Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 18, No. 5, May 14, 2014
Honoured Reader Edition


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Last issue we promised that this issue of Gallon Environment Letter would be about bioeconomy. According to ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), an Ottawa-based international bioeconomy ngo headed by well-known advocate Pat Mooney, 'New Bioeconomy' is a term describing a new industrial order that relies on biologically-based materials, technologies and 'services.' According to the biotechnology industry, bioeconomy refers to all economic activity derived from scientific and research activity focussed on biotechnology. We prefer the first definition!

Our research for this issue found even more information than we expected, even though we know that bioeconomy is a rapidly growing field of research and technology development and commercialization. It almost seems that bioeconomy is taking off by itself and with little government involvement, though there is still a long way to go before a bio-based economy begins to supplant the dominant fossil-based economy.

To avoid a GallonLetter that is twice as long as normal, something that readers tells us they would not welcome, we have split the topic into two parts. This issue will focus on some of the energy aspects of a bioeconomy while the next issue will focus on bioproducts and bioproduction.

We start by looking at research on the role of fungi in a bioeconomy. Biomass is often touted as a potential replacement for coal in electricity generation but it is not getting the attention that perhaps it should get. The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has recently called for a national strategy for a bioeconomy and will be holding a major conference on this theme in Toronto in December. Statistics Canada 2009 survey on Bioproducts in Canada, published in 2011, shows that most of Canada's bioproducts are, or at least, were in 2009 still in the energy sector, so the survey gets covered in this issue.

Just because an energy source is renewable does not mean that it is being used in a renewable fashion. The International Renewable Energy Agency expresses concern about this - we provide a summary of the concern and of the solution which IRENA has adopted. The recent report of IPCC Working group 3 has received much coverage in the popular press but we provide a slightly more detailed summary from GallonLetter's somewhat different perspective. Some developing countries are taking the bioeconomy opportunity very seriously. One such is Kenya for which country we summarize a UNEP Green Economy assessment report. The OECD has an idea for a policy agenda for the bioeconomy to 2030 - we commend it to you.

We conclude this issue with a review of the Globe 2014, Canada's pre-eminent business and the environment conference and trade show, held in late March in Vancouver.

GallonLetter sees elements of a bioeconomy as tremendously useful in advancement of a more sustainable human society. While awaiting the second part of our bioeconomy coverage, and more in the future, we welcome your feedback and comments sent to Some of the letters we receive may be selected for publication.


"It is hard to feel affection for something as totally impersonal as the atmosphere, and yet there it is, as much a part and product of life as wine or bread. Taken all in all, the sky is a miraculous achievement. It works, and for what it is designed to accomplish it is as infallible as anything in nature. " wrote scientist-physician Lewis Thomas in a series of essays in the New England Medical Journal from 1971 to 1973.

In the essay he explores how the evolution of photosynthetic cells using the energy of the sun produced oxygen and consumed carbon dioxide; the oxygen screened out the bands of ultraviolet light most harmful to cells while allowing for the visible light fostering photosynthesis. "Now we are protected against lethal ultraviolet rays by a narrow rim of ozone, thirty miles out. We are safe, well ventilated, and incubated, provided we can avoid technologies that might fiddle with that ozone, or shift the levels of carbon dioxide. Oxygen is not a major worry for us, unless we let fly with enough nuclear explosives to kill off the green cells in the sea; if we do that, of course, we are in for strangling."

GallonLetter notes that compared to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is issuing its fifth assessment report (see separate article), Thomas's essay on a breathing earth may be on the lyrical side but it gives in short form the same message of the IPCC, as he says, "of our fantastic luck" because it is this remarkable atmosphere which has allowed the abundance of plants and animals on which the bioeconomy depends. Otherwise we humans wouldn't be here.
Thomas, Lewis. The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. Essays which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine 1971-1973. New York., NY: The Viking Press, 1974 [GallonLetter's printed copy published by Penguin Books, 1978.] Text available at


Until plants evolved to contain lignin, they couldn’t grow very tall because they lacked support. Lignin made for woody material which made it possible for plants to grow taller. Hundreds of millions of years ago, huge trees were able to grow, capturing the carbon in the air and releasing oxygen. When the trees died, the wood just stayed there. There was no fungus to break down the inedible lignin. As the trees were covered with sediment in combination with heat from volcanic activity, coal was formed. Over time, species of fungus evolved which could turn the lignin in wood into something edible for themselves, so trees began rot to make soil and also releasing much of the carbon dioxide in a shorter time frame creating a (relatively) balanced carbon-oxygen cycle. Humans burning coal (and other fossil fuels) release carbon dioxide which has been in storage for millions of years. Of course, coal would be non-renewable in the context of human evolution because of the long time frame to make it.

Fungi Could Be Key to the Bioeconomy

In a paper in Science in 2012, a group including a researcher from the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, which is researching fungi for clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup, reported on the genomes of 31 fungi to discover how fungi which evolved about 290 million years ago breakdown the lignin which could be key to cellulosic ethanol technology. There are about 1.5 million species of fungi now but only a few like white rot break down the lignin to any significant extent.

The research could have implications beyond illuminating the energy storage of the past by helping to identify how fungi could play a role in the bioeconomy. Cellulosic ethanol is likely to have improved lifecycle emissions compared to crop grown biofuels. And other processes could be improved. “The concept of the invention of an enzyme that can break down the ‘unbreakable’ is really great,” said Kenneth Nealson, Wrigley Chair in Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California. Enzymes and fungi could play a bigger role in bioremediation and improving processes using woody materials such as in the pulp and paper industry.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


While coal-fired power plants have tended towards converting to natural gas, the last coal-fired plant in Ontario in Thunder Bay is converting to biomass according to Bruce Power which also operates nuclear units. As of April 2014, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to phase out all coal-fired power in the province when the province shut down the Thunder Bay generating facility. In addition to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, reduction in air pollution due to phasing out air pollution from coal is said to avoid $2.6 billion dollars in health care due to emergency and hospital admissions and other illnesses.

Environment Canada: Coal and Climate

According to Environment Canada's Sixth National Report on Climate Change most of the decline in Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, which fell by 36 Mt (not counting land use/forestry changes) from 2005 to 2011, was as a result of decline of emissions with much of it due to Ontario's shut down of coal fired generation, estimated to be 30 Mt since 2003. Decline in economic activities also contributed. Canada's use of coal for power generation declined from 17% in 1990 to 11.4% in 2011. Canada's total greenhouse emissions from 1990 (591 Mt) to 2011 (702 Mt) rose 19% (111 Mt). Market demand for energy sources fluctuates and use of coal by industry increases demand even if coal fired generation of electricity such as in Ontario ceases.

Canada's federal regulations on Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-fired Generation of Electricity mandate a cap on greenhouse gas emissions at 420 tonnes of CO2 per MWh. The legislation applies to new plants commissioned after July 1, 2015. Existing plants ending their useful life (50 years) are subject to the legislation depending on whether they were commissioned pre-1975 (subject by December 31, 2019 at the latest), between 1975-1985 (subject by December 31, 2029 at the latest) or otherwise December 31 of the 50 years of commissioning. Greenhouse gas emissions for biomass count as zero under the legislation. Biomass is defined as ” a fuel that consists only of non-fossilized, biodegradable organic material that originates from plants or animals but does not come from a geological formation, and includes gases and liquids recovered from organic waste." While biomass is often counted as carbon neutral due to the carbon cycling, in practice there are greenhouse gas emissions in growing, transporting, and processing.

Wood Pellets for Power Generation

The Wood Pellet Association of Canada WPAC is working to have biomass used to cofire power plants (9 plants estimated by WPAC) which would within five years (2015-2019) be subject to the federal regulation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. at 420 tonnes of CO2 per MWh. On average current emission factors for coal plants are said to be 1,050 tonnes of CO2 per MWh.

WPAC has been promoting the use of wood pellets, not as a single solution but as part of the renewable energy solution, to the federal and provincial government but hasn't made a lot of progress, "Unlike Canada, the European Union has mandated GHG reduction by law. Canada's policy is to wait and see what the US does. The EU has committed to a 20% GHG reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 and is using wood pellets as an important way to achieve this target. The EU mixes wood pellets with coal in thermal power plants as a way to reduce GHG. This mix, known as co-firing, can range from 5% to 100% wood pellets. Hence about 90% of Canadian wood pellets are exported to the EU."

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"In this document, CRFA outlines its action plan for our industry and ultimately Canada’s emerging bioeconomy. Our plan is not only for one industry but many, including agriculture, forestry, health, waste management, and manufacturing. Our plan is not only for today’s innovation but also for tomorrow’s successful technology. Most importantly, our plan is not just for our immediate energy future but also for the prosperity of generations to come," wrote Scott Lewis, Chairman of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, in a report calling on Canada to develop a national strategy for a bioeconomy.

The CFRA action plan for ensuring Canada's economic and environmental prosperity includes
  • ensuring a fair value for greenhouse gas reductions
  • supporting innovation and investment in Canada
  • growing market access and increasing levels for renewable diesel content
  • delivering modern fuel blends to consumers
  • increasing domestic production and use of advanced biofuels
  • building a comprehensive bioeconomy strategy for Canada

The report, which is more a framework than a plan, includes some facts and figures such as:
  • 26 renewable fuel plants now operate generating what is said to be more than $3.5 billion to the Canadian economy and more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs. Canada’s renewable fuels industry is said to have contributed 14,000 direct and indirect jobs and $5 billion in economic activity since 2007.
  • the price of ethanol in North America is less than gasoline
  • biofuels reduce carbon emissions by 4.2 megatonnes each year
Bioprocessing Technology

According to CFRA, biofuel companies are adding value to outputs by using unconventional sources such as waste and producing products in addition to biofuels while reducing energy inputs and greenhouse gas and other emissions. BIOX (Hamilton, Ontario) produces biodiesel from crop seeds as well as animal fats and recovered vegetable oils. GreenField Specialty Alcohols, also based in Ontario, Quebec and some states in the US produces 30 percent of Canada’s fuel ethanol. and is diversifying to make biochemical and ethyl esters, extracting corn germ for functional fuels and converting CO2 to renewable jet fuel. Other initiatives include:
  • improving the quality of glycerin, a byproduct of biodiesel so it can be used more in industrial and pharmaceutical manufacture.
  • developing technologies to convert lignocellulosic biomass, such as wood and solid urban waste, to produce cellulosic ethanol.
  • refine corn oil for production of methyl, butyl, and ethyl esters, industrial lubricants, personal care emollients, nutraceutical sterols, and polyols.
  • produce hydrogen from anaerobic digestion
  • convert corn germ and bran for protein ingredients for functional foods. GallonLetter notes that CFRA says that Canada's ethanol industry is one of the largest supplier of high-protein animal feed grains (Dried Distiller's Grains) because ethanol only uses the starch from industrial grade corn: protein, fat and minerals are used as animal feed. If additional value added markets are found for this material, then there would be less available for animal feed.
One of the problems for the development of alternate materials is the lack of infrastructure and biofuel plants could provide existing infrastructure of which examples are:
  • building greenhouse/nursery operations to use the heat and waste CO2 released by the ethanol plants. GallonLetter notes that co-location could work well but there can also be occasions when the biofuel plant may cut production and the co-located company may find itself without the heat.
  • convert municipal organic waste to methane by installing large anaerobic digesters at biofuel plants.
Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Statistics Canada 2009 survey on Bioproducts, published in 2011, was the third survey, following a 2003 and 2006 survey. The survey was of firms using renewable biomass to produce intermediate or final consumer products. As such the firms aren’t part of a sector per se. Since 2003, definitions of bioproduct firms changed: originally they included firms just using biomass but in 2006 the biomass had to be used to develop a bioproduct and by 2009, firms providing services only or biomass improvement were also excluded. The changes in definition make it difficult to compare statistics.

Excluded from the 2009 survey are firms that produce only food, feed and medicines, provide only technology or services but don't produce bioproducts, are involved only in biomass improvement; or produce traditional bioproducts in conventional ways e.g. milling of wood, making furniture, and bakeries.

Companies surveyed have been in operation longer than they have been in bioproducts related activities with 43% of the total number of companies involved in bioproducts within the last five years. This means that companies have adapted their operations toward bioproducts related activities more recently.

From 2008 to 2009, the surveyed firms total revenue for both bio and non-bio-products declined from $20 billion to $15 billion but the revenues for bioproducts rose from $5.3% of total revenues ($1.0 billion) to 9% ($1.3 billion). The cost of biomass was greater than the bioproduct revenue but some firms achieved internal efficiencies of $980 million, some sold coproducts such as glycerin and some bought biomass for products still in development stages.

Reasons countries have interest in expanding bioproducts are instability of energy pricing, environmental impacts of petroleum use and the potential to reduce reliance on import of foreign sourced energy. GallonLetter notes that since this report was written, the development of shale gas is seen as undermining some of this interest. There is no accepted international standard for defining bioproducts.

Other sources of biomass in addition to agriculture/forestry and marine/aquaculture are from food processing, slaughtering or rendered byproducts, and food service by-products.
In 2009, the 208 firms responding to the survey used more than 27 million metric tonnes of biomass. About 87 firms relied on agricultural biomass, 46 firms on forestry biomass, 10 relied on aquaculture materials and 15 firms used food processing or slaughtered or rendered by products as their primary biomass. Although more firms used agricultural biomass, the weight of forestry biomass was 16 million tonnes compared to 11 million tonnes for agricultural biomass.

Many companies surveyed had products at pre-production stage, r & d, proof of concept only:
  • gaseous fuels such as bio-gas, syngas, hydrogen
  • solid fuels such as agri-straw and agri-wood pellets
  • bioenergy such as electricity, heat, and co-generation
  • organic chemicals such as fine chemicals and solvents
  • fibreboard/agri-fibre panels

Bioproducts on the market in 2009 included:
  • ethanol for fuel
  • biodiesel for fuel
  • other liquid fuels such as methanol, butanol
  • organic chemicals such as lubricants and greases, polymers and other organic chemicals
  • biopesticides such as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides
  • biocatalysts and bio-enzymes
  • composites
  • materials such as foam, insulation, masonry, road materials, cement, geofibres, geotextiles
  • other bioproducts
Statistics Canada. Results from Statistics Canada’s Bioproducts Production and Development Survey 2009 by Neil Rothwell and Beau Khamphoune, Statistics Canada and Catherine Neumeyer, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. Catalogue no. 88F0006X, No. 1


Many statistics on renewable resources for renewable energy are not collected or are at best inaccurate. For example, bioenergy such as used for cooking and heating is not often or properly measured. These measurements are important for evaluating the effectiveness of policies as well as how countries are making progress on goals for renewable energy and for access to energy in developing countries. A report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) on statistics related to the use of biomass is specific to energy but provides insight into the idea that bio-based materials need as much analysis as conventional to determine whether they are indeed renewable (ie not harvested to such an extent that land is degraded and unable to produce significant biomass) and sustainable. IRENA is an intergovernmental agency which supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future through adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy for a low carbon economic growth and prosperity. Canada is not one of the member countries.

A large part of the global renewable energy is biomass, which provides about 10% of the world's Total Primary Energy Supply (2010), not much changed since 1990. Biomass includes wood burning on open fires, wood pellets used to produce power and heat, biodiesel and bioethanol as transport fuels which substitute for oil-based products. In comparison, all the other renewables (hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and ocean) account for 3% of TPES

Africa and Asian countries (excluding China) account for 30% each of the total solid biomass (mostly wood) used with China using an additional 17%. Africa supplies almost half (48%) of its energy from solid biomass. About 84% of households in Africa and 74% in Asia use solid biomass for energy.

Unlike the other forms of renewable energy, biomass is versatile, can be converted and used in solid, gas, liquid form, can provide power and heat and be used as a fuel for transport. However, because IRENA's definition of renewable energy states that the energy must be sustainable, there are concerns when the accounting for energy sources calls biomass sources renewable even if they are not sustainable.

Concerns are raised about some forms of bioenergy, especially traditional uses of biomass, some uses in transport and for power generation in relation to sustainability. Concerns which range on the three aspects of sustainability (environmental, economic and social) include:
  • greenhouse gas emissions from a particular feedstock or a particular transformation process need to be evaluated case by case. Case by case doesn't necessarily mean collecting data on each and every type of use of biomass or installation but does mean gaining enough practical information to estimate environmental impacts of different initiatives.
  • methods for accounting for economic and social impacts are poorly developed e.g. indirect impact of bioenergy due to land use changes.
Solid biomass can include wood, charcoal, agricultural and forestry material, wastes such as black liquor from pulp and paper, renewable municipal wastes and others.

Biogas includes landfill gases, sewage sludge and other gases from anaerobic digestion and thermal processes.

Liquid biofuels include mostly bioethanol and biodiesel. For bioethanol made from sugar or starch, feedstocks are crops such as corn, sugarcane, sugar beet and for biodiesel, oil crops such as soybeans, canola and oil palm as well as vegetable oil, and waste oils and fats. Advanced biofuels include cellulosic ethanol made fof woody material, and biomass to liquids and algae-based biofuels.

Losses of energy through use of bioenergy can be high. For example, in a traditional three-stone fire, 95% of the energy is lost compared to 10% in a modern co-generation biomass plant. Until there is a standardized way of estimating the actual energy available and used (called useful energy), it is difficult to know what contribution the bioenergy is making to the overall energy supply compared to conventional energy sources which have standardized conversion factors.

Because of the high energy losses due to traditional cooking, relatively cheap energy efficiency improvements such as improved cookstoves can double or triple the efficiency with potential for even greater energy efficiency. This would reduce the use of biomass by the same order of magnitude - the statistics might then show that there has been less use of renewable energy but this would be a wrong interpretation and would interfere with country goals e.g. to use 30% renewable energy by 2030. The social benefit of such a shift towards energy efficiency would help women and children who would have to spend less time gathering wood.

Primary and Secondary Sources

A primary source is used directly as energy. A secondary source is the result of a transformation process. For petroleum products, crude oil is a primary product and gasoline refined from it, the secondary. National accounting for energy are often separated into primary and secondary energy consumption. The definitions don't work so well for bioenergy. for example, wood waste have been through various processes but is still considered primary energy. For liquid biofuels, the transformation varies e.g. crops are not an energy source so even if the biofuel is transformed, the crop itself isn't primary energy but the fuel made from the crop is primary energy.

Another issue is accounting for trade in bio-based energy sources. Trade in wood waste and wood chips are also difficult to track because the determination of whether the product will be used for energy is often made after the trade is made. Inaccurate information is also often supplied for blends of biofuels with conventional fuels.

Decentralized and off-grid systems using bio-based systems to produce heat are common in developing countries but little is known about these because of their local nature.

Non-energy Uses of Renewable Sources

Just as coal, natural gas and oil are used for non-energy uses such as solvent and plastics, so is biomass. About 6% of the world's TPES of fossil fuel energy sources is used for non-energy, mostly through use of oil. Biomass is more difficult to assess. A much higher portion of biomass is used for non-energy purposes for example, collected wood might be burned in its entirety or be cut to provide fence posts or construction material as well as fuelwood. Not accounting for non-energy use of biomass distorts the energy supply statistics compared to fossil fuels if only fossil fuels have a non-energy use accounting.

IRENA has developed a questionnaire to help to develop a framework for measuring bioenergy to develop practical harmonized international sustainable set of criteria to track sustainable renewable energy use. 


Mitigating climate change, ie reducing greenhouse gas emissions is affected by a number of global changes according to the report by Working Group 3 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC:
  • The shift of production, investment and technology to emerging economies due to greater marginal productivity has increased greenhouse gas emissions from emerging economies.
  • Globalization has led to higher emissions embodied in traded goods and services suggesting the need for additional accounting systems to reflect where the goods are consumed rather than just where the emissions occurred in their manufacture.
  • Economic troubles encourage political priorities towards immediate and domestic economic benefits with long-term goals such as global climate protection abandoned even though the economic risks over the long term horizon are significant.
  • Economic downturn may turn attention away from energy efficiency and other technological progress to address climate change. However, the economic crisis has also created innovation often in emerging economies in South-South technology transfer to mitigate emissions.
  • Volatile commodity prices affect initiatives. High food prices challenge growing of crops for bioenergy which could reduce emissions. Bioenergy systems and other technologies such as power plants for carbon capture and storage technology which could cut emissions use a lot of steel and concrete which are also rising in price. On the other hand, higher commodity prices for energy help to encourage energy conservation but affordable energy services are key to economic and social development.
Unconventional Resources

Oil sands, shale oil, extra-heavy oil, coal bed methane, deep gas, shale gas, gas hydrates have pushed the "peak" of non-renewable fuel sources to the second half of the 21st century but they have actual and potential environmental consequences such as water pollution, high energy needed to produce, as well as high capital costs. If gas supplies compete with coal, they could reduce emissions providing the fracturing practices can reduce gas losses.

Carbon capture and storage hasn't been much deployed but is considered critical to climate mitigation.

Renewable Energy from Biomass: Reality Has Proven More Complex

Like all major sources of energy, renewable energy from biomass have associated concerns including high lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and competition with food production. Many of these fuels rely on subsidies from governments which seeking to reduce public expenditures are likely to cutback on this support.

Negative emission technologies such as power plants fired by biomass with carbon dioxide capture and storage is seen as likely to meet mitigation goals the most quickly but there is no such plant anywhere in the world

Use of biofuels may reduce CO2 emissions but corn-based ethanol increases the amount of nitrogen into water increasing algae growth and dead zones in water due to more use of nitrogen fertilizer and runoff. Design of regulation needs to be considered to ensure that effects on social welfare is not negative.

Acceptability of technologies is country and context specific so evaluation needs to take into account multiple values.

Changes in land use have socio-economic effects. Reduced land availability for agriculture could increase land rental, food prices, inequality as small farmers, tenants and herders are pushed out while others benefit. Bioenergy can also increase employment, and diversify farm income.

Land Use

Land use through agriculture, forestry and other is unique in that the land is used to remove CO2 and the management of the land, the livestock and the other living organisms is critical to reducing CO2 emissions. The land provides food, fibre and many ecological services with climate change mitigation being just one so initiatives to use land (agriculture, forestry) to reduce emissions must also consider the effect on the other services provided by the land. Just under a quarter of the anthropogenic GHG emissions (about 10-12 GT CO2eq/year) are related to land use changes such as from deforestation and agricultural emissions due to livestock, soil and nutrient management.

Some of the options include:
  • While some land uses are mutually exclusive, others have synergies for multiple functions and integrated systems.
  • In an ideal scenario, agriculture, forestry and bioenergy could contribute substantially to reduction of global GHGs but the ideal might not be implemented in the real world.
  • Different measures would be applicable to different countries and regions. Bioenergy can have beneficial or undesirable consequences for example, agricultural intensification may result in more fertilizer use (and more runoff of nitrogen and air pollution of N2) and energy use for irrigation.
Key points to avoid negative side effects from bioenergy in relation to land use are:
  • Ensure that high carbon dense ecosystems (forests, grassland and peatlands) are not converted to farmland and best practices are used for land management,
  • Lower lifecycle emissions result from alternatives to crops such as corn and soybeans. Fast growing trees, sugarcane, and the grass Miscanthus as well as residues have lower life cycle emissions under most sites and situations. However, if more land is converted to agricultural land which previously wasn't, emissions may rise.
Policies including carbon tax and carbon capture and storage are important to whether bioenergy has benefits or adverse effects, "Biomass for energy, including improved cookstoves, biogas, and small-scale biopower could reduce marginal GHG emissions and also improve livelihoods and health of 2.6 billion rural inhabitants. But if policy conditions (e.g., price on both fossil and terrestrial carbon; land-use planning, and others) are not met, bioenergy deployment could also lead to increased emissions, and compromise livelihoods (distributional consequences), biodiversity and ecosystem services (medium evidence, medium agreement)."

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Presentations at a 2009 OECD Biotechnology Unit workshop on the bioeconomy held in Montreal addressed the need for policies to evaluate the contribution a bioeconomy can make to environmental goals.

Questions need to be answered about whether "bio" is enough. For example, biodegradability is not linked to the origin of the material. Both renewable and non-renewable materials can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable.

Bio Is Not Enough

Being bio-based is not proof of environmental sustainability. For example, a carbon test method can determine how much renewable raw material is in a product but this tests only the origin of the materials. A full Life Cycle Assessment is needed to consider the origin of the energy used in production, distribution and disposal of the material. Building consistent and quality assured life cycle data and methods would reduce costs and reporting requirements and lead to development of more sustainable consumption and production. Current problems are:
  • reliance on a very small number of lifecycle consultants
  • limited confidence in studies and instruments on the part of some stakeholders
  • inconsistency of data from different sources and countries
  • avoiding burden shifting: Environmental burdens can shift from one stage of the product to another, among countries in a global market, different environmental and health impacts, from one generation to another, different kind of impacts (health, social, environmental)
While many LCAs have been produced on biofuels and energy crops such as forestry and agricultural biomass for energy, oils/esters and alcohols/ethers, and some on biomaterials such as fibres/timber for construction and biopolymers, few LCAs are available on bio-chemicals such as intermediate products, solvents, lubricants and hydraulic fluids, and surfactants.

For example for an additive to diesel, the environmental performance of the generic additive is compared to the biobased additive Product X. Product X even though biobased may have higher fossil fuel depletion by life-cycle assessment.

Policy Development

Among the policy related issues are:
  • Legislation and policies: Bio-based products should have similar policies and legislation to other products e.g. on waste, recovery and recycling as well as encouraging sustainable use of biomass for bio-based products.
  • Public Procurement for bio-based products: Include specifications for bio-based products in tender specifications. Example: USDA BioPreferred Program
  • Review existing standards and develop new standards specific to bio-based products. Examples of issues include requirement for claims on selected characteristics, measurement of biobased carbon content. For example, a standard for bio-lubricants would include biodegradability, product functionality, impact on GHG emissions and raw material consumption, measurement methods, test methods and LCA procedures.
  • Sustainable Biorefineries: Need for a multi-disciplinary approach to develop technologies to turn biomass into biobased chemicals, materials, second generation biofuels, power and heat.
  • Assess the value chain including addressing the competition for food and biomass, GHG net balance, impact on water and land use.
  • Land Use. Land is a limiting feature of cultivated biomass.
  • Critical to look at different uses of biomass. Biodiesel has benefits of being renewable but has human health repercussions. Brazil's sugar cane is described as an example of biomass which has multiple bioproducts. Sugar cane produces juice for sugar as well as molasses which can be converted to ethanol, bagasse and straw for ethanol and bioelectricity.
No Perfect Solution: Adjusting over Time to New Information

As happens in life, understanding the environmental sustainability of bioproducts may not lead to perfect solutions but different approaches can help governments to "minimize environmental effects and maximize sustainability/ utility / benefits of bioproducts and co-products through their entire lifecycle, " according to Environment Canada's presentation at the workshop. EC's Terry McIntyre identified the landscape effects from biomass feedstock selection and harvesting as having the biggest impact on the environment. Reducing burdens and increasing benefits include:
  • need for sustainable farming practices
  • high intensity monoculture agriculture associated with crop production for biofuels creates challenges for soil quality, nutrient loading, habitat and biodiversity, and energy intensity. Raising crops to use for biofuels uses significant energy. increased land use and water use, increased pesticide use, novel wastes, GMO risks.
  • gaps in information and understanding can lead to negative effects. For example, cleanup of a fuel spill is complicated if the fuel consists partially of oil and partially of biofuel
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Along with research a number of partners including the Government of Kenya and organizations such as the International Institute for Sustainable Development IISD (Winnipeg, Manitoba), the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP has produced a report on a green economy in Kenya to enable the country to achieve its Vison 2030 for sustainable low-carbon development, poverty reduction and green jobs.

Over a number of years, Kenya has developed a number of green economy initiatives including renewable energy feed-in tariffs, embedding sustainable natural resource use in its 2010 Constitution and highlighting green economy in its plans for 2013-2017. Under a Greening Kenya Initiative, a database lists green efforts such as manufacturing of eco-friendlier materials, tree planting, organic farming, fish farming, renewable energy, eco-labelling, solid waste and environmental management.

Compared to a business as usual, a green economy scenario is expected to deliver a doubling of real per capita income in Kenya by 2030. Currently about 42% of the country's GDP is from natural resources including agriculture, mining, forestry, fishing and tourism. About 42% of employment is from small scale agriculture including subsistence raising of domesticated herd animals.

Bioeconomy is part of a green economy, which is defined by UNEP as "one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It entails essentially a low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially-inclusive economy." Selected examples from the UNEP report illustrate some of the issues:
  • Accounting for Ecological services: Alternative accounting has helped convince the Kenyan government to protect the Mau Forest complex which provides US1.5 billion a year in water for hydroelectricy, agriculture, tourism and urban and rural use. Carbon sequestration and erosion control are additional benefits.
  • Considering medium and long term benefits as well as short term: While the business as usual approach for agriculture would produce just as high yields in the short term in Kenya, organic and ecological practices would reduce the use and cost of chemical fertilizer, retain soil quality and produce higher yields over the medium and long term. Greening the agriculture sector also provides opportunity to grow international markets for green products.
  • Cleaner production: Kenya has a large food manufacturing sector but Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP) assessments sectors such as tea, textile, sugar, dairy, show transition to a green economy is challenged by a lack of knowledge and awareness, limited technical and professional management skills, and investment costs.
  • Institutional and policy processes needed to support reform: Approaches include multistakeholder participation, multi-sectoral involvement, public procurement of green products and services, transparency, participation and accountability including data such as biodiversity inventories, greenhouse gas emission inventories, environmental accounting and participation in international policy development.
The printed version of the report is on "100% recycled paper, using vegetable inks and other eco-friendly practices.

Cup of Tea

Beginning in 2006 in a partnership with Unilever (for its Lipton tea brand and others), the Kenya Tea Development Agency helped thousands of small holders become Rainforest Alliance Certified, selling to the Momul Tea Factory, owned by KTDA. These smallholders were the first in Kenya to meet Rainforest Alliance Certified standards which cover practices such as those related to ecosystem conservation, wildlife protection, workers' rights (e.g. decent housing and fair wages) and safety, water and soil conservation and reduction in use of agrochemicals. This group of farmers is the largest single group in the world to meet the Rainforest Alliance Certified standards.

Biomass for Energy

About 68% of primary energy consumed in Kenya is wood fuel and other biomass with 80% of the country's population depending on wood fuel for cooking and heating and local informal rural industries. This use of wood drives deforestation and land degradation. Improved cookstoves can have beneficial impacts by reducing the amount of wood and distance travelled to collect wood usually a job for women, and reduced indoor air pollution. Domino effects include more time to gain education, get health care and generate income.

Lack of adequate transmission system problems mean only 4% of households in rural areas have access to electricity. In the country, commercial and industrial sectors use 60% of electricity and overall 18% of households have access to electricity. A sugar growing belt in west Kenya is supplied by 200,000 small-scale farmers. The Mumias Sugar Company Limited produces 38 MW of electricity from its co-generation plant, putting 26 MW into the grid through combustion of bagasse, the waste material from sugarcane.


The government has set a goal to increase the amount of tree cover to 10% on farms.

Since 2003, in Kisumu, Kenya, one of 7 programmes in the Lake Victoria basin run by the Swedish Cooperative Centre SCC is intended to mitigate agriculture greenhouse gases, land degradation and to reduce farmer vulnerability to climate change affects. Planting trees on farms is focussed on market orientated production by about 60,000 smallholder farmer households owning between 0.5 to 5 hectares of farm land and providing mostly their own labour primarily by women and children/youth. A portion of the households receive funding from the BioCarbon Fund of the World Bank available under a voluntary certification standard for carbon sequestration.

Some of the impacts of the agroforesty project include:
  • better health of households: especially in semi-arid areas, soils are protected with more organic material improving the production of fruits and vegetable and animal protein making the difference between an adequate diet and deficiency diseases. Medicinal tree species and training on how to use the products also help improve the health of communities. Improved income also helps households to pay for medical services.
  • ffood, water, energy security: More diversity of food production and more income helps to meet nutritional needs. One crop failure means another crop will fill the gap. Drought resistant varieties and better water management e.g. rain harvesting and storage reduce risk of food shortages due to climate events. Water collection including from roofs helps to reduce water borne diseases and may enable farmers to grow food for home use or sale during drought.
  • Wood saving stoves and their own trees help with wood security. Being able to harvest their own trees means households don't go into forests for firewood collection; forests help to protect rivers which don't dry out as much during drought.
  • value added: households are trained in making items which add to their quality of life and their income such as herbal drugs and soaps, juices. Farmers can also establish their own tree nurseries for sale of trees.
  • soil: reduced soil erosion, animals feed on the tree leaves, animal waste helps to grow the trees. GallonLetter notes that in Canada, the idea of using tree leaves for feed is not that common but through this project, some trees provide enough feed for dairy cows when grass is unavailable outside of the rainy season.
  • shade reduces heat stress
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 Biotechnology is seen as offering "technological solutions for many of the health and resource based problems facing the world" according to the OECD report on designing the bioeconomy of 2030 which is seen to involve three elements:
  • "advanced knowledge of genes and complex cell processes
  • renewable biomass
  • integration of biotechnology applications across sectors."
Growing population and per capita income position biotechnology as key to meeting the challenge of environmentally sustainable production. Increases in energy demand especially in developing countries is likely to increase demand for biofuels.

Openness and transparency in government policies and regulations is key. Public opinion against biotechnology could be changed if policies ensure safety and if biotech provides significant benefits for consumers and the environment. The success of the bioeconomy depends on governance including good policy decisions. It could be that governments have to plan for the fact that some innovations (called disruptive and radical) due to the bioeconomy could lead to collapse of traditional industry sectors and firms.

Examples of use of biotechnology to support sustainable development include:
  • use of bioremediation to remove toxic compounds from soil and water
  • improving primary production of agriculture e.g. by improved crop varieties that require less tillage to reduce soil erosion, reduced pesticides and fertilizers to reduce water pollution
  • genetic fingerprinting to manage wild fish stocks and prevent their collapse.
  • industrial biotechnology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from chemical and other production.
New products such as biopharmaceuticals, recombinant vaccines, new plant and animal varieties and industrial enzymes need knowledge and skill development.

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The 2014 edition of the GLOBE biennial conference on the business of the environment was held in Vancouver in late March. Many frequent attendees observed that it was one of the best GLOBE conferences in recent years: more high-profile and well informed speakers than in the past and fewer speakers whose presentations were limited to touting their products or services.

GLOBE 2014 was made lively by some controversies that broke out. In the opening plenary BC Premier Christy Clark made some excellent points about a more sustainable economy for her province but also touted the climate benefits of exports of natural gas from the province. Other gas industry speakers made similar comments prompting Jim Harris, past leader of the Green Party of Canada and now a writer, author, and management consultant, to make the point that, after taking into account losses of methane from production and distribution, natural gas is not much of an improvement over other fossil fuels.

A second controversy broke out over the role of fusion energy in a more sustainable future. One panel member, an investment professional who has included a fusion energy company in his portfolio, suggested that fusion energy will be a low environmental impact part of the available energy mix within five years. That claim raised quite a number of eyebrows among people who are more inclined to consider fusion energy either a wild goose chase or at best something that will not be commercialized for many decades.

Following the Premier, keynote presentations were given by Jim Balsillie, of Blackberry fame and now Chair of the Board of Sustainable Development Technology Canada, Lord Ian Livingston, UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Hans Engel, Chairman and CEO of BASF Corporation, and Marc Gunther, Editor-at-large with Guardian Sustainable Business in the USA. Each, from their own perspective, presented powerful arguments for business to adopt more sustainable strategies.
GLOBE has up to five parallel tracks during its three days so reviewing everything would require a more extensive team than GallonLetter can muster. A session on Clean Energy Trends included a presentation on a new survey of the rapid growth in renewable energy in 2013, the priority being given to renewable energy by the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group, information on the rapid growth of a company called SolarCity, and remarks from well-known renewable energy and conservation advocate Amory Lovins. In a subsequent session Lovins, whom Time magazine headlined as one of the world's most influential people in 2009, gave an overview of how the world could use existing technology to operate without fossil fuels or nuclear power by 2050 while maintaining adequate growth in the global economy. The contents of the presentation were maybe a little bit of a stretch but it was encouraging to know that there are people, at least at Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute, looking at the potential for a carbon and nuclear free economy.

A structured corporate networking breakfast, with table chairs from 16 sustainability organizations, provided another round of discussion if not controversy. With sponsorship from Chartered Professional Accountants Canada, the claim at the opening of the breakfast that accountants are the primary leaders of corporate sustainability at first gained chuckles, with some participants claiming that it is the CEO, and not the CFO, who plays the most significant leadership role in embedding sustainability into core business strategy.

A debate between Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the well-known environmental activist, President of Waterkeeper Alliance, and a partner in Vantage Point Capital, and Wal van Lierop, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, attracted a large audience but the two speakers were not far apart with both arguing for a focus on clean energy and clean technology. One of the key differences was whether we should seek revolutionary change by 2020 (Kennedy) or whether a somewhat slower transformation of the economy would be more sustainable (van Lierop).

Key topics at GLOBE in 2014 were energy; corporate sustainability and the challenges of achieving it; climate change; urban sustainability; particularly for medium and large cities; financing of clean tech, whatever that is; and sustainable food systems. These topics are a fair selection of the environmental and sustainability issues for which solutions are currently needed. Waste management was covered only in a special end of GLOBE session sponsored by the National Zero Waste Council, a new initiative being pursued by Metro Vancouver with business and municipal partners. The session, open to virtually anyone who wished to attend, was not terribly well focussed and the discussion covered everything from banning polystyrene foam to asking the NZWC to ban the construction of an incinerator in Vancouver. As is often the case with waste management consultations, few of the ideas put forward by the audience were practical, politically viable, and economically sound. Unfortunately the discussion did little to educate those in the audience who thought they had the answers to Canada's waste management problems though the concept of a national council focussing on reducing waste is one that would appear to be very necessary today.

The GLOBE trade show was about as large as usual, despite the loss of a major federal government pavilion, and was well populated with international and provincial pavilions and exhibitors. The exhibits covered the full range of environmental technologies from one designed to prevent well-head oil spills to several designed for in-situ commercial waste management applications. A section, known somewhat unusually as the PowerHaus, for emerging Canadian technologies and innovations was very popular with visitors though only a few of the technologies demonstrated are likely to achieve full commercialization.

A more complete version of this review is available in the online journal EcoLog, available to subscribers at



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