Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC): killer app for Canadian forestry industry?

Bertrand Marotte, a writer from one of Canada’s better known newspapers, The Globe and Mail, contacted me a few weeks ago regarding his proposed story on Canada’s nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) efforts. May 6, 2012, he posted his article, Domtar leading the way to market eco-friendly NCC. I was a little curious about what he’d done with the information I’d given him and happy to see this article.

Compared to the amount of hype and excitement I’ve seen and sometimes contributed to myself, Marotte offers a more restrained perspective. From the May 6, 2012 article,

Industry leaders say the forestry sector – hammered over the past 10 years by declining demand for newsprint and paper in the digital revolution, competition from low-cost producers in developing countries and a surfeit of inefficient old mills – has to re-invent itself by creating new revenue streams if it is to survive.

Innovations being pursued by forestry companies come none too soon, but the risks are huge and a payoff is far from guaranteed.

Tom Rosser, assistant deputy minister at Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service, agrees the risk factor is high.

“These are very risky technologies that make it hard to attract private capital,” he said.

Tim Harper, the CEO of London-based Cientifica, a consultant on advanced technologies, describes the market for NCC as “very much a push, without signs of any pull.”

Mention of an AbitiBowater lignin project in Marotte’s article helped to underline the forestry industry’s urgency.

Interestingly, there’s no mention of the NCC project plant in Alberta (mentioned in my July 5, 2011 posting) or Canada’s worldwide NCC production lead.

Canadians are taking a huge risk and, so far, we’re taking the lead on the production side of things but, in a quintessentially Canadian fashion, the article casts doubt on the whole enterprise and ends on that note.

We tout innovation but at the same are deeply disconcerted by and hesitant about the risktaking required to be truly innovative. (I have to note that I too write pieces that can be quite restrained and critical of these types of endeavours.) Really, it’s as much a question of culture as anything else. How do we support innovation and risktaking while maintaining some of our quintessential character?

3 thoughts on “Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC): killer app for Canadian forestry industry?

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