government, companies and post-secondary institutions, including Lakehead University and Confederation College.

"Innovative projects such as this one are key to expanding market opportunities for Canada's forest industries both at home and abroad," said Tony Clement, federal Minister of Industry in a Dec. 17 news release.

He made the announcement in Thunder Bay on behalf of Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt.

Provincial Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Michael Gravelle said industry diversification is "key to strengthening Ontario's forest sector" for the future. "We created CRIBE to bring business, government and communities together to develop new economic opportunities and help ensure a bright future for Northern Ontarians."

The leadership group of CRIBE has been hoping to get some private sector buy-in. Abitibi-Bowater has expressed past interest in hosting the pilot plant at their Thunder Bay pulp and paper plant.

On the education side, it will mean hands-on forestry, engineering and skilled trades opportunities for students at Lakehead and Confederation College in training for green-collar jobs.

Other CRIBE projects that could be on the burner are studies on combined heat and power for remote Northern communities or strength-testing wood fibre for use in auto parts.