In a world that is requiring increasingly biological-based solutions to meet sustainably a growing need for materials, tree biomass remains one of the most abundant resources on earth. While there is general appreciation of the potential of microbial enzymes in expanding the range of products made from tree biomass, to date, biotechnology development has focused largely on the deconstruction of trees into sugars that can then be converted through fermentation to biofuels.
Drs. Emma Master of the University of Toronto and Harry Brumer of UBC are leading a team looking in the other direction. Their project, SYNBIOMICS, is focused on upgrading key biopolymers from trees using enzymes, to create materials that provide higher value than what otherwise might be realized. The project will harness the genetic potential of microorganisms to identify and develop new biocatalysts for this purpose. End users and stakeholders have helped to identify potential high-value products to target, including resins, coatings, bioplastics and adhesives.
To facilitate commercialization of the biocatalysts and bioprocesses the team develops, the project will establish roadmaps to foster small and medium-sized enterprises that will work together synergistically with nearby pulp mills. The results will expand Canada’s role in global bioproducts markets, creating lasting knowledge-based economic opportunities for Canada’s forest sector and rural communities.
The project's GE3LS research activities include:
- coordinating an iterative bioproduct and biotechnology development cycle with End-users;
- developing techno-economic models for SME ecosystems in the forest sector; and
- analyzing anaerobic bioreactors to develop predictive tools for effluent treatment and energy recovery.