By Tony Kryzanowski
There is a shiny new addition to the town of Drayton Valley, Alberta’s Field of Dreams—officially known as the Bio-Mile. It is the $11 million, Clean Energy Technology Centre (CETC), which the town hopes will attract business start-ups, researchers, conferences and biotechnology investors.
Drayton Valley is a resource community heavily dependent on the oil and gas and forestry sectors about 90 minutes southwest of Edmonton. For the past decade, it has been at the forefront of smaller Canadian communities attempting to grow by attracting investment from the biotechnology sector.
According to Manny Deol, Chief Operating Officer for the CETC, the hope is that people doing research related to biotechnology, organizations looking for somewhere to hold events related to the bio-economy, visitors from around the world looking for somewhere to establish a biotechnology business, or organizations needing space to provide training, will find a home at the CETC.
The CETC is also the new local home for NorQuest College, which offers diploma and certificate courses in vocational careers as well as professional development. In addition to credit courses, the town has partnered with NorQuest College to provide programming and support to help the town fulfill its objective of becoming a hub for economic development activity related to the bio-economy. These activities will include non-credit educational services, business incubation and development, conference services, corporate training, and research activities.
“This whole area is designed for innovators,” says Deol. The goal is to nurture technology and product development related to bio-energy and bio-products from the lab bench to commercialization, hoping that this leads to more businesses setting down roots in the town’s Bio-Mile.
“We are the one-stop shop if you want training, if you want to do innovation, if you want to do business, if you want investment or if you are an investor,” Deol adds.
The CETC is a 28,500 square foot facility with a large multi-event space able to seat 250 at tables or 400 at theatre seating. It has classrooms including video conferencing suites, computer stations, a health care lab, and learning spaces. The learning common area provides students, researchers and instructors with space to collaborate in small working groups. The facility also provides space for CETC and NorQuest College administration.
Construction was completed this spring, which is timely, as Alberta’s recently-elected NDP government has signaled that it is serious about making the transition to the production of more green energy. According to its Climate Leadership Plan, it intends to bring forth legislation to eliminate coal-fired power production in the province by 2030. It will also introduce a carbon tax to help fund future bio-energy and bio-product development. Deol is very encouraged by these significant changes in the province’s support for the bio-economy and feels Drayton Valley is in a good position to take advantage of this shift toward ‘greening’ Alberta’s economy. However, he says both the town and province believe that the success of the Bio-Mile concept and CETC in particular should be industry-driven and self-sustaining. Deol doesn’t have an issue with that.
“The interest of industry is enormous right now,” he says, adding that there will be methods of generating revenue from CETC users for services provided to help sustain the facility.
Like the movie ‘Field of Dreams’, Drayton Valley’s approach to promoting the Bio-Mile is very much of an ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy, in an attempt to boost both interest and economic activity in the community. But Deol says this approach is also meant to support greater product diversification within the forestry sector and encourage more participation in the bio-economy.
“The potential for forestry in the future is unbelievable,” says Deol. “You can make clothing, cosmetics, household goods ... whatever you can do with oil, you can do with forest products.”
The Bio-Mile is situated on a 20 hectare parcel of serviced land owned by the town in an industrial area south of Drayton Valley’s core. It is near Weyerhaeuser’s sawmill and bio-energy power producer, Valley Power. The Bio-Composites Group (BCG) has built a new $15 million headquarters and production plant within the Bio-Mile. BCG has a number of projects on the go using wood fibre mats to manufacture bio-products. They are currently involved in an extensive vetting process with car component manufactures to potentially replace fibreglass sections with more environmentally-friendly and lighter wood fibre alternatives.
What spurred Drayton Valley Town Council’s enthusiasm to establish the Bio-Mile in 2007 was Weyerhaeuser’s decision to shut down its oriented strandboard (OSB) plant, which didn’t come as a huge surprise, given what impact the severe downturn in housing in the U.S. had on all OSB production in North America. Deol says that the downturn in the forest industry hampered development of the Bio-Mile during that time. However, Weyerhaeuser’s sawmill remains a strong contributor to the local economy, with the company having recently invested $23 million in production upgrades, which included a new saw line. As part of its research to attract business to replace what the town lost with the closure of the OSB plant, Council discovered that there were other opportunities for wood fibre in the bio-economy beyond traditional products like dimension lumber and wood panels. So it created the Bio-Mile.
In addition to the community providing support to help the forest industry become more involved in the bio-economy, Drayton Valley also has a desperate need to diversify its industrial base. The local economy is highly dependent on the fortunes of the oil and gas industry, which is notoriously feast or famine. It is currently in a severe downturn. Deol says that right now, forestry jobs are helping to cushion the financial blow on the community, proving the value of diversification.
“In our economic development plan, we are always looking for diversification … how we can create something that stabilizes the ups and downs of the economy,” says Deol. “We discovered that we needed an institution to support the forestry and oil and gas sectors in terms of facilitation of education, connecting to academia in their research and development, creating a place for applied research, and creating a culture in the community about innovation.”
Deol adds that there has been no shortage of effort by the town to raise the profile of the Bio-Mile locally, nationally, and internationally, as well as with the forestry, agriculture and oil and gas sectors, through participation in a variety of trade shows and events. What proponents of the Bio-Mile have noticed, however, is that researchers and investors engaged in bio-product development—who need to work with a raw material such as wood fibre to advance their research—were having to organize its shipment to their lab locations out of town. Given the amount of wood fibre available locally and with the CETC providing work and meeting space, the hope is that many of these researchers will find it easier to come to where the raw material is situated, to advance their programs. Furthermore, should the research they are conducting into bio-products reach pilot plant or commercialization stage, they will be aware of what the Bio-Mile has to offer, which could result in more bio-businesses setting down roots in town.
“We are going to bring the university researchers here to do their experiments,” says Deol, with the goal of providing lab and business incubator space, adding that the CETC has access to venture capital to help with start ups.
Deol acknowledges that development of the Bio-Mile has not been without its challenges, the biggest ones being that biotechnological development, whether for bio-energy or bio-products is still evolving. So advancements to commercialization take time. Secondly, Deol says that, “financing for innovation is still a roadblock in Canada,” with much more venture capital available in places like the United States. So financing and proven technology have been significant hurdles to further Bio-Mile investment. However, the town is encouraged that every day, biotechnology innovation is being improved and perfected.
To some degree, the CETC is an investment into the future, and the Alberta government has been a prominent supporter of the Bio-Mile initiative, recognizing that the project not only could help the province grow its presence in the bio-economy, but also contribute to rural economic development. In addition to providing $11 million for the construction of the CETC, the government has also provided the Centre with $350,000 in operational funds through its Community Partnership Grant program, to support program development and training.
On the Cover:
The Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton, B.C. has added two new Volvo wheel loaders, a Volvo L350F and a Volvo L150H, from B.C. Volvo dealer Great West Equipment to help manage log operations. Read about how the equipment is helping make the operation more efficient beginning on page 10. (Photo by Paul MacDonald).
Tapping into the growing bio-economy at Alberta’s Bio-Mile
A new $11 million Clean Energy Technology Centre recently opened in Alberta and among its goals is supporting greater product diversification within the forestry sector, and encouraging more participation by the industry in the bio-economy.
Volvos delivering volume
Some new Volvo wheel loaders are helping the Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton, B.C. deliver efficiencies in the millyard, in feeding logs into the high production, two-line sawmill, and handling chips and hog fuel.
“Big Data” already being utilized by forest industry
Although “Big Data” has become a buzz term in business circles in recent years, the forest industry is already well on its way to using Big Data in a number of areas, from machine centres at the sawmill, to woodlands operations.
Hard work = successful sawmill
Though it requires a lot of hard work, Alberta sawmiller Colin Ruxton says that small sawmilling can pay off—and he’s proven it with both a band and circular sawmill.
Going from logger—to lumber producer
New Brunswick’s Pierre Friolet has used skills developed as a logging contractor to set up an added-value operation that produces thermally modified wood, finding customers from architects to guitar makers for the unique wood product.
Lean log handling
B.C.’s coastal forest industry and the provincial government are working on streamlining the log handling process through making changes based on the “Lean” philosophy that is practiced in other industries—and it’s already showing results.
Family fencing operation
B.C. specialty mill operation Nagaard Sawmill, run by brothers Darrol and Dale Nagel, has found its niche—and it’s in producing fence components from western red cedar for a growing market, with a mill that features a fair bit of home-made equipment, and lots of ingenuity.
Liking the Log Max/Doosan combo
New Brunswick harvesting contractor Remi Doucet is a fan of the Doosan/Log Max harvesting combination, and recently upgraded his equipment with a new Log Max 7000 head.
BUILDER of business relationships
B.C. logger Shane Garner says a successful harvesting contracting operation is all about business relationships, from his employees to his John Deere-heavy logging equipment fleet.
A life in logging: from horses—to Tigercats
Long time logger Alan Costain may have started with yarding horses, but these days the horsepower in Costain Lumbering is of a very different sort, with equipment such as a Tigercat 822.
The frontier community of Colville Lake, 50 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories, has acquired a new portable sawmill which will produce building materials to help address the community’s need for improved housing.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions.
The Last Word
The Fort McMurray fire of earlier this year could have ripple effect on the cost of insurance for the forest industry, says Jim Stirling.