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Muhammad Waseem Ashiq, PhD, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, ON

Economic development is inevitable in our modern world. However, we humans are paying a huge price to sustain this development. The use of fossil fuel energy is a leading cause of climate change, which  is wreaking havoc through a cascade of crippling consequences. In response, environmentally friendly renewable energy sources such as biomass are being pursued for climate change mitigation and energy security. However, the large scale adoption of biomass as an alternative energy source depends on its cost-effective sustainable supply.

The low nutrient requirements of purpose-grown energy crops make them suitable for cultivation on marginal lands that are not suited for conventional food crops and therefore do not conflict with food production. It has been reported that 9.48 million hectares of suitable marginal lands are available in Canada. This land could produce biomass at an economic scale –  potentially providing 33 million tons of switchgrass to 380 million tons of hybrid poplar. However the portion of this potential that can actually be obtained, and sustained, mainly depends on actual yield and continued availability of nutrients for sustained growth. This accentuates the need for a complete understanding of yield and nutrient cycling within a biomass production system.

Our team at the University of Guelph is working as ‘project hub’ for BioFuelNet Canada to collect/analyze data and disseminate results of a pan-Canadian study of biomass production systems grown on marginal lands in various eco-climatic zones across Canada. Using a holistic approach involving all stakeholders including landowners, this study aims to harness the potential of marginal lands and to develop effective biomass (and bioproduct) value chains in Canada.

Typically, value chains associated with low-cost sustainable biomass supply are very important, and uncertainty in sourcing and maintaining this value chain is also associated with risks for investment. One of those risks is continuous and sustainable biomass supply channels to biofuel industries.

In relation to this, our group is planning a series of workshops in Ontario in order to engage communities, including first nations, by disseminating pan-Canadian biomass research results, identifying opportunities and presenting potential supply chains. In relation to supply chain development, we are also inviting various industry partners to share their company vision with communities and potential biomass growers in Ontario.


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