Alberta marries sustainability with a positive business atmosphere

Focused on harnessing the region’s biomass resources, Alberta is becoming a leader in cleantech and forward-looking business

InnoTech Alberta operates one of the world’s few pilot plants capable of producing high-quality cellulose nanocrystals in kilogram amounts daily

While Alberta’s abundance of natural resources forms the base of its economy, this foundation has been expertly built upon by the Alberta Government. Competitive business rates and modern infrastructure have enabled Alberta-based firms to compete on a global scale, which is significant given the province’s strategic access to the North American free trade zone and northern Asia.

This ideal business environment is made all the more attractive by the large pool of highly qualified personnel available within the province, and also by its lack of healthcare premiums, provincial sales tax or payroll tax.

Alberta has an abundance of biomass in the form of residual material left over from forest harvesting, forest product manufacturing, and as a by-product of the harvesting and processing of agricultural crops

Though Alberta’s economy contracted 3.6 percent in 2015 due to weak oil and gas prices, the province still led Canada in economic growth over the past 20 years, with an average annual GDP growth of 3.2 percent. Despite its economic downturn, Alberta’s per capita GDP of CAD 78,100 ($57,884) in 2015 was the highest of any state or province in North America.

Economic diversity
The Alberta economy is currently seeing slower growth, but it is once again forecast to expand in 2017, growing 2.6 percent. It will continue to thrive over the long term on the strength of its expanding oil sands sector, and the development of its supply chain manufacturing and service sectors. Advanced technologies, meanwhile, are another important driver for the local economy, which includes clean energy, ICT, life sciences and nanotechnology. In fact, in 2015, Alberta’s revenues in ICT industry alone totalled around CAD 16bn ($12bn).

Of increasing significance is Alberta’s bio-industrial sector, which has grown considerably in recent years. Alberta has an abundance of biomass in the form of residual material left over from forest harvesting, forest product manufacturing, and as a by-product of the harvesting and processing of agricultural crops. “Alberta companies have recognised the market value of green products and are willing to invest in new opportunities. Researchers supported with Alberta Innovates funding have investigated new and innovative processing methodologies and new bio-products, and are working with private sector companies to bring these to market”, said Steve Price, Executive Director of Bioindustrial Innovation at Alberta Innovates.

This trend began in 2008, when bio-industrial development was elevated as a provincial priority during the economic downturn. “The forest and agriculture sectors were hit hard, and companies operating in Alberta sought out opportunities for diversification”, said Price. Government research organisations, ministries and academic institutions turned their attention to new products and processes utilising Alberta’s vast biomass resources. “Today, Alberta’s focus on climate change mitigation and greenhouse gas reduction has created renewed interest in the bio-economy”, Price added.

Local innovation
Also behind this is Alberta’s strong culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, Alberta Innovates is funded by the Alberta Government to accelerate research and innovation within the province. “We work in lockstep with academia, industry, entrepreneurs and the government in order to transfer knowledge across sectors and address global challenges”, said Price.

The Alberta Bio Future programme is an initiative funded by the province and delivered by Alberta Innovates to support collaborations that target new and improved bio-industrial products and technologies. “The vision driving Alberta Bio Future is economic diversification and stability through the full use of provincial biomass resources, and the development of new revenue streams”, Price explained.

Part of the programme’s focus involves raising awareness, which is why Alberta Innovates has partnered with another provincially funded organisation, Emissions Reduction Alberta, to co-host a cleantech innovation conference, Spark 2017, in Edmonton from November 6-8. The programme will include internationally known speakers and presenters, and is expected to receive attendees from across Canada and beyond.

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