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Genomics to bring cost savings to the pulp and paper industry

One of the challenges of the forest industry is to provide rapid, timely and accurate identification of the tree species present in the fine woody outputs of pulp and paper processing, also known as feedstock. The revolutionizing science of genomics offers compelling information to unravel this challenge by providing new tools to identify the tree species present in the feedstock accurately and efficiently as a project being led by the University of British Columbia in Canada seeks to develop.

Handheld DNA identification instrument (photo courtesy Genome BC).

The forest industry is a key economic sector in British Columbia (BC), providing 32 percent (CA$14.1 billion) of B.C.’s total exports and close to CA$1 billion in revenue to the provincial government in 2017. The sector is also the primary employer in many parts of the Province and forestry-related activities directly support over 7 000 businesses employing over 57 000 people.

One of the challenges of the forest industry is to provide rapid, timely and accurate identification of the tree species present in the fine woody outputs of pulp and paper processing, the feedstock.

However, the revolutionizing science of genomics offers compelling information to unravel this challenge by providing new tools to identify the tree species present in the feedstock accurately and efficiently.

Industry driven

Knowledge of feedstock composition has a direct impact on how it is processed – knowing what mix of spruce, pine or fir (SPF) trees are present will inform how to treat the material.

The project team, led by the University of British Columbia’s Dr Richard Hamelin, will design ready-to-use DNA detection and quantification assays that can generate an accurate ratio of tree species in the feedstock. Dr Hamelin’s team is responding to a direct request from Canfor Corporation, one of the world’s largest producers of sustainable lumber, pulp, and paper.

Current means of determining species rely on time-consuming microscopic examinations. We need a timely way to determine species proportions in powdered biomass that serves as a feedstock to our pulp mills and we anticipate savings well into the millions of dollars when this tool is fully operational, said Dr Paul Bicho who leads the Canfor Pulp Innovation team.

The project will last just over a year. At its conclusion, the team will have generated prototype demonstration kits. Extensive testing and validation of the method and technology transfer to the Canfor team will allow forest industrial partners to manage their biomass mixtures in an efficient, rapid, and accurate manner.

This direct investment was made through Genome BC’s GeneSolve program, designed to bring industry and academia together to find solutions for sector challenges.

This is a prime example of how a BC-based partnership can address a global industry challenge. The project also demonstrates the transferability of genomic tools from one application, such as pest identification, to another DNA-based project of tree species identification, said Dr Pascal Spothelfer, President and CEO of Genome BC.

About Genome BC

Genome British Columbia (Genome BC) leads genomics innovation on Canada’s West Coast and facilitates the integration of genomics into society. A recognized catalyst for government and industry, Genome BC invests in research, entrepreneurship, and commercialization in life sciences to address challenges in key sectors such as health, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, agrifood, energy, mining, and environment.

Genome BC partners with many national and international public and private funding organizations to drive BC’s bioeconomy. Under the GeneSolve program, Genome BC will award up to CA$250 000 per project, with a 1:1 match from the Sector’s Partner. No additional co-funding is required. Genome BC works directly with interested Sector Partners to post “challenges” on an open-access website, where researchers can submit proposed solutions.

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