The world's second largest country does not yet have a national bioeconomy strategy, but there are strategies with bioeconomy elements and provinces that have already developed their own vision of a bioeconomy. A comprehensive update of this country dossier.

Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia and very rich in bioresources. The country alone is home to about 9% of the world's forests. The bioeconomy opens up new opportunities for Canada to use biobased resources efficiently and sustainably and to open up new markets.

Political and legal basis

The first federal effort to develop the bioeconomy in Canada was launched in 2017 with the adoption of the framework paper "A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada". This involved primarily promoting economic activities that focus on the sustainable use of forest resources for traditional forest products (such as pulp, paper and wood) and for new high-value products and services (including biofuels, biochemicals and advanced building materials).

However, the document also highlighted the knowledge-based, circular and innovative nature of the bioeconomy, which contributes to the sustainable production and use of biobased resources. In light of the Corona pandemic, the increasing intensity of forest fires and the impacts of climate change, the Council of Canadian Forest Ministers decided in November 2021 to update the framework document. Based on the 2017 work, the revised 2022 document identified measures to help address the current challenges facing the Canadian forest sector and further exploit the potential of the wood-based bioeconomy in the future. For example, exchange with all supply chain actors should be further promoted, but above all dialogue with the indigenous population should be expanded. In addition, the development of product standards and international norms should be promoted and demonstration projects further supported.

While the development of bioeconomy policy strategies is politically driven in many countries, in Canada it is mainly industry actors who are driving the Canadian bioeconomy. For example, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC), together with BioDesign, an industry-led consortium of companies, associations, academic and research institutions, submitted a policy document to the Canadian government in May 2019 entitled "Canada's Bioeconomy Strategy", which outlines a bioeconomy vision of more than 400 industry representatives from across the country. This document calls on the government, but also industry itself, to seize the opportunities of the industrial bioeconomy. In particular, Canada's competitive advantages in agriculture and forestry and the associated access to domestic biomass should be exploited. The strategy paper attaches great importance to the bioeconomy to meet the challenges of climate change.

It also highlights the role of innovation clusters and ecosystems, an adapted regulatory system and the commercialisation of innovations to strengthen the growth of biobased companies. Interestingly, in response to the industry initiative under the Canadian Agriculture Adaptation Programme, the Canadian government invested about CAD 200,000 in BIC to outsource the development of a national bioeconomy strategy. Thus, BIC stakeholders were to define the role of government in creating the regulatory environment and related infrastructure necessary for the introduction of bio-based processes and products. The global corona crisis has stalled this process. Also, because overarching policy developments changed during this time in Canada. Whereas the bioeconomy was previously driven largely by energy policy mechanisms, more recent energy policy has focused on achieving carbon intensity targets. Newer policy packages, such as the federal Clean Fuel Standard, no longer impose volume quotas on bioenergy, or biofuels, as was the case with older policies.

In the 2021 federal budget, CAD 400 million was announced for the development and implementation of a pan-Canadian genomics strategy (PCGS) to advance the commercialisation of genomics technologies, strengthen Canada's global leadership and position the country for long-term success in the global bioeconomy. In May and June 2022, the Canadian government held consultations with various stakeholders on this. The interviewees see sector-specific opportunities primarily in the areas of health, environment and climate, agriculture and food security, as well as synthetic biology. The latter in particular was seen as having a special role in the development of new foods, biobased materials, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

In 2021, the Ministers of Innovation, Science and Industry and Health also adopted a new "Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy" in response to the corona pandemic. With around CAD 2.2 billion, the government aims to strengthen Canada's vaccine, therapeutics and biopharma manufacturing ecosystem to boost economic growth and create good, high-skilled jobs in the country.

Biomass use in focus

The Canadian bioeconomy is largely focused on the sustainable use of domestic biomass resources - primarily forest and agricultural biomass, but also aquatic biomass from coastal regions - for new industrial biobased products, such as bioenergy, biobased materials and biobased chemicals. In some regions, municipalities have enacted bans on the landfilling of organic residues and waste, creating new opportunities to convert these materials into bioenergy and other biobased products.

Canadian pulp and paper mills have reinvented themselves in recent years in the face of increased international competition and a decline in global demand for forest products. As a result, many mills have begun to incorporate biomass conversion processes and equipment into their operations to produce a wide range of biobased, non-traditional products. Dubbed "forest biorefineries", these factories have begun producing biofuels, biobased materials and a variety of biochemicals. Nanocrystalline cellulose and cellulose filaments are two such materials that are seen as having great potential to improve existing industrial products such as textiles, refined paper, plastics and special coatings.

However, the focus of Canadian bioeconomy development is on the use of agricultural resources. The agricultural and food sectors are important sectors of the Canadian economy. Canada is the fifth largest exporter of agricultural and food products after the EU, USA, Brazil and China.

Since domestic biomass resources are generally produced in rural areas, the Canadian provinces are of enormous importance for bioeconomy development in the country. In the past, these regions have developed various regional approaches and initiatives:

Regional bioeconomy initiatives at a glance

Alberta: Alberta is one of the strongest agricultural provinces in Canada. Here, there are various initiatives and approaches that have been launched to promote the bioeconomy. The "Bioeconomy Alberta Network", an informal network of representatives from politics, science and business, supports the development of the biobased economy in Alberta by promoting innovation partnerships and providing technical know-how. Alberta Innovates, a provincially funded research institute, supports bioeconomy-related innovation projects and programmes in the field of industrial biotechnology to promote the production and use of biobased products. This includes, for example, the "Bioindustrial Materials Program", which aims to build new value-added capacities and develop new bio-based business models.

Britisch Columbia: British Columbia: British Columbia has some of the largest forest resources in the world. The British Columbia Ministry of Forests is therefore committed to driving the transformation of the domestic forest sector. For example, through the Indigenous Forest Bioeconomy Program, the province is promoting collaboration between business and Indigenous partners to advance the province's wood-based bioeconomy and build community resilience in an increasingly competitive global forest sector. The first Forest Innovation and Bioeconomy Conference (FIBC) will also be held in Vancouver in the summer of 2023, organised by the Innovation, Bioeconomy and Indigenous Opportunity (IBIO) Division of the provincial Department of Forests.

Ontario: The province of Ontario published a forest sector strategy in 2020: "Sustainable Growth: Ontario's Forest Sector Strategy". One of the key commitments that came out of this document was the development of the Forest Biomass Action Plan (2022). The plan serves to support the economic development of the province and aims, on the one hand, to involve indigenous communities in order to investigate innovative uses of biomass products. On the other hand, it aims to identify new market development opportunities for biomass products and to improve the demand and regulatory environment for these products.

Research landscape

Canada possesses very strong research and development (R&D) capabilities across the country that are driving bioeconomy development in the country. A wide variety of universities have focused on bioeconomy-related research topics.

The Waterloo Region, in the province of Ontario, is home to the three cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. This triangle of cities is also called "Canada`s Technology Triangle" and is home to growing younger economic sectors such as life sciences/biotechnology and the energy sector. The University of Waterloo operates research institutes that focus on biotechnology and bioengineering. In recent years, the University of Guelph has shifted its focus to the bioeconomic aspects of agriculture and focuses on research and development of technologies for the sustainable production and use of biomass. The University of Guelph established the Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre in 2008 and has since been conducting cutting-edge research to develop biobased products used in manufacturing (including automotive), consumer goods and services.

Across the country, there are more than 20 faculties or institutes dealing with, amongst others, agricultural sciences/agriculture or forestry/food sciences. The University of Alberta is home to a Biorefining Conversions Network, which was made possible by funding from the province. Its purpose is to promote the province's bioindustry, network stakeholders and facilitate interdisciplinary exchange. In the meantime, there is a large network with partners from industry and science. The topics of food/nutrition and sustainable resources and agriculture are also addressed at the University of Alberta.

At the University of British Columbia, the Forest Bio-Products (BPI) Institute is made up of scientists, engineers and other experts. It pools the knowledge of the university's five strategic research centres in the field of bioeconomy research and education.

Life sciences-focused research institutions include the Biomass Research Cluster at McGill University's MacDonald Campus in Montréal and Lambton College in Sarnia-Lambton, Ontario, which has become one of the leading colleges in the bioeconomy field over the past decade. In partnership with the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park, Lambton College is able to provide relevant, career-oriented training and applied research to further develop the bio-hybrid and chemical clusters, supporting the needs of locally based biobased businesses and the province of Ontario.

Due to the geographical conditions, there is also a research focus around the topic of water and oceans. In Québec, there is, among others, the Marine Biotechnology Research Centre in Rimouski, which has been active since 2004. Also important in this field are the Bedford Institute for Oceanography and The Ocean Science Centre.

The ArticNet network of excellence brings together all the institutions that deal with climate change in the Arctic and pool the relevant findings. The CCCM (Canadian Centre for the Culture of Microorganisms) also has large collections of natural resources, such as the NEPCC (North East Pacific Culture Collection) and FWAC (Freshwater Algal Culture Collection). Marine biodiversity is also the focus of NSERC's Canadian Healthy Ocean Network.

One focus of the Winnipeg region in Manitoba is research into functional foods and nutraceuticals to improve nutrition and health. The Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals (RCFFN) is one of the leading research institutions in this field nationwide.

Government funding

The conversion of domestic biomass into biofuels, biobased materials and chemicals is a strategic focus in Canada. The federal government is therefore working closely with the provinces, municipalities and industry to support the development of the biobased industry. This support includes regulations, networks and programmes to promote and fund research and development and the establishment of pilot and commercial scale production facilities.

The National Research Council (NRC) is Canada's leading federal agency for scientific and industrial research. The Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry is administratively responsible for the NRC. The NRC has 14 research centres spread across Canada. Through so-called Challenge Programmes, the NRC partners with private and public, academic and other research organisations in Canada and internationally to advance transformative and high-risk research. The Government of Canada has allocated CAD 150 million over five years, with CAD 30 million per year on an ongoing basis, to fund NRC researchers and their research institution and corporate partners for research and development (R&D) programmes. The Challenge Programmes are part of the new collaborative R&D programmes announced in 2019 as part of the Canada Innovation and Skills Plan and the commitment to support business innovation. These programmes will fund various bioeconomy-related projects, for example in the areas of sustainable protein supply, clean fuel materials or advanced manufacturing.

Scientists at the Canadian Research Services (CFS) are working with their counterparts in provincial and territorial governments, industry and universities to explore new technologies for biomass conversion and new biobased products. For example, CFS researchers at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre are developing new biochemicals and forestry biomaterials. As part of the "Boreal Bioprospecting Initiative", they are working with industry to identify new compounds that could create new added value as "green" chemicals and be used commercially. In the field of biotechnology, CFS is researching a range of applications to improve forest regeneration, protect forests through biological pest control and maintain forest genetic diversity. Research under the Bio-pathways Project aims to help industry expand the value of biobased products and identify new markets for biochemicals and other new biobased products.

Canada also provides funding for strategically important research fields - so-called Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE). With the 2018 budget, funding for the NCE programme was gradually transferred to the New Frontiers in Research Fund and continued through it in the coming years. An NCE network relevant in the context of the bioeconomy is the Natural Products Canada (NPC), which runs from 2016 to 2023 and is endowed with CAD 14 million. The initiative aims to promote the research, development and commercialisation of natural products, with a focus on dietary supplements and medically effective cosmetics, functional foods and food ingredients, agricultural products, feed ingredients and veterinary medicines, as well as environmentally friendly substitutes for chemically manufactured products. The province-wide network includes BioAlberta, Ag-WestBio Inc, the University of Guelph, the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods (University of Laval) and the PEI BioAlliance.

The Biomass Cluster (BMC) is Canada's first research cluster focused on biomass commercialisation. BMC was developed by BioFuelNet Canada, which was established through funding from previous Networks of Centres of Excellence. The BMC will run for five years (2018 to 2023) and is supported by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and other partners. The BMC includes 22 industry partners and seven universities.

A leading investment agency in the field of environment and climate is Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC). With a budget of CAD 1.09 billion, the agency maintains two funds aimed at developing and demonstrating innovative technological solutions. The CAD 590 million SD Tech Fund supports projects in the areas of climate change, air quality, clean water and clean soil, while the CAD 500 million NextGen Biofuels Fund supports the establishment of demonstration facilities for the production of next-generation renewable fuels. Some successes of SDTC support include: Enerchem Alberta Biofuels, Bioriginal and Nexterra Systems Corp. Many companies also benefit from a tax deductibility programme for research and development costs, the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program.

Genome Canada is an independent, government-funded non-profit organisation that provides national leadership in the Canadian genomics ecosystem. Working across sectors, the organisation invests in genomics research, innovation, data collection and the recruitment of future talent to find solutions to the greatest challenges of our time. The Canadian Genomics Enterprise is a pan-Canadian network that includes Genome Canada and six independent regional genome centres. This federated model optimises investment in genomics research and innovation by aligning regional strengths and needs with national priorities and mobilising partnerships between industry and academia.

Liberal approach to genetic engineering

Commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops in agriculture is legally permitted and is taking place: In Canada, genetically modified (GM) crops are grown mainly in Ontario and Quebec. There are currently five GM crops on the market, including canola, soybeans, grain corn and sugar beets. GM alfalfa was introduced in small quantities in 2016. These GM crops are mostly used as processed food ingredients and animal feed. They are genetically modified to be insect resistant and/or herbicide tolerant. In 2021, it is estimated that over 8.6 million hectares in Canada were planted with genetically modified canola, representing 95% of all canola sown that year. Since its introduction 20 years ago, the country has become one of the world's leaders in the cultivation of GM crops, ranking fourth behind the United States, Brazil and Argentina when comparing the area used for GM cultivation. Canada has also been producing GM salmon since 2020. The GM salmon was the very first GM farm animal sold worldwide. It was first sold in Canada in 2017 (from AquaBounty's small research facility in Panama, which has since closed). There is no mandatory labelling of GM food for consumers in Canada.

Business landscape

Canada's largest companies are in the banking, insurance, oil, mining and gas sectors, but there are also many players in the bioeconomy. According to recruiter BioTalent Canada, around 12,000 companies collectively employed about 200,000 people in the Canadian bioeconomy in 2019. The overwhelming majority of these companies are small or medium-sized enterprises: 83 % have fewer than 50 employees, and 55 % generate annual gross sales of less than CAD 1 million. More than half (54 %) of the companies are in the organic health sector. At the same time, many companies are also active in several subsectors of the bioeconomy, such as the industrial bioeconomy or agricultural biotechnology.

Many of the companies involved in bioeconomics are researching the sustainable use of biomass. Three companies with innovative approaches are Enerkem, GreenField Speciality Alcohols Inc. and LCY Biosciences (formerly BioAmber). Enerkem is developing alternatives to landfilling and incinerating waste. The company is partnering with the city of Edmonton to use technology that allows biofuels such as ethanol to be produced from municipal waste. Instead of food such as corn, waste can be used to produce biofuels. The technology is already being used successfully at the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels plant in Edmonton. GreenField Specialty Alcohols Inc. has developed a biomass pretreatment system capable of processing both agricultural residues and wood biomass into cellulose and hemicellulose sugars.

LCY Biosciences (formerly BioAmber) is a Canadian chemical company that opened the world's largest plant for the production of biobased succinic acid in the Sarnia Bio-Industrial Park in 2015. The raw material used is glucose obtained from regional corn cultivation, which is converted by biotechnological processes. Canada hosts the annual industrial bioeconomy conference "Scaling up", the only conference in Canada dedicated to promoting industrial biobased solutions to the needs of a low-carbon economy.


Canada hosts a dynamic bioeconomy innovation ecosystem with industry clusters developing across the country. In doing so, Canada's biobased industry has strategically developed around specific regions to lower the cost of accessing biobased feedstocks and reap the economic benefits of clustering. This in turn has favoured the development of leading technologies for the sustainable use of biomass and the emergence of strong, knowledge-based 'bio-clusters' across the country. These include, among others:

  • Drayton Valley, Alberta - a bio-cluster specialising in agriculture and flax fibre development,
  • BC Interior (Fort St. John and Prince George) - wood fibre and bioenergy cluster,
  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan - a world-leading centre for organic agriculture, protein and oilseeds,
  • Sarnia, Ontario - a biorefinery cluster with strengths in biochemical and bioenergy development and a strong focus on agriculture, first bio-hybrid cluster,
  • Thunder Bay, Ontario - a cluster focused on the use of wood and lignin,
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba - known for its focus on fibres for biocomposites and functional foods,
  • Trois Rivières, Quebec (La Toque BELT project) - specialising in biofuels and bioenergy,
  • Maritimes, Prince Edward Island - opportunities for wood fibre, marine algae, specialty crops and food processing waste streams, and animal health.

The most important clusters of biotechnology and bioeconomy companies are located in the following municipalities:
Drayton Valley, Alberta 
There are four main industries in Drayton Valley: oil and gas, agriculture and forestry. Established in 2008, the Drayton Valley Bio-Mile is an industrial area adjacent to the Weyerhaeuser sawmill and the Valley Power cogeneration plant in the southwest corner of Drayton Valley. To support the successful attraction of businesses to the Bio-Mile and the attraction of new start-ups, the City of Drayton Valley has opened the Clean Energy Technology Centre (CETC). It is the first of its kind in Alberta, offering a range of education and training, business development and incubation, and applied research and development services.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
As one of the world's leading centres in life sciences, Saskatoon is one of the most dynamic locations for agricultural biotechnology innovation and commercialisation. The Saskatoon Cluster provides access to large quantities of straw from wheat and barley production, as well as vegetable oils from canola, gold-of-pleasure and carinata.The National Research Council's Institute of Plant Biotechnology in Saskatoon offers a range of services to businesses, including access to laboratory space and state-of-the-art genomic technologies. The institute's partnership programme supports companies in the critical early years of their development and provides a solid foundation of technological and business expertise. Much of the biotech research community is based around the Innovation Place research park and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Saskatoon itself is home to more than 40 companies doing innovative research and development in agricultural biotechnology, representing about 30% of Canada's activity in this area. The Saskatoon cluster is focused on establishing markets for functional foods, dietary supplements and industrial bioproducts. Biotech companies operating in Saskatoon include Bayer, Corteva, Linnaeus, InfraReady Products, Vittera and Cargill, Prairie Tide, Bioriginal, Novozymes BioAg.

Sarnia, Ontario
Sarnia-Lambton is an internationally leading refining and petrochemical site in southwestern Ontario. The existing infrastructure and industry provide an excellent foundation for the industrial bioeconomy. The site is becoming increasingly important as a centre for research and development of bio-based processes. Companies now based there include Cargill, Suncor, Exxon, Shell, Arlanxeo, TransAlta, CF Industries, Nova Chemicals, LCY Biosciences, Suncor Ethanol and Woodland Biofuels. Sarnia is increasingly recognised as a hybrid chemical cluster because of its focus on green and sustainable technologies for the 21st century, while also retaining its resident petroleum industry. Sarnia-Lambton is simultaneously a leader in the production of soybeans, wheat and corn used to make grain-based biofuels and bio-based chemicals. Toronto-based Woodland Biofuels Inc. built a 12-million CAD demo plant for "cellulosic ethanol" at the Bioindustrial Innovation Canada Centre in 2014-15 and is now in the process of building a commercial-scale plant. Suncor Energy's ethanol plant in Sarnia-Lambton has a production capacity of 400 million litres of ethanol per year, making it the largest ethanol plant in Canada. Sarnia is also home to the world's first plant for the production of biobased succinic acid, initiated by BioAmber, now LCY Biosciences.

Charlottetown, PEI
Charlottetown is the capital of Prince Edward Islands (PEI), Canada's Atlantic region, which has a strong research infrastructure in the form of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research and Development Centre. The PEI BioAlliance is a private sector-led non-profit organisation responsible for developing and coordinating the strategy for the growth of the PEI Bioscience Cluster. Since 2005, the BioAlliance has supported the work of companies, academic institutions and research institutes, as well as federal and provincial agencies, in establishing the life science sector in the province and Atlantic Canada.

Networks and associations

The Bioeconomy Network (BEN) is a cross-sector association of industry associations with a clear bioeconomy focus. Members of BEN include BIOTECanada, Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and the Canadian Bioenergy Association (CanBio). Nine industry associations represent a total of more than 800 member companies. The stated goal is to harness the potential of the bioeconomy and give a voice to interested industry players by creating a forum for exchange between government representatives and committed industry stakeholders.

There is also BIOTECanada, a national industry association of the health, industry and biotechnology sector with over 200 members. Thematically, biotechnology is clearly the focus of the association. But bioeconomic topics are also discussed on the sidelines.

Based in Sarnia, Ontario, the Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) Cluster is an organisation funded by the Government of Canada and the Ontario provincial government that specialises in the development and commercialisation of innovative industrial bioeconomy technologies. BIC has expanded business support and established the Centre for Commercialisation of Sustainable Chemistry Innovation (COMM SCI), a centre for the commercialisation of sustainable chemical and bio-based innovations that provides business and technical support to participating SMEs.

International cooperation

Canada is a member of the International Bioeconomy Forum (IBF). The IBF was launched in 2012 by countries around the world to align their individual bioeconomy strategies with the development of a global and sustainable bioeconomy. Since then, the IBF has evolved into a platform organised into ad hoc working groups to guide international collaboration on key research and innovation priorities and activities critical to the development of a global, sustainable bioeconomy.

Research and text for this dossier update: Christin Boldt

We thank Warren Mabee (Queen's University) and Murray McLaughlin (McLaughlin Consultants & Bioindustrial Innovation Canada BIC) for research assistance.