Alberta Innovates' recent call-out for proposals to use renewable biomass for development of bioproducts has received a strong response from researchers and Alberta companies

Applicants submitted a total of 82 project proposals under two related funding calls - Biomaterials Pursuit (45) and CNC Challenge 3.0 (37). The proposals are being reviewed by a selection committee of AI staff and external experts. Final decisions will be made by the end of May. A third bioindustrial funding call, Lignin Challenge 1.0, remains open to proposals until March 15, 2018. The fourth is the Opportunities fund, actively seeking proposals until March 31, 2019.

Funding will come from the Alberta Bio Future (ABF) program which is intended to accelerate growth of Alberta's bioindustrial sector. Among the eligibility requirements, proposals must be for developments leading to a competitive advantage for Alberta companies or other direct benefit to the province.

Steve Price, AI's executive director of bioindustrial innovation, said the quality and large number of proposals received under Biomaterials Pursuit and CNC Challenge 3.0 show that researchers and companies see potential in the emerging Alberta bioeconomy.

"The response we received is a positive sign, since the point of the program is to encourage use of Alberta's renewable resources to help diversify the economy," Price said. "At the same time, bioindustrial innovation contributes to the province's GHG emission-reduction goals through the development of sustainable, lower-carbon bioproducts."

Alberta has abundant supplies of forest and agricultural biomass. Project applications under Biomaterials Pursuit involved a wide range of feedstocks, including hemp, lignin (a byproduct from Kraft pulp mills), biochar or microalgae, to produce a variety of products across the economy, from biomaterials to biochemicals to medical devices.

But the largest single number of proposals (18) were for cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) or CNF (cellulose nanofibrils) - high-performing advanced biomaterials produced from plant fibre. CNC Challenge 3.0 received an additional 37 project proposals, for early-stage work demonstrating technical feasibility of CNC in high-value applications with potential for commercialization.

Alberta Innovates has a continuing interest in advancing CNC processing and applications development. InnoTech Alberta, AI's applied research subsidiary, has one of the world's few CNC facilities capable of producing kilogram amounts of high-quality material daily. The corporation works with partners in industry, academia, and other science and technology organizations on a wide range of projects. As the understanding of the science of making CNC advances, more and more attention is being paid to developing high-value, commercial applications.

There is a potentially huge global market for CNC and CNC-based products, given the diverse range of possible applications, Price noted.

CNC is often characterized as a "wonder material" for its light weight, impressive strength and special optical properties. Industrial uses include everything from packaging to anti-corrosive coatings for pipelines. Medical uses already being explored by researchers funded by Alberta Innovates include an antimicrobial coating for hospital surfaces and bone repairs.