From Biomass to Biochar to a Bioeconomy – How a BC Company is Scaling up to the Meet the Challenge

Welcome to the “Road Trip Across BC” series from the BC CORE Cleantech Cluster, where we explore innovative companies across various regions in British Columbia. In this week’s article, we check out the BC Biocarbon, a leading innovator in the bioeconomy located in McBride, BC, in the beautiful Robson Valley region between the Rocky and Cariboo mountain ranges.

The road trip around BC is revealing some hidden gems in Canadian cleantech, and our virtual tour of the Robson Valley region is no exception.  Not only is McBride a great place to stop, it also is home to an innovative business that is a Canadian leader in an important carbon sequestration process – converting biomass to biochar. 

BC Biocarbon uses proprietary pyrolysis and gasification processes to manufacture a variety of bio-products – and may just be at the right place at the right time with the right technology to make a significant contribution to Canada’s bioeconomy ambitions. 

Carbon Removal with Biochar – a Lesson in Simplicity

Canada is exploring  a bioeconomy approach to meeting its climate goals, because it recognizes that decarbonization is more than just switching to renewable energy or reducing carbon emissions caused by burning fossil fuels.  To meet climate goals, we will have to reverse climate change. That means removing carbon from the atmosphere through carbon sequestration. 

The biochar produced by BC Biocarbon allows carbon to be sequestered in soil, improving both agricultural productivity and water use efficiency.

(See the CORE Cleantech Cluster’s roadmap report on the agriculture and food sector for a discussion on the opportunity of regenerative agriculture and its important role in carbon sequestration).

It’s not just agriculture that makes use of BC Biocarbon’s technology. Their bio-refining technology can be used to create renewable, low-carbon alternatives to many of the products derived from petroleum or natural gas such as plastics, fertilizers, lubricants, and industrial chemicals.

Phil Marsh, CEO of BC Biocarbon, sees biochar production as one of the simplest paths to removing carbon from the atmosphere:

“The easiest, faster way to remove carbon from the atmosphere is a tree. Conversion of forest biomass to biochar and the inclusion of it in non-combustible products is a simple solution to the problem of how to remove carbon. It can also be done at scale.”

Right Time, Right Place, Right Tech

This may be the right time for companies like BC Biocarbon. In January 2021, Microsoft announced that it had chosen the CO2 removals standard and marketplace to offset its carbon emissions, using suppliers that – like BC Biocarbon – remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the production of biochar.  

As other companies follow Microsoft’s move into carbon offsets and carbon trading, they are looking for companies that can produce biochar to these standards. This is creating market demand for the quality and type of biochar that BC Biocarbon is able to produce. 

While biochar can be made from multiple feedstock sources, its location in northern BC gives BC Biocarbon access to wood waste and forest biomass. British Columbia, with its expertise in sustainable forestry and its rich forest resources, is the right place to be for a company like BC Biocarbon.

It is also in the right economic region. BC Biocarbon is part of a regional cluster of cleantech innovation in Northern BC – from Prince Rupert to Prince George to the Alberta border.  They join companies like Pacific Bioenergy, and Pinnacle Renewable Energy in leading the way toward a cleantech-enabled bioeconomy in Northern BC. 

The technology is right too. Not only is it meeting international standards for carbon removal marketplaces, their proprietary, made-in-Canada pyrolysis and gasification processes can provide low-carbon solutions in a multitude of industries, including transportation, building and construction, biochemicals, metals, and food processing. 

Scaling up the Bioeconomy 

The circular bioeconomy is a USD $7.7 trillion global opportunity. As leading industry companies commit to a zero carbon future, they will have to make large-scale changes in their industrial processes and manufacturing.

The transition to a bioeconomy is happening globally and quickly, and it will be a challenge to make that switch toward bio-product manufacturing in ways that are both profitable and sustainable.

BC Biocarbon, a hidden gem nestled between two majestic mountain ranges in Northern BC, is scaling up to meet that challenge.

And they are in the right place, at the right time, with the right tech, to get it done. 

Download Foresight’s report “Accelerating the Circular Bioeconomy Market in Canada” for a discussion on the emerging bioeconomy ecosystem in Canada, including recommendations on how to make connections between Canadian bioeconomy innovators and companies seeking solutions.

If you are an industrial company looking to scale up your innovation plans towards sustainable, circular solutions, contact Foresight’s VP of Commercialization, Jacob Malthouse to discuss how you can partner with us to access Western Canada’s biggest agenda-setting cleantech intelligence network and drive your innovation agenda. 

If you are a cleantech SME or startup looking to expand your horizons, scale up your business or explore opportunities in the circular economy, join our Community of Innovators today.  We look forward to hearing from you!