BIOCAP Canada Foundation
 History of BIOCAP
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History of BIOCAP

Origin of the BIOCAP Concept

In 1997, as climate change was moving rapidly to the forefront of the environmental stage, an informal group of university researchers met in Kingston, Ontario, to discuss how the biosphere could help meet the enormous challenges posed by climate change. Led by Professor David Layzell, a prominent plant biologist at Queen’s University, the group knew that Canada’s vast biological resources – its “biological capital” - could be a valuable tool in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a renewable energy resource. At the time, little work was being done in this critical area of climate change research. Key areas, such as understanding and managing carbon cycles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, enhancing forest and agricultural carbon sinks, and developing sustainable biomass energy systems, needed to be addressed. The researchers knew, however, that filling in these knowledge gaps would be only part of the solution. If Canada’s immense natural resources were to be harnessed effectively, it would also require informed policy and investment decisions.

The concept of a new type of research foundation – one that transcended the boundaries between academia, industry, NGOs and governments – was quick to evolve. The proposed foundation would integrate essential scientific research from multiple disciplines as it stimulated innovative research and informed policy and investment decisions in government and industry. To help build credibility for the science, the foundation would also perform broad outreach.

It was a unique and timely concept, and one that garnered keen interest across the country. Discussions were launched with key players and the concept behind BIOCAP began to move quickly from vision to reality.

The Launch of BIOCAP

In 1998 and early 1999, the newly-christened BIOCAP Canada organization was helped to its feet with the support of Queen’s University and the generous sponsorship of TransAlta, Suncor and Shell Canada. The initiative quickly gained momentum with backing from a number of provinces and several other forward-thinking industries and non-government groups1. It was at this time that Dr. Bob Page, VP (Sustainability) at TransAlta was appointed Chair of the BIOCAP Board of Directors. Bob Page would work closely with David Layzell and the BIOCAP staff over the next nine years to guide and implement the many initiatives of the organization.

Working with its partners, BIOCAP established a broad vision for using Canada’s vast resources to address the challenges of climate change and clean energy. Meanwhile, extensive outreach and recruitment efforts stimulated widespread interest among the country’s research community. BIOCAP soon had a national database of hundreds of researchers, experts and other stakeholders that shared the objectives of BIOCAP and supported its initiatives.

In the fall of 1999, BIOCAP submitted an application for a $25M Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) Grant. With 12 applicants submitting proposals for just three NCE grants, the competition was stiff. BIOCAP later learned it had been placed fourth in the ranking by the selection committee. Despite the outcome of the competition, Canada’s Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) recognized the strength of BIOCAP’s proposal and provided $950K to support critical research projects and encourage the group to stay together. Thanks to this support, BIOCAP was able to establish its ‘Research Overview Committee’ and fund over $1M in research at 10 universities across the country in 2000.

Recognizing the lack of funding options for significant long-term support for a BIOCAP Network, David Layzell suggested to the Board of Directors in July 2000 that BIOCAP incorporate as a national non-profit research foundation. Instead of attempting to become its own research network, the proposed foundation would create a ‘Network of Networks’ across Canada.

The Board supported this suggestion, opening the door for BIOCAP to initiate what would become one of its flagship networks. Led by Dr. Hank Margolis of Laval University, the Fluxnet Canada Research Network (FCRN) was created to answer key questions about carbon cycling in Canada’s forests. BIOCAP assisted in the preparation of what would become a successful $14M, 5-year joint proposal to NSERC and the new Canadian Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (CIFCAS).

During this time, Bob Page, David Layzell and other Board members began an intensive lobbying campaign in Ottawa to attract federal support for the Foundation. With assistance from the Privy Council and some Members of Parliament, three federal agencies (Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) agreed to provide BIOCAP with $10 million over five years. After nine months of negotiating the details of a federal contribution agreement, the final signatures were put to paper just before the close of 2001. In January 2002, BIOCAP began to hire staff, create office space out of a church manse on the Queen’s University campus in Kingston, and roll out its various programs.

Growing a ‛Network of Networks’

BIOCAP’s early years focused heavily on building and integrating its affiliated research networks. The now widely-recognized ‘Network of Networks’ concept was based on an interwoven group of research networks within four key areas: (a) bioenergy, (b) forestry and natural ecosystems, (c) agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) management and (d) the human dimension (i.e., the socio-economic aspects of GHG management). Between 2001 and 2006, BIOCAP used or developed four different network-building models to launch a number of national research networks:

  1. Traditional Network Model (Fluxnet Canada, Green Crop). In this model, BIOCAP worked with dozens of researchers across the country to build a large highly-integrated proposal for centralized network funding through NSERC Network Grant or NCE programs.
  2. Affiliated Network Model (Sustainable Forest Management NCE, Auto 21 NCE). When a national network already existed in the research area but lacked a BIOCAP research priority, BIOCAP negotiated a arrangement whereby the network expanded its research focus, with partial support from the Foundation.
  3. ‘De Novo’ Network Model (Greenhouse Gas Management Canada). In this model, BIOCAP negotiated with a national granting council (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, SSHRC) to launch a call for proposals for nodes in a national network and for a network leader. Ultimately, a network was created that involved six nodes in complementary research areas.
  4. Building Block Network Model (Bioenergy, Agricultural GHG management, Aquatic Systems, etc). In this model, BIOCAP offered financial and networking support for grants being submitted to programs such as the NSERC Strategic Grants. Successfully funded projects were expected to work and exchange insights and expertise within a national network structure.
While each of these models had its strengths and weaknesses, BIOCAP was most excited about the potential of the Building Block Model to engage a broad community of researcher and industry expertise, remain nimble and efficient, and yield innovative results. However, development of this network model came late in BIOCAP’s funding cycle and the lack of resources for the core activity of each network ultimately limited the full implementation of the model. BIOCAP’s network building models came to be recognized both nationally and internationally from not only a research perspective, but a financial one as well; overall, BIOCAP networks boasted an impressive investment to leverage ratio of 5 to 1.

BIOCAP Expands its Reach

In addition to network building, the period between 2004 and 2007 marked a time of tremendous activity for BIOCAP in a variety of areas. In particular, the organization grew adept at ensuring efficient knowledge transfer among key stakeholders and decision makers – a vital component of BIOCAP’s unique operating model. Numerous workshops covering biosphere-relevant topics from afforestation and animal production to biodiesel research and feedstock integration were held across the country, bringing together key players from academia, government and industry. BIOCAP held its first national conference in February, 2005, in Ottawa. Attended by over 370 delegates from government, industry, universities and NGOs, the event helped identify key remaining research gaps and provided a timely forum for the exchange of information. A second, and equally successful, conference was held the following year.

BIOCAP’s innovative Research Integration Program (RIP) also launched during this period. RIP was designed to synthesize and integrate research results to better inform policy and investment decisions in government and industry. Stakeholder input was used to identify priority questions in four areas: agriculture, forestry and natural ecosystems, bioenergy and policy. The program generated 14 synthesis reports. Insights from these reports were presented at a special forum attended by MPs, policy advisors from provincial and federal governments, NGOs and university researchers. In the words of one attendee, “Without research integration, you cannot see the scientific results. BIOCAP is the only funding organization to host this valuable type of forum.”

Another notable BIOCAP highlight was the Bioenergy Challenge Dialogue. In partnership with EnergyINet from Alberta, BIOCAP organized and led the process to build a national strategy to grow the bioenergy industry. The dialogue forged conceptual alignment between almost 200 diverse participants and culminated in flagship project proposals that targeted specific Canadian bioenergy opportunities. Examples included creating a power plant in BC fuelled by pine beetle-killed timber, and generating power from wetland biomass while managing nutrient run-off.

BIOCAP’s leadership vision towards a sustainable bioeconomy was evident across its wide range of activities. Full information about the reports, workshops, forums, briefing documents, feasibility studies, consultations, speaking engagements and other products and services generated or provided BIOCAP can be found at www.biocap.ca2.

BIOCAP’s Final Chapter

March of 2006 marked the end of BIOCAP’s $10M federal contribution agreement. Interim support, coupled with additional industry and provincial sponsorship, enabled the Foundation to continue its work for another productive year and to continue to support ongoing projects within its portfolio. However, despite a lengthy and exhaustive campaign by BIOCAP’s staff and board members, and the vociferous support of countless stakeholders and others who had benefited from BIOCAP’s work, federal funding to deliver on its national mandate could not be secured. With Board approval, BIOCAP ceased the quest for support in the fall of 2007 and will officially cease operations on March 31, 2008, when the last project commitments are complete.

BIOCAP’s Impact

At the time of its closure, BIOCAP counted 81 members from industry, 53 NGOs, 48 government agencies and departments and 56 universities among its partners. Over the 10 years it was in operation, the organization invested $8 million and leveraged an additional $44 million from research partners to support more than 280 faculty and 430 graduate students at 38 universities across Canada. In total, BIOCAP delivered a comprehensive, integrated suite of programs (research + outreach) focused on the transformation to a sustainable bioeconomy valued at $59M.

The Foundation was instrumental in raising the profile of and support for biological solutions to climate change and clean energy in Canada. In addition to its direct support of university researchers, BIOCAP also helped numerous small, medium and large companies make critical connections, develop their business plans, guide their investments and establish greenhouse gas and renewable energy policies.

BIOCAP’s research investments and the insights they generated, as well as the synthesis and integration work performed by the Foundation, also had a significant influence on policy and investment decisions by governments. Provincial and federal governments have begun to recognize the importance of research investments in many of the areas critical to a sustainable bioeconomy, and have launched new granting programs involving hundreds of millions of dollars. BIOCAP played a critical role in helping to create the demand for these investments, and the capacity of the university research community to deliver on them.

An important BIOCAP legacy that will remain is its role as an innovative and effective model for a research foundation. While the model required base funding and cooperation from multiple federal departments, it demonstrated that it was possible to build partnerships among diverse groups - partnerships that were successful in linking multidisciplinary research and innovative technology development to inform policy and investment decisions by governments and industry. Such partnerships and the knowledge they generate are critical if we are to address the challenges of energy security and climate change.

1Over the period 1999 to 2007, BIOCAP funding sponsors included four provinces (Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan), Canada’s federal government, and 11 industry partners (TransAlta, Suncor, Shell Canada, TransCanada, Dofasco, Lafarge, Alcan, Canadian Fertilizer Institute, AlPac Forestry, Ontario Power Generation, Lafarge). A number of leading non-governmental organizations also played an active role on BIOCAP’s Board, including Pollution Probe, Pembina Institute, AgWest Bio and BioProducts Canada.

2Although the BIOCAP Canada Foundation will close at the end of March, 2008, the web site will remain accessible for at least one additional year.