Climate change is one of the largest and most influential issues facing nations today. As implications of climate change affect all aspects of life - economic, health, agriculture, manufacturing, fishing, just to name a few - industry and governments at all levels are looking for innovative, effective and economical ways to deal with this massive threat. Now more than ever, science and technology have a crucial role to play and getting their solutions to market is essential. The St. Francis Xavier University Industry Liaison Office is working toward that very goal.
Earth Sciences professor Dr. Dave Risk and his team at StFX’s Environmental Science Research Centre have developed cutting edge technology that can accurately detect and monitor greenhouse gases that are either being stored underground in the large-scale industry developments known as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects, or gases being emitted from soils because of land surface activities such as forestry, farming or other actions on the land that disturb the soil. Dr. Risk’s technology, the Continuous-Timeseries Forced-Diffusion Monitoring probe (CT- FD) not only monitors the safe underground storage of carbon dioxide in these large CCS projects, it can also precisely measure carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large areas due to surface soil disturbance – a critically important feature as ¼ of all CO2 emissions are estimated to come from this sort of surface activity. The other characteristics that make CT-FD unique are its compact and portable size; it can be easily buried underground withstanding even the harshest weather conditions; it can help differentiate between CO2 that’s pumped into the ground versus that which comes from plants, and the technology is wireless which means it doesn’t require manual human labour onsite in order to capture results.
While Dr. Risk knew his invention was interesting and may have limited application, it wasn’t until he teamed up with Andrew Kendall, manager of StFX’s Industry Liaison Office (ILO), that they discovered together the very large emerging global market for this type of technology.
“As we began to fully understand just how innovative CT-FD was in terms of accuracy, delivery and cost, its market potential became very clear,” says Kendall. “Especially in terms of the role it could play in helping industries and businesses meet government green house gas emissions standards in countries around the world.”
Working with Kendall, Dr. Risk was able to apply for two Springboard programs - the Proof of Concept Fund and the Patent and Legal Fund, both of which Dr. Risk says were vital to the process of CT-FD’s advancement.
“Springboard was the only source available for the type of funding we needed to protect the intellectual property and further develop the CT-FD,” says Risk. “Without it, CT-FD would not be on the verge of full scale commercial testing nor would it probably ever reach the market.”
CT-FD will soon be deployed to test sites with extreme weather conditions like Inner Mongolia, Alberta and Antarctica, as well as smaller scale sites in Canada’s North and Nova Scotia. Once testing is complete, StFX’s ILO will continue working with Risk to develop a spin-off company to market these technologies as well as expertise on control and capture of greenhouse gases.
“It is thrilling to me as a scientist to see my research reach real-world potential, especially one that can have a positive effect on the environment,” says Dr. Risk. “However, none of this would be possible without the assistance of Andrew Kendall and his Springboard connections in terms of funding opportunities, networking, PR and technology transfer expertise. The daily support and collaboration that Andrew offers has been invaluable. I don’t make a research move without him.”
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Leading research at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX) has generated a technology that could have significant environmental impact on household products. It has also caught the attention and investment of GreenCentre Canada, a national centre for commercializing early-stage green chemistry. In fact, St. Francis Xavier was the first university in Canada to complete a technology license with GreenCentre.
With support from the Atlantic Innovation Fund, collaborators Dr. Gerry Marangoni of StFX and Dr. Bruce Grindley of Dalhousie University created a high performance compound called a Gemini surfactant. Able to dissolve or emulsify insoluble substances and to coat surfaces, surfactants are found in a broad range of everyday consumer products, such as shampoos, detergents, cleaners, pharmaceuticals and paint. They are also used in industrial processes such as oil and gas drilling. This Gemini surfactant is particularly innovative because significantly smaller amounts are needed to do the same job as existing compounds.
“The fact that the Gemini surfactant is so high functioning in small doses could translate into major cost savings in the manufacturing, packaging, transportation and retail of common household products,” says Andrew Kendall, Manager of the Industry Liaison Office at StFX. “Accumulatively, that also means reduced environmental impact at every stage.”
While Kendall recognized the commercial possibilities of Dr. Marangoni’s compound, he knew that in order to truly assess its full potential, the researchers would require a partner with specialized expertise. With a focus on developing commercially viable, environmentally sound products and practices within the chemical industry, GreenCentre seemed like a perfect fit. Kendall negotiated a first-ever partnership that saw GreenCentre not only license the Gemini surfactant technology from StFX, they also licensed a series of compounds developed by Dr. Marangoni and Dr. James Nyangulu called Shale Hydration Inhibition Agents, which are designed to deal with drilling issues in the oil and gas industries.
Over the next year, GreenCentre will test these surfactants at larger scales, monitoring their performance as well as putting them into the hands of industry partners and potential customers to gain valuable feedback.
“This has been an incredibly satisfying and exciting process for everyone involved,” says Kendall. “As a member of the Springboard Atlantic network, my job is to identify and shepherd innovative research through to commercialization. To partner with a centre of excellence like GreenCentre to achieve that goal not only benefits these particular technologies but it’s also a significant accomplishment for Atlantic Canadian researchers to be the first in the country to secure a license agreement with GreenCentre. This demonstrates that StFX researchers as well as those from across the Springboard network can compete in a global market. I’m confident more license agreements will follow.”
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ABOUT SPRINGBOARD ATLANTIC INC.
The Springboard Atlantic Commercialization Network is made up of 19 universities and colleges working together to increase collaboration among post-secondary institutions in Atlantic Canada, to facilitate industry partnerships, and to accelerate the transfer of research and development (R&D) to the private sector. Springboard Atlantic has core support from its members and from the Government of Canada through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).