Biochemicals

Just Released: Bio-Base Chemical Import Replacement Initiative

This report looks at the potential for upgrading bioresources to useful chemicals by providing background market information on the industry, examining chemicals of interest for bio-production, and presenting the potential opportunities for biochemicals development in Alberta.

Download the Bio-Based Chemical Import Replacement Initiative here.

Biochemicals are derived from biological materials (living or recently living organisms) and used for non-food purposes such as the production of fuels, chemicals and materials. Alberta companies are exploring opportunities to make the biochemicals sector more competitive, including:

  • Utilizing lower valued feedstocks
  • Improving existing conversion processes
  • Increasing production capacity
  • Developing new specialized products for the marketplace

Sources of Feedstock

Historically sugars, starches and natural oils were used as feedstock, but there are opportunities moving forward to utilize lower valued feedstocks. In Alberta, there are opportunities to derive biochemicals from the following feedstocks:

  • Crops and crop residues from agriculture
  • Forestry biomass and processing residues
  • Urban biomass including municipal solid waste (MSW), sludge, industrial organic matter, and others

Conversion Technologies

The use of biochemicals industrially usually requires the conversion of biomass into refined, value-added products. There are three basic processes for converting biomass: thermal, chemical, and biological.

For each project, pros and cons must be weighed to determine the appropriate conversion process and, because of Alberta’s access to feedstock, it will be important that Alberta has access to viable conversion technologies in order to conduct value-added processing and refining close to the resource.

End Use or Market Demand

Biochemicals are complex and varied in terms of their place in the market. Currently, most are utilized in industrial operations as components or building blocks for manufacturing intermediates, or as end use functional products.

As end use products, biochemicals must compete with the performance and pricing of existing alternatives, which are mainly petrochemically derived. The end use products of today’s biochemicals include:

  • energy products,
  • industrial chemicals, and
  • some specialty or fine chemicals.

Moving forward, consumer facing brands are seeking biochemicals as a means of differentiating themselves in the marketplace. One example of this is packaging that utilizes bio-based ethylene.

The Biochemicals Initiative within the Government of Alberta aims to facilitate linkages between consumer facing brands with an interest in biochemicals and traditional petrochemical manufacturers of Alberta seeking engagement and investment in growing the biochemical industry in Alberta.