The Manitoba government plans to spend $20 million over the next 10 years to help fuel the development of more "green" products made from things like hemp and wheat or flax straw.
The funding, including $4 million set aside this year for product-development projects, is part of a new provincial bioproducts strategy unveiled Thursday by Premier Greg Selinger.
Bioproducts are materials or fuels made from agricultural and forestry products. Selinger told a news conference in Riverton that millions of tons of agricultural and forestry products are produced in Manitoba each year, creating an abundant supply of biomass for the production of biofuels, biomaterials and biochemicals.
He said research and development initiatives in the province are already turning hemp, flax and wheat byproducts into things like paper, insulation, roofing tiles, biodegradable food packaging and ultra-lightweight components for the aerospace and transportation sectors.
"Manitoba is ideally positioned to capitalize on the emerging bioproducts revolution and to secure a leading position in the new bioeconomy," the premier said.
"This strategy will identify opportunities and guide our efforts to further develop a vibrant bioproducts industry that creates more green jobs and green products to add to the diversity of rural economies and help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions."
Selinger said there are currently more than 30 companies in the province producing bioproducts.
The industry now employs about 800 people and generates about $1 billion in annual revenues. The aim of the new strategy is to double those numbers over the next 10 years, and Selinger said he expects more than 80 per cent of those revenues to be produced in rural Manitoba.
Riverton-based ErosionControlBlankets.com is one of the rural companies that plans to apply for some of that new government funding.
Company founder and CEO Mark Myrowich said the 11-year-old firm has developed a fibrous material made from wheat straw, flax fibres, peat moss and growth stimulants that can be mixed with water and sprayed on bare soil to spur on the growth of new vegetation.
Although companies like Manitoba Hydro and Hydro-Quebec have already successfully used it's "biotic earth" product in soil-restoration projects, Myrowich said his firm doesn't have a lot of scientific data to back up its performance claims. So it's hoping to obtain provincial funding to help pay for additional laboratory testing.
"That will help me to grow my market," he added.
Although its biotic earth products now account for only about 10 per cent of the company's yearly sales, Myrowich said he could see that number growing to 50 per cent within the next year or two.
Sean McKay, executive director of the Composites Innovation Center (CIC), said some of the funds could also be used to develop programs aimed at identifying and filling gaps in the bioproducts-industry supply chain.
"We have patches of it in the province but we don't have a sustainable system for a lot of different bioproducts," he said.
A government spokesperson said the funds will be administered primarily by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI). They'll be allocated mainly as grants or loans under existing MAFRI programs such as the Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative and the Rural Economic Development Initiative.
FIVE key areas the Manitoba Bioproducts Strategy will focus on:
-- investing in research, innovation and commercialization of bioproducts
-- establishing industry champions
-- creating a skilled workforce
-- supporting market development
-- increasing public awareness of the industry and its products
Here are some Manitoba companies already producing bioproducts:
-- ErosionControlBlankets.com in Riverton uses wheat straw to manufacture erosion-protection blankets used in large-scale infrastructure projects to keep topsoil in place. The company also markets two associated products: a patented staple gun used to hold the blankets in place and a mechanism used to implant seed on top of the blankets. And a few years ago it developed a new fibrous product made from wheat straw, flax fibres, peat moss and growth stimulants that can be mixed with water and sprayed on bare soil to spur on the growth of new vegetation.
-- Plains Industrial Hemp Processing in Gilbert Plains processes hemp straw into non-woven mats, fuel pellets and other bioproducts.
-- Vanderveens' Greenhouse and the Rosebank Colony in the Pembina Valley are heating their operations with flax sheaves produced by flax-fibre processor Schweitzer Mauduit in Carman.
-- Solanyl Bio-polymer in Carberry uses potato starch reclaimed from co-products made by McCain and Simplot to make a biodegradable plastic that is a renewable substitute for petroleum-based plastic resins.
-- The Composites Innovation Center at the University of Manitoba is a world leader in applied research on biocomposites. Materials designed at the center are being used by Boeing, Standard Aero, New Flyer and Motor Coach Industries.
The US is the only industrialized nation that does not openly admit the benefits of industrial hemp. China, Canada, even Mexico are paving the way for a greener, cleaner future using hemp and its 25,000 different commercial uses.