The bio-economy is defined as the economic activity associated with the invention, development, production and use of primarily bio-based products, bio-based production processes and/or biotechnology-based intellectual property. It includes the use of resources from agriculture, forestry, fisheries/aquaculture, organic waste and aquatic biomass.
The field is multidisciplinary in that it cuts across the bio-health, bio-energy, bio-agriculture (agri-bio) and bio-industrial (chemicals and materials) sub-sectors. These four are all rooted in their own foundations of research and development and all have products, processes or intellectual property that are involved in the “green” or sustainable development economy as well, to a greater or lesser extent. The bio-economy sub-sectors share a common objective: the commercialization of resultant bio-products, processes and/or intellectual property.
Biosciences Research and Development (R&D)
Bioscience is a diverse field of scientific study that focuses on applying knowledge to develop biological solutions that sustain, restore, or improve the quality of life for humans, plants, and animals. Research and development are the innovative stage of scientific study concentrated on new and/or improved products, processes, and ideas.
The bio-health sub-sector encompasses the invention, development, manufacturing, commercialization and use of products that improve therapeutics, diagnostics, prevention and health administration, as well as the development and production of nutraceuticals and applications of medical cannabis. Research and development activities contribute to the development of new products, bio-based technologies and intellectual property related to the production of bio-health products and technologies.
- Medical cannabis: Medical cannabis and associate cannabinoids are prescribed by medical professionals in the treatment of their patients. For example, medical cannabis has shown efficacy in the treatment of long-term pain and decreasing nausea associated with chemotherapy, and epilepsy.
- Medical Devices: Health Canada defines medical devices as a wide range of health or medical instruments used in the treatment, mitigation, diagnosis or prevention of a disease or abnormal physical condition. Examples include items such as insulin pumps and heart monitors.
- Biopharmaceuticals: A biopharmaceutical is any pharmaceutical drug product manufactured, extracted from, or semi-synthesized from biological sources. Biopharmaceutical products are manufactured in living organisms. Commonly derived biopharmaceuticals include blood products, hormones, and antibodies.
- Nutraceuticals: Nutraceuticals are medicinally or nutritionally functional foods that are associated with the prevention or treatment of a disease. Well known examples include omega-3 fatty acids in salmon (rheumatoid arthritis) and lycopene in tomatoes (cardiovascular disease).
- Natural-compound bioactives: Bioactive compounds (molecules and microbes) have biological activity on living tissues that promote good health. Natural compound bioactives are derived from plants and certain foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
- Bio-molecules: Biomolecules are substances produced by cells and other living organisms such as proteins and nucleic acids. These biomolecules can then be harvested and/or adapted to assist in the treatment of cancer or for use in regenerative medicine.
- eHealth: A relatively new addition to bio-health, ehealth is a way to incorporate technology (electronic processes and medical informatics) into public health to improve patient health and promote individualized medicine.
- Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) is broadly defined as the ability of a machine or computer program to learn. The role of AI in health is far reaching, ranging from processing large data sets leading to improved patient predictive analysis, all the way to improvements in robotic surgeries.
The bio-energy sub-sector encompasses the invention, development, production, commercialization and use of renewable fuels through the conversion of organic material into heat or power. Research and development activities contribute to the development of new products, bio-based technologies and intellectual property related to the production of bio-energy.
- Biodiesel: A form of diesel fuel derived from plants or animals that is a clean-burning, renewable substitute for petroleum diesel.
- Ethanol: Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, is a clear, colorless liquid that is the main ingredient in alcoholic beverages. Ethanol can also be used as a motor fuel on its own or as an additive to traditional gasoline to decrease carbon emissions.
- Methane: Methane is a greenhouse gas emitted by human activities and natural sources such as leakage from natural gas systems and the raising of livestock. Biomethane is produced by the anaerobic digestion of organic matter such as dead animal and plant material, manure, sewage, and organic waste. Methane is used is in the creation of bio-gas.
- Bio-oil: Bio-oil is a biofuel that can be obtained from thermochemical conversion of biomass such as agricultural waste. The conversion takes places using pyrolysis, a process that involves the chemical decomposition of plant and other organic matter using very high heat.
- Sustainable development: Sustainable development is an organizing principle used by companies and associations to meet financial objectives while also sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the resources on which the economy depends.
The bio-industrial sub-sector encompasses the invention, development, manufacturing, commercialization and use of goods for industrial use, such as bio-chemicals and bio-materials, through the conversion of organic material. Research and development activities contribute to the development of new products, bio-based technologies and intellectual property related to the production of bio-industrial products. Among others, the development and production of biocatalysts are an integral part of this sub-sector.
- Biocatalyst: Catalysts are compounds that speed up chemical reactions. Bio-catalysts are natural catalysts found in living organisms, such as enzymes, that can speed up biochemical reactions with high specificity. Examples includes lowering “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and increasing “good” cholesterol (HDL).
- Biosolvents: Solvents are central to many chemical processes as they dissolve reagents and allow chemical formulations to take place. However, solvents are mostly derived from fossil fuel sources. Bio-solvents are derived from carbohydrate rich agricultural crops such as wheat and corn and are biodegradable.
- Bioplastics: Bio-plastics are made from biodegradable materials that come from renewable sources (such as: wood chips, vegetable fats, and corn starch) that are used to reduce the problem of plastic waste and increase the level of biodegradation.
- Biocoatings: Coatings are used to protect and/or enhance the underlying material. Bio-coatings are typically formulated of plant based raw materials to decrease the reliance on oil-based products and volatile organic compounds. Bio-coatings can adhere to something as small as microorganisms or be used on something as large as lumber to treat the wood for housing.
- Bioadhesives: Bio-adhesives are types of glue (adhesives) that are produced from or obtained from living organisms. A common example would be adhesives derived from gelatine or starch used for wound closures or grafting.
The agri-bio sub-sector encompasses the invention, development, production, commercialization and use of new or modified products resulting from the manipulation, modification or alteration of the natural features of plants and crops, animals and/ or other food sources. Research and development activities contribute to the development of new products, bio-based technologies and intellectual property that support improved quality, yield and efficiency in the agricultural sector and food production.
- Agri-fibre composites: Agri-fibre composites are used in liquid wood, insulation, and furniture construction. These composites are composed of extractions and refined fibres from agricultural crops such as hemp, flax, and jute.
- Animal Genetics: Animal genetics is the study of genes, genetic variation, mechanisms of hereditary transmission, and variation of inherited characteristics in animals. It focuses on the fertility, productivity, and viability of animals with a particular focus on the health and safety of farm and domestic animals.
- Plant Genetics: Plant genetics is the study of genes, genetic variation, mechanisms of hereditary transmission, and variation of inherited characteristics in plants. Understanding plant genetics has been critical to our ability to increase crop resilience from pests (and decrease pesticides), to increase the nutritional value of crops, and to increase plant resilience given the global changes in temperature.
- Livestock Vaccines: Vaccines are designed to produce active acquired immunity to diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. Livestock vaccines are designed to protect the animals from highly contagious and deadly diseases which helps keep the animals safe and the food chain safe.
- Animal Nutritional Supplements: Nutritional supplements are a manufactured product intended to supplement the diet of an animal through the ingestion of a pill, capsule, tablet, powder, or liquid. Supplements are intended to improve the overall health and survivability of the animal though the addition of vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids.
- Functional Foods: Foods that have an added health benefit beyond the nutritional content of the food. This added value is brought to the food through the addition of new ingredients or the increasing of existing ingredients and is associated with descriptions such as fortified, enhanced, or enriched. An example of a functional food would be flavonoids and their association with healthy brain function. Flavonoids can be found in almonds, citrus fruit, and berries.
Additional terms which are common to all four sub-sectors of the bioeconomy
- Commercialization: The process of developing and producing bio-based products, processes, or ideas and introducing them into a commercial market for sale. Commercialization usually refers to the steps from early R&D in the laboratory towards the commercial objective of entry into the mass market.
- Green economy: The green economy is an economy that is focused on being profitable while also reducing the risk to the environment, being resource efficient and minimizing the impact to ecological systems.
For more details and facts about Canada’s bio-economy see BioTalent Canada’s labour market information reports.