Canada and the world currently face two immense challenges. The first is to reign in our greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to minimize climate change. The second is to develop materials and processes that are sustainable as well as safe for human health and the environment. While applying the principles of green chemistry to chemical manufacturing and processes can offer technical solutions, the mere existence of better technology will not be enough. In order to reduce our environmental impact green chemistry technologies will need to be implemented on a large scale and find wide adoption in society. In simplest terms, this is a matter of businesses creating and selling greener products and solutions that consumers and other businesses want. Green chemistry entrepreneurs will be critical in bringing sustainable chemistry products and processes to market, but their work entails substantial and unique challenges. Providing them with the right resources and support will accelerate the adoption of these sustainable technologies.
Nevertheless, entrepreneurs in the chemical field often face big challenges to turning their inventions into viable products. Start-ups have limited funds to create prototypes or run the experiments and analyses necessary to optimize a new material or formulation. Scaling the necessary chemistry to commercial levels is never a trivial exercise and often requires special expertise. So too does creating robust intellectual property in the form of patents, which is often critical as the basis for securing investment.
A suitable development partner can help address these challenges, but that assistance will usually come at the cost of a stake in the business or intellectual property. For the last two years, GreenCentre Canada has been supporting Ontario entrepreneurs whose initiatives have the greatest potential to positively impact our fight against climate change. Such support has been highlighted by GreenCentre’s InnovationHouse Chemistry Countering Climate Change (IHC4) program, which was initiated in 2016 with the assistance of the provincial government. In 2017 InnovationHouse became the centrepiece of a collaboration with the Chemical Institute of Canada, which has been aimed at facilitating and increasing relationships across academia and industry throughout the Canadian chemistry and engineering community.
The program invited start-ups to apply for a chance to develop and run a project with GreenCentre’s highly skilled chemists and specialists in business and intellectual property. Those applications asked entrepreneurs to make a case for their businesses, including how their product or technology would reduce greenhouse gas emissions if successfully implemented. Finalists for this competition were then invited to present to an expert panel in a “Dragon’s Den” format.
From two rounds of competition, GreenCentre has selected 10 companies to support. In each case the winners worked with GreenCentre chemists to develop a project that would address a narrow set of problems specific to their business. This work has run the gamut from synthesis and scale-up to validating performance and refining aspects of intellectual property development. In each case, GreenCentre was able to fill a gap that the start-up would not have been able to tackle easily or without incurring prohibitive costs.
One successful IHC4 finalist is H2nanO Inc., a Waterloo-based start-up that has developed a novel oxidative water treatment technology that harnesses solar or artificial ultraviolet light to degrade organic contaminants in water. The company has developed a proprietary photocatalyst based on a composite nanomaterial that can be readily recycled. If implemented at scale, H2nanO’s water treatment has the potential to significantly reduce electricity required for oxidative wastewater treatment while also greatly reducing the chemical inputs needed for treatment.
The company estimates that deployment of their invention in a small industrial wastewater treatment plant would reduce that plant’s CO2 output by 4,000-8,000 T per year. H2nanO has successfully demonstrated prototypes of their photocatalyst, but they identified a need to modify their synthesis so that it could be more readily scaled while managing material costs. With the potential to improve the composite so that it was more mechanically robust and easier to recover and recycle, the IHC4 project with H2nanO was structured so that the GreenCentre’s laboratory resources and diverse technical expertise could be brought to bear on these challenges. The project is currently ongoing but it has already offered up some important results that will assist H2nanO in their commercialization efforts for this important wastewater treatment technology.
Through the IHC4 program, some of the most innovative Ontario start-ups have been able to leverage the expertise of GreenCentre in business, chemical development, and intellectual property. By building a collaborative relationship with these emerging companies, GreenCentre can develop a project that is uniquely suited to the needs of that start-up and deliver results that will have maximal impact on their business.
GreenCentre Canada is pleased to be running its third IHC4 competition and invites Ontario-based entrepreneurs to apply via the InnovationHouse Web Portal [https://www.gccinnovationhouse.com] by 16 February 2018. Entrepreneurs have immense potential to accelerate the adoption of green chemistry through their innovative businesses. An investment of technical and business assistance in these businesses will pay dividends in the future.
Paul Thornton is Technology Development Manager for GreenCentre Canada, which is based in Kingston, Ontario.