In 1858, a farmer in Sarnia, Ontario, was digging for water and stumbled upon oil. The area became known as ‘Canada’s Chemical Valley”; the cities of Oil Springs and Petrolia, Ontario, were founded after the discovery of oil. By 1861, more than 400 wells had already been dug in the area. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Canadian chemical industry is one of the country’s largest industries; in 2021, the chemical industry shipments had a total value of CAD 64.4 Billion. The sector’s output is diverse and includes basic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, paints, and adhesives, among other products.
Ontario’s Chemical Manufacturing Industry
Thanks to its deep history, Ontario is home to manufacturing operations for 5 out of 10 of the top chemical companies in the world. Ontario’s chemical sector encompasses the entire value chain—from polymers to alternative fuels, fertilizers to gases and adhesives, and even the components for high-tech fabrics and other goods.
Quick Facts about Ontario’s Chemical Manufacturing Industry
- Ontario is responsible for almost 50% of Canada’s chemical manufacturing production.
- Ontario’s chemical industry alone exports over $16B worth of goods and produces almost $21B in shipments!
- Most activity occurs in three key regions: Sarnia-Lambton, Greater Toronto Area (GTA)/Niagara and Eastern Ontario.
- Ontario has the world’s largest bio-succinic acid production plant
- Ontario produces approximately 60% of Canada’s grain corn and soybean supply (main feedstock for biochemical production)
The Ontario Advantage for Chemical Engineering Startups
Evolving Bio-Hybrid Cluster
- Ontario’s industrial biotechnology value chain comprises agricultural and forestry biomass supply, grain corn and soybean mills, midstream biorefineries and biofuel processors, and downstream biomaterial manufacturers.
- Ontario’s large agricultural and forestry sector provides an abundant and diverse biomass feedstock for biobased chemicals, fuels and materials production. Our agricultural zones offer large volumes of soybeans, grain corn, winter wheat and wood supply.
- The province supplies over 14 million cubic metres of harvested wood. And Southern Ontario produces approximately 60% of Canada’s corn and soybean supply.
Direct Access to Petrochemicals
- Ontario offers direct access to heavy and light crudes, natural gas and natural gas liquids (including ethane), all from North American regions and new, unconventional shale gas sources, such as the Marcellus and Utica basins.
- NOVA Chemicals, the first company in the world to access Marcellus basin shale gas liquids as feedstock, has converted its Ontario ethylene cracker to handle up to 100% natural gas liquids.
- Ontario is also home to the Enbridge Gas Dawn Facility. The Enbridge Gas Dawn Hub is one of North America’s largest integrated natural gas storage facilities.
Ontario’s Industrial Biotech Research Facilities
WISE is committed to conducting original research and developing innovative solutions and policies to create a real impact on the future of energy systems. They offer their partners collaboration opportunities for energy R&D, education, training, and commercialization activities.
BRI is a multidisciplinary research institute focused on exploring biorefining topics for the Canadian forest industry. Their research output stands at 115 publications, 69 presentations, 8 Intellectual Properties, and 35 Grants ($5,657,186).
- Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy (QIEEP) and Queen’s Sustainable Bioeconomy Centre
Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy (QIEEP) provides experience in policy regarding energy and the environment. In 2015, their faculty member Dr. McDonald received the Nobel Prize in Physics. The University has supported over 600 SMEs and startups, and attracted over $620M in research and development to Kingston, Ontario since 2013.
The BDDC is a unique Ontario-based facility that enables industries to collaborate with university researchers in discovering new materials and processing methods. It has facilities to conduct a vast array of research and collaborative activities in the areas of Sustainable polymers, Circular economy and environmental sustainability, Valorization of biomass waste, food-wastes and industrial co-products, Valorization of waste plastics (chemical and mechanical recycling), Bioplastics and Biocomposites, Biocarbon in engineering sustainable materials, Biodegradable plastics and alternatives to single-use plastics, and many more.
CBBP is conducting a research program to develop energy-efficient lightweight nanomaterials for industrial uses by utilizing natural resources like forest and agro-residues. Their focus is on scaling up operations to incorporate nano-biofibre entities into engineered plastics, which not only provides strategic advantages to Ontario’s forest sector but also addresses environmental issues with carbon storage potential.
ICFAR is a research facility affiliated with Western University located in Ontario. It specializes in biomass and waste conversion, fluid-coking technologies, and provides a highly relevant learning experience for graduate and undergraduate students by working closely with industries and governments.
MaRS offers a variety of valuable services to support high-growth companies, including advisory services and access to talent, capital, and customers. The MaRS ecosystem is a curated community of entrepreneurs, investors, corporates, academics, and government partners that members can also access.
GreenCentre aims to promote chemistry solutions that benefit both the economy and the environment through partnerships. They offer research and development services to various customers, including small companies, entrepreneurs, academic startups, and large corporations, and have state-of-the-art lab facilities and a team of experienced professionals who work closely with their network of entrepreneurs, industry leaders, investors, and researchers.
Bioindustrial Innovation Canada is a company that provides strategic investment and services to businesses developing sustainable technologies. They focus on supporting the transition towards a net-zero carbon economy by investing in emerging companies.
The Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research (TCBR) is a cutting-edge research program that focuses on developing sustainable biomaterials with a positive impact on the environment and agriculture. TCBR is a unique interdisciplinary program that examines the ethical implications of biomaterials in science, social science, and humanities.
Incentives for Chemical Manufacturing and Engineering Startups in Ontario
A nationally focused not-for-profit business accelerator, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, Sarnia has invested in 32 early-stage companies and leveraged $355M in third-party investments for early-stage companies. Bioindustrial Innovation Canada invests in and advises clean technology businesses to support the transition to a sustainable, net-zero carbon economy.
CRIBE is a non-profit corporation that supports the development of a sustainable, profitable forest bio-economy in Ontario. They prioritise demonstrating solutions, leading economic development and innovation, deploying forest-based technologies and products, and sustaining a high-performing organisation through effective management. Industry invests roughly $5 for every $1 of CRIBE funding support, as they work to convert Ontario’s sustainably harvested forest resources into profitable, low-carbon solutions.
GreenCentre has assisted over 100 chemical and materials startups since 2014, helping them raise more than $250 million in funding and creating 300 jobs. Their team of skilled technical professionals and advanced lab facilities can aid in the development of your early-stage company’s technology.
MaRS supports tech founders in growing their companies and creating meaningful innovation that solves real problems. Since 2008, MaRS-supported startups have generated $7.1B in revenue, contributed $11.7B to GDP, and employed 22,800 people in 2020.
Chemical Engineering Talent in Ontario
Ontario is primed with the right talent for chemical engineering and manufacturing roles. With over 27 universities and colleges awarding degrees and diplomas in Chemical Engineering, Applied Chemistry and Chemical Process and Production, Ontario is completely prepared to contribute to the generation of industry experts.
A cross-section of Ontario’s skilled trades include:
- boilermaker welders, boilermakers
- bricklayers, carpenters, cement masons
- electricians, insulators, ironworkers
- labourers, millwrights, operator engineers
- painters, pipefitters, pipe welders
- rodmen, sheet-metal workers
Overall as the population grows in Canada, the industry’s growth increases too. Especially after Covid-19 the demand for products in the industry have increased, marked with an increase in domestic manufacturing capacity too.
Chemical Manufacturing Companies in Ontario based on sub-sectors:
In Ontario, the chemical industry produces a wide range of products throughout the value chain, including polymers, alternative fuels, fertilizers, gases, adhesives, and components for high-tech fabrics and other goods. Below is a comprehensive list of Chemical Engineering companies based in Ontario.
- Basic chemicals such as ethylene, aromatics, styrene
- Polymers, Resins, Synthetic Rubber, Additives
- Industrial gases
- Speciality chemicals such as coatings, adhesives, paper chemicals, water
- Biobased chemicals and materials
- Petroleum refiners such as diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, i.e. solvents
Want to start or expand a chemical engineering related business in Canada?
We are BHive, a startup incubator located in Brampton, Ontario. We offer international startups the tools, resources, and space to establish – and quickly scale – their businesses in Canada and North America. To apply to our Global Entrepreneur Incubation Program, click here!