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Big upside for bioproducts

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Ethanol and biodiesel are two of many new bioproducts already on the market or set to appear in the near future. Bioproducts are non-food products developed from biological or renewable material that comes from agricultural, food, forestry, marine, industrial or municipal sources.

Ethanol and biodiesel—collectively called biofuels—may present the biggest opportunity, given the huge quantities of gasoline and diesel fuel Canadians consume. Canada produced just 250 million litres of biofuels in 2004, whereas the United States produced 12.9 billion litres, according to the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association.

However, by 2010 Canadian production of biofuels could surpass 3 billion litres, or 5% of total gasoline consumption, just to keep up with government targets. Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have all mandated renewable fuel standards that call for a percentage of ethanol to be mixed with gasoline.

Other bioproducts that Canadian firms are developing include biological control agents for insects and weeds that may be less toxic for the environment than synthetic pesticides, new construction materials made from natural fibres (e.g., straw), and biodegradable plastics.

Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, were home to 70% of the 232 firms surveyed in 2004 for the Bioproducts Development Survey. The firms tend to be small: only 16% have 150 or more employees.

Many of these firms also make other products: bioproducts account for just 25% of their total revenues. Of the $3 billion that the surveyed firms earned from bioproducts in 2003, about half came from exports.