The Biomass North Development Centre plans to roll out its region-wide strategy in the coming months to add value to the North’s forestry industry.

A North Bay-based biomass advocacy group has resurfaced with a new name and renewed vigour to continue to take Northern Ontario’s forestry sector in a new strategic direction.

The former staff of the Biomass Innovation Centre (BIC), once based at Nipissing University, has reconstituted and rebranded themselves as the Biomass North Development Centre, an industry group focussed on building the bioeconomy in this region.

“We can’t drop the ball for Northern Ontario,” said executive director Dawn Lambe. “It’s one of those paths that will bring us into the future.”

BIC met its abrupt end last spring when the university shelved the program as part of a restructuring effort.

Based out of a portable building on campus and funded externally, BIC’s focus was on promoting awareness of the North’s untapped biomass economy through conferences, workshops, and information exchange with Northerners.

But the existence of BIC never translated into any university programming.

“I don’t think Nipissing understood the value proposition that we represented,” said Lambe. “It was understated but we couldn’t translate it into bums in seats.”

Undaunted, Lambe and her crew quickly reformed and recently incorporated themselves as a not-for-profit industry association providing consulting services, leading international trade missions, and providing market intelligence and research capacity for small and medium-sized businesses.

“It was a harsh ending and left us scrambling not to drop the ball on the initiatives we were working on,” said Lambe. “We didn’t want those opportunities to go fallow so we just ran with them.”

Biomass North is looking to bolster its ranks by signing up members.

Lambe expects to have two major engineering firms and some well-known wood products companies in the fold shortly, but most of their members will be small businesses.

The group has a raft of events and projects planned for this year and beyond, including an appearance at Sudbury’s Naturallia event in November and an upcoming trade mission to Scandinavia in September.

Last November, the former BIC group took a delegation of Finnish and Swedish biomass experts on a field tour of Northern Ontario, stopping in Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa, Marathon, Red Rock and Thunder Bay to explore potential value-added forestry projects and open the door for business alliances.

A return trade mission is planned for Finland and Sweden in September with dates and specific tour stops still being finalized.

Lambe is billing it as a knowledge-transfer opportunity for Northern Ontario companies and organizations to strike international deals.

“Finland just released a national bioeconomy strategy. We’re very much watching closely to ensure there’s an opportunity for trade and direct investment.”

In the months ahead, the group plans to roll out its Northern Ontario Bioeconomy Strategy, a multi-faceted plan built around a series of demonstration projects across the North, including a community forest model, a regional co-op to manage fibre supply, a district heating plan, engineered wood products, bio-chemical production, and bringing First Nation natural medicines to market.

In assessing the state of the North’s bioeconomy, Lambe opines “I wish there was momentum and that we were a little farther ahead than we are.

“We won’t be until we deal with some (government) policy and regulatory issues. We’re going to tackle those head-on.”

Getting access to Crown fibre for new forestry players and regulatory acceptance of new technology remain major hurdles.

“We can combust biomass slash piles, uncontrolled, in the bush, but we can’t take that biomass and burn it in a clean-tech furnace in a commercial building.”

Through an invaluable partnership with the Union of Ontario Indians, Lambe said they’re looking for ways to work around those restrictions since First Nation communities are exempt from certain legislation that affect municipalities.

“There are some things happening under the covers that are about to open up the market.”