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NSERC Bioconversion Network


The NSERC Bioconversion Network intends to be the leading Canadian R&D Network in lignocellulosic biomass conversion to fuel ethanol and valuable industrial chemicals. For the past century, energy and chemical production has been based predominantly on fossil fuels, with petroleum serving as the basis for most transportation fuels and industrial chemicals. Petroleum is the largest contributor to global energy, providing over 35 percent of the world’s primary energy supply. Transportation accounts for about 70 percent of petroleum use. Over-reliance on petroleum undermines long-term energy security and stifles economic growth. Lately, volatility in the price of petroleum re-emphasized the need for a sustainable source of renewable fuels that meet future transportation needs.

Plant biomass is the main source of petroleum-independent liquid fuels and industrial chemicals. The United States has an aggressive program to explore the potential of agricultural residues in thermochemical and biochemical conversion processes. Canada’s unique opportunity is the vast quantities of cellulosic material found in our forests. Bioconversion offers us a pathway to generate fuel ethanol and biochemicals for the Canadian marketplace, currently limited by various scientific and technical barriers. The Network needs to overcome these barriers in order to extract maximum benefits from lignocellulosic biomass resources.

The NSERC Bioconversion Network aims to develop the technology, ensure environmental sustainability, capture intellectual property and eventually market renewable fuel ethanol and chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass. The Network’s research will promote the sustainable development of our nationwide forest resource.

Network Structure

The Network’s four themes are designed to address the Research Objectives below. The research requires an integrated and coordinated approach, as each step of the biomass conversion process strongly influences subsequent steps. The Network’s interdisciplinary collaborative framework approach is critical to its success.

The Network is led by Dr. Hung Lee (Guelph) and Dr. Jack Saddler (UBC), and is headquartered at the University of Guelph. The core research team consists of 12 academic investigators from five universities: UBC, Guelph, Toronto, Queen’s and Concordia. The investigators will work closely with partners and collaborators from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada and six industrial organizations (Alberta Research Council, FPInnovations, GreenField Ethanol, Lallemand Ethanol Technology, SunOpta and Tembec) to advance the science and technology of biomass conversion to support Canada’s growing need for sustainable, renewable products, chemicals, fuels and energy.

Research Objectives

The four core themes are designed to:

  1. Increase the efficacy of lignocellulosic substrate pretreatment in order to separate chemical components of the wood and increase overall yields;
  2. Increase the effectiveness and reduce the cost of enzymatic hydrolysis to release monomeric sugars from pretreated lignocellulosic substrates;
  3. Develop improved yeast strains able to tolerate the inhibitors and ferment all the hexose and pentose sugars in lignocellulosic substrates to ethanol; and
  4. Investigate the production of valuable co-products from the lignin and hemicellulose streams, as well as aspects of process scale-up, in terms of overall process economics.

Each objective is addressed by a group of researchers undertaking inter-related projects using common feedstocks and substrates to systematically investigate these issues. The first three themes will follow the bioconversion process through pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation. The fourth is an overarching body, collecting data from all research projects and providing feedback to the rest of the Network.


The NSERC Bioconversion Network is a unique Canadian R&D network aimed at developing energy efficient, commercially viable and environmentally sustainable biomass conversion processes that generate ethanol and high-value co-products. These activities are essential to Canada’s national security strategy surrounding energy, the economy and the environment, and provide new employment opportunities. The Network will generate innovations that will accelerate Canada’s transition from a petroleum-based to a bio-based economy.

The bioconversion platform can maximize the potential of Canada’s forest biomass resource by providing new chemical, fuel and energy products that complement existing fibre or material products. Development of environmental and economic measures of the platform will allow interpretation of the results of the technical themes and add a significant dimension and capability to the Network’s activities. Inclusion of these measures with the technical outputs of the Network will allow decision makers to choose processes likely to match both present and future goals, from both industrial and environmental perspectives.


Dr. Hung Lee
University of Guelph
Tel: 519-824-4120 ext. 53828

Dr. Jack Saddler
The University of British Columbia
Tel: 604-822-9741

Dr. Goretty Dias, Network Manager
University of Guelph
Tel: 519-824-4120 ext. 56322
Web site: This link will take you to another Web site

Contact us at 1-877-767-1767