The forest sector is an important economic driver for British Columbia, accounting for 32% ($14.2 B) of B.C.’s total exports. The sector directly supports over 7,000 businesses and employs 140,000 people in many parts of the province. The forest industry relies heavily on harvesting conifers, particularly, spruce, fir and pine (SPF), for the lumber and pulp sector.
A key challenge for the industry is to provide rapid, timely, and accurate identification of the tree species present in the feedstock used in industrial processes, which is critical to determine its market value. Accurate determination of species composition can help pulp mills optimize the impact of species on the processing and product quality thereby improving yields and value by a few percentage points; each percentage point is worth almost $1 million annually. Currently spectroscopic or microscopic examination work well for lumber and woodchips but are unsuited to mixtures such as fines and sawdust.
In this project, Canfor, a leading pulp and paper company, has teamed up with UBC professor Richard Hamelin to develop a genomics approach to solve the challenge. The project will develop and design ready-to-use DNA detection and quantification assays that can generate a ratio of tree species present in fine woody products that serves as feedstock in biofuel and pulp and paper processes. The kits will be designed to be used in the mill or on-site where the feedstock is produced. This approach will allow forest industrial partners to manage their biomass mixtures in an efficient, rapid, and accurate manner and generate greater economic value.