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Steve Price, CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio-SolutionsCNC combo with expanded polystyrene foam on cusp of commercialization with AI Bio support


Steve Price, CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio-Solutions, at this year's Impact Innovation event.

“Your interest in searching and researching bio-solutions has made it a great year for AI Bio,” announced Steve Price, CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio-Solutions (AI Bio) at this year’s 6th Annual Impact Innovation event held recently in Edmonton.

Emceed by former Discovery Channel personality and Calgary resident Jay Ingram, Impact Innovation provides AI Bio with an opportunity to showcase some of its supported projects. Many projects aim to provide the forest industry with opportunities to diversify its markets with novel building and biomaterials extracted from wood fibre.

Promising commercial application of one wood-based biomaterial—cellulose nanocrystals (CNC)—was featured prominently at this year’s Impact Innovation event. CNC is 10,000 times smaller than a human hair with unique mechanical properties. This lightweight biomaterial that looks like cotton candy in dry form can provide two times the stiffness of aluminum and 10 times the strength of stainless steel when dispersed into another material.

Alberta Innovates operates one of the few pilot-scale CNC production facilities in the world, giving Alberta researchers the benefit of easy access to this novel biomaterial.

Through research supported by AI Bio, researchers have been working to find the best ways to combine CNC with expanded polystyrene (EPS) foams and in an electrospun adhesive layer in CNC-reinforced foam-core sandwich composite structures. These foams are commonly used as protective packaging material around televisions and computers. Preliminary results show that with just a one per cent CNC application, researchers can improve the foam’s strength by 60 per cent.

University of Alberta Project Lead, Dr. Cagri Ayranci, said that this application provides “a great benefit to industry”. By increasing the mechanical properties of this foam material with CNC, the same performance can be achieved with less material volume in such applications as roof, floor and wall insulation.

One of North America’s largest EPS foam producers is located in Calgary.

“They are already very interested in the product and we will be talking to them in terms of commercialization,” said Ayranci.

He noted that this is only one potential commercial use for CNC, with other potential applications in biomedical devices, ropes, textiles, filtration, and pharmaceutical applications.

Another speaker at Impact Innovation showcased ongoing research supported by AI Bio related to the impact of disturbances such as wildfires and salvage logging on water quality and forest ecology.

Dr. Uldis Silins, Professor of Renewable Resources at the Faculty of Agricultural Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta, said that that the province has a long history of conducting research related to the impact of wildfires in areas where Albertans access clean water.

“The lion’s share of the water on which we depend in our economy and society really originates in the forested region of our province,” said Dr. Silins.

So the impact of climate change on the occurrence, severity, and size of wildfires, their impact on localized and downstream water resources in forested landscapes, as well as the common practice of salvage logging, have been studied extensively as part of a wide ranging project called the Southern Rockies Watershed Project. The first phase of this project discovered that it can take considerable time to recover—decades in some instances—for such important ecological elements in stream water as nitrogen and phosphorus, and their contribution to sediment production and organics.

“This idea that we have disturbance and that things then return to an undisturbed state is something that we are really starting to rethink,” Dr. Silins said. The project is now entering Phase II. As part of this phase, researchers will study how forestry practices and alternative harvesting methods also impact water quality downstream.

AI Bio CEO Price described the past year as “extremely busy” for the corporation. It was therefore particularly timely to inform those present what the future holds for AI Bio. The province has embarked on a more consolidated management structure for its Alberta Innovates family of research corporations.

Pamela Valentine, transitional CEO of the new Alberta Innovates Corporation, says the management board’s goal is to create “one-door access to supports, expert advice and services,” to those seeking financial support for research and development that will contribute to the province’s economic diversification. The consolidation of four current Alberta Innovates Corporations into a single, integrated agency will focus on the key sectors of food, fibre, energy, environment and health.

The agenda and online presentations made at AI Bio’s Impact Innovation event are available for viewing at

CWFC beetle-affected site rehab projectLarge stakeholder group tours CWFC beetle-affected site rehab project


A large and diverse group from a variety of stakeholders participated in CWFC’s tour of its beetle-affected site mitigation project north of Grande Prairie.

The 2016 Mountain Pine Beetle and Stand Rehabilitation Research Forum and Tour, co-hosted by the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and fRI Research, took place in Grande Prairie recently, an area coping with one of the largest infestations of the mountain pine beetle in Alberta.

Forum and field tour participants included representatives from industry, academia and government who benefited from this knowledge exchange event. It featured current information on the beetle status in Alberta, B.C., and Saskatchewan, as well as updates on above and below ground beetle-related research, industry reports on ongoing salvage operations, and an overview on CWFC’s project related to beetle-affected site mitigation.

This two-day event in Grande Prairie was particularly timely, as the province of Alberta has recognized the need for mitigation on some beetle-affected sites, according to Brooks Horne, Senior Forester in Forest Rehabilitation with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. The province is concerned how taking no action on grey stage, beetle-affected sites deemed unmerchantable by industry could impact the province’s mid-term timber supply. Over the past two years, Horne said that the province has established parameters and a decision support tool to identify potential sites for possible mitigation measures.

Horne’s announcement provided the perfect backdrop for CWFC to share information and provide a field tour of an operational site that it has established north of Grande Prairie. It demonstrates innovative partial harvest and regeneration systems that could be applied on beetle-attacked sites that have been bypassed by industry.

With so many “orphan” beetle sites in the province currently not being rehabilitated, CWFC shares Alberta’s concern that losing the productive forest within these sites could lead to mid-term supply challenges for industry down the road. It supports mitigative measures on these sites.

In partnership with forest company Canfor, the University of Alberta and Spectrum Resources Group Inc—and with funding provided by the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta (FRIAA) through its Mountain Pine Beetle Forest Rehabilitation Program—CWFC is leading a project that shows how to apply innovative partial harvest systems it has developed to rehabilitate beetle-affected orphan sites.

As an operational site, the goal was not only to show how CWFC’s partial harvest system could be applied economically by using sale of the salvaged timber to mitigate the cost of applying this harvest method, but also to train commercial loggers on how to apply this system.

CWFC is also demonstrating several of its regeneration systems in this project, using conventional prime movers to develop micro-sites with innovative site-prep tools like the Mericrusher, conventional mounder, and scalp bucket.

The overall goal is to demonstrate options for industry on how to economically capture the remaining timber value within these stands, while re-establishing them and putting them back on a positive growth trajectory. This effort also helps to mitigate the risk of future beetle attacks.

“This is industry’s future wood supply, and there may be shortages because of the loss of these lands unless a rehabilitation strategy like the one we have demonstrated are deployed,” says Derek Sidders, CWFC Regional Coordinator and Program Manager.

“We’ve put infrastructure on the ground to show by example how an application can benefit an unmerchantable beetle-affected site,” he adds. “We can show the cost, the application, the operations and the practices. It is up to the regulator and the industry to commercialize these forest stands, while also taking all the inherent values within each site into consideration. We have established a platform to inform, based on the guidance given to us by government and industry.”

CWFC’s project involved 310 hectares of mixed beetle-affected stands that had greater than 50 per cent lodgepole pine crown composition. Trees were greater than 15 metres in height. The stands were comprised of a mixture of healthy green and attacked green lodgepole pine, red and grey stage beetle-attacked lodgepole pine, white spruce and aspen.

CWFC’s innovative partial harvest system selectively removed active attack trees, green lodgepole pine greater than 20 centimeters DBH, and spaced small, dense, and green lodgepole pine within the stand.

After harvest, selective site preparation techniques were deployed to establish both lodgepole pine and white spruce seedlings in the harvested stands.

For more information about the mountain pine beetle forum and field tour, as well as CWFC’s rehabilitation project north of Grande Prairie, contact Tim Keddy, CWFC Wood Fibre Development Specialist, at, or Derek Sidders, CWFC Regional Coordinator and Program Manager at the Northern Forestry Centre in Edmonton, at