Energy, Mining & Environment
Bioenergy is an emerging and rapidly growing sector that can benefit from genome sciences research, both to identify new energy sources and to develop improved processes for converting biomass (wood fibre or recycled materials for example) into fuel. New technologies, increasing demands for low CO2 emissions and the rising cost and decreasing supply of fossil fuels is driving the need for more research.
Producing cost effective technologies will bring economic returns to BC as the global market for alternative energy increases. Genome BC has invested in research projects that are working on solutions for environmentally sustainable development of new energy projects such as converting fast growing poplar trees into a biofuel crop and value-added biorefining such as converting wood killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle into a supply of fibre biomass to create ethanol.
British Columbia is one of the world’s major mining regions. There are abundant and widely varied mineral, metal and coal resources and the province is an important producer and exporter of copper, coal, gold, silver, lead, zinc and molybdenum.
Genomics research in mining is a relatively new endeavour. Genome sciences can contribute to the development of novel exploration tools for geochemical prospecting. For example, species of microorganisms known to be associated with specific ore bodies can be identified. Biologically-mediated processes can be developed using genome-based technologies to assist mineral extraction, reduce chemical use and improve recycling of waste products.
Genome BC is investing in mining research projects in the areas of bioremediation of sites contaminated by metal leaching and drainage. Current mitigation technologies, such as water treatment plants, are expensive. However natural enzymes could be used in a variety of mining processes to contribute to more cost-effective mitigation strategies once the basis for bacterial metabolism and enzymatic reactions are better understood.
In British Columbia and elsewhere, key environmental issues relate to: clean air, land and water; maintaining biodiversity; and ensuring sustainable use of biological resources, in the face of climate change.
The environment is truly a global concern. Innovative applications play an increasingly important role in protecting our environment. Solutions grounded in genomics that remove, reduce, stabilize or prevent environmental pollutants, or help to address climate change, will contribute to the protection of the environment.
Building on British Columbia’s expertise in bio-remediation and a culture that is accepting of innovation, new genome-based applications are likely to have a significant impact on a global scale. Assessing, monitoring and mitigating impact on the environment are also highly relevant to agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining; consequently the potential for cross-sector impact from new application is significant.
Genome BC has numerous research projects that are tackling environmental challenges by developing applications and tests to measure clean land and water; biodiversity, sustainable uses of biological resources and help discover novel bioactive products used in medicines, bioremediation agents or industrial enzymes.
Genome BC’s current research project in mining:
- Metagenomics to assess impacts of the Mount Polley Mine tailings dam breach on associated ecosystems
Genome BC’s current research projects in energy:
- Microbial community structure and dynamics associated with controlled biofuel release in laboratory settings
- Genetic Engineering for Photosynthetic Proteins for Solar Energy