The Tree of Lemons and Oranges: Using biotechnology to revitalize the traditional forestry sector

sept2-p2By Jullie-Anne Gandier

The technique of grafting, joining two plants with the intention of growing them as one, can produce quite curious garden varietals. In fact, the branches of a lemon tree can be bound to the trunk of an orange tree to produce a plant which bears both oranges and lemons. Such a tree has many benefits. If you were to grow tired of eating oranges, you could make lemonade. If the lemonade stand industry crashed, you could shift to selling orange juice. All without changing the basic structure of your tree.

Pulp and paper is an important Canadian commodity not only historically, but also to our modern economy. However, the demand for newsprint in the western world continues to decrease while an incredibly competitive industry emerges from South America cornering markets such as China. For the Canadian Forestry industry to remain competitive while mitigating its environmental impact, we need to look for new solutions. 

At Biozone, we are developing the science and engineering know-how to not only decrease the environmental impact of our mills, but also to diversify its products from pulp to much higher value chemicals and polymers. This diversified infrastructure is similar to the lemon and orange tree and is referred to as the integrated biorefinery. We are working to produce innovative materials from wood, such as plastics. We are training bacteria to convert the sugars released from wood into fine chemicals. We study the microbial communities that eat the toxic compounds in wastewater and produce gases that can be used as energy. We are also investigating ways of applying biotechnology to reduce not only energy, but also water consumption.

Our hope is that over time integrated biorefineries will promote local and regional economic development, improving the stability and quality of life of forestry-reliant communities. And so, while demand for our pulps decreases, together, let’s make lemonade from the incredible richness of wood chemistry.

To read more about making plastic from wood:

http://www.research.utoronto.ca/edge/edgenet/winter2010/2013/04/02/can-wood-replace-plastic/

To read more about using microbial communities for bioremediation:

http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/20667/la_id/1.htm

To read more about using bacteria to produce fine chemicals:

http://tylerirving.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/ACCN-the-Canadian-Chemical-News-NovDec-2012-Natures-Industrialists.pdf
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