Ottawa, Ontario — Canada’s gargantuan agriculture industry was encouraged Monday to embrace the trend of fractionation, which uncovers the possibilities hidden in a lowly pea, a simple sugar beet, or a kernel of corn.
“I think there’s a real potential for it in Canada,” Robert Morgan, president of the POS Pilot Plant Corp., based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, told a Canada Grains Council (CGC) conference.
“We’re pretty low down on the totem pole right now,” he said, in reference to the current small size of Canada’s fractionation industry — taking grains or oilseeds and using them as a source of raw materials for higher-valued products.
An oft-cited example is the conversion of corn into ethanol fuel in the United States — a practice which could be adopted by Canadians, Morgan said.
The unwieldy term fractionation has several names including bioprocessing and has been touted for its environmental friendliness.
Australia, like Canada, exports most of its wheat. But private agricultural consultant Tam McEwen said Australia uses a small portion of its domestic wheat supply to make gluten, which is subsequently exported and applied to other uses.
Unlike Canada, Australia’s small fractionation industry has enjoyed strong government support for research and development, he said.
Many industry leaders have suggested fractionation — increased growing of specialty crops for special uses such as medicines — is the wave of the future and the answer to farmers who struggle against commodity price fluctuations.
Morgan said Europe has been a fractionation leader by applying wheat and sugar beets to uses other than for eating.
He said current uses in Canada included using flax to make fibre and auto parts, HEAR rapeseed for plastics, linola oilseed for linoleum, borage to make gamma lineolic acid (GLA) used in the health industry, and hemp for fibre and oil.
“The hemp crop has tremendous potential in Canada, particularly as they can’t grow it south of the border,” he said, in reference to the fact that commercial hemp-growing in the U.S. is not approved yet.
Hemp is a mild-mannered brother to the marijuana plant.
Bob Reichert, with the National Research Council of Canada, said canola — a Canadian rapeseed variant — had potential for protein extraction in the same way as soybean protein.
He encouraged Canadian farmers to grow more soybeans, currently grown in southern Ontario, since they are not suited for the cooler climate of Canada’s grain-rich Prairies.
“There’s the Joy of Soy, and that can be changed to ”the Glee of Pea, said Bob Tyler, a University of Saskatchewan professor, who spoke about potential uses of the Canadian pea crop, which has been steadily increasing in size.
One U.S. company had started extracting sugar from plants to be used in ink, and starches to be used in adhesives.
“Sugar is at the heart of our technology,” said John van Leeuwen, chief executive officer of EcoSynthetix based in Lansing, Michigan.
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