The BC forest products industry must undergo a paradigm shift to remain competitive. The industry faces major challenges due to competition from abroad and the decline in demand for traditional products. At the same time, there is increasing demand across the entire economy for environmentally-sustainable biomaterials. These challenges can be addressed by next generation biorefineries that convert woody biomass to renewable fuels, commodity and feedstock chemicals, and biomaterials. For such biorefineries to succeed economically, it is essential that all major components of the woody biomass, including lignin, be converted to higher value products. One potentially powerful means of valorizing lignin involves harnessing the microorganisms that naturally degrade woody biomass. Such “biocatalysts” can unlock the enormous economic potential of BC’s forest biomass, usher in the development of new value-added products, and substantially reduce the industry’s ecological footprint.
This project aims to compile two types of bacterial activities for use in new technologies to valorize lignin: (a) enzymes that depolymerize lignin; and (b) pathways that degrade lignin depolymerization products. These objectives will be achieved using methodologies pioneered in our laboratories. Collaborations with a variety of established industrial and government partners, including FPInnovations, Fibria, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and AB Enzymes, will enable the project to use the isolated enzymes and pathways to develop bioprocesses to valorize woody biomass and to commercialize those bioprocesses. Overall, the technologies arising from this project will have the potential to help BC capture a significant share of global markets whose combined value is estimated to grow to $100 billion by 2024. The knowledge and innovations emerging from this project will contribute to revitalizing BC’s forest industry, driving its sustainability, growth, productivity and global competitiveness.