GreenCentre breaks silence of 17 CECRs

tony1459Edit90X167.jpg By Tony Patterson

One of the chicks hatched out of the federal science and innovation strategy cracked its shell today. Let out a peep.
GreenCentre Canada has given $25,000 each to two researchers in the Maritimes, who will get the money to advance their work in superconducting polymers (Andrew Grant of Mount Allison U. in Sackville, NB) and ionic liquids (Robert Singer of St. Mary’s U. in Halifax).
Not much, of course, as these things go, $25K. Grants in the hundreds of thousands and even millions Gavrelmugshot82X158.jpgto university research are not uncommon. These are so-called POP (proof of principle) grants, which tend to come in low. We don’t have much of a record yet out of Green Centre, so it’s hard to say what’s going to be normal granting practice.
GreenCentre is part of a new crop of federally-funded helping agencies called Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR). There are 17 of them, none much more than two years old (Green Centre hasn’t yet reached its first birthday). Between them they split about $225 million of federal funds. Green Centre in Kingston is actually a runt in the litter, given just $9 million to play with. Most of the others got $15 million.
But Green Centre is the first CECR to be in touch. It’s the first to tell SCANsite what it’s up to.
Why is this remarkable?

Think back, if you can, to the final decade of the twentieth century. SCANsite’s forerunner Silicon Valley NORTH was reporting on Canada’s tech sector. SVN was a huge supporter of the newborn Networks of Centres of Excellence before even they had established a secretariat and engaged Jean-Claude Gavrel (pictured right) to manage the process. It’s out of the NCE secretariat that CECRs are emerging. We did special editorial sections for each NCE — there are 20-or-so operating at any one time, funded more generously than CECRs, some scoring as much as $60 million. Then in 2004, despite the panic-struck ban on advertising in the midst of the sponsorship scandal, we found a way to put them front and centre in the special commemorative issue celebrating the centennial of Maclean’s Magazine and focused on Canada’s greatest innovators.
These guys know us well, it’s safe to say. We continue to be interested in them and have asked each CECR to send us any news and information about its activity.
Nothing. Until today. What the other 16 CECR’s are doing with their $216 million share I cannot say. But here’s what GreenCentre is doing.
It believes, Grant-A-closeup-MtAllison109X123.jpgfirst of all, that the research it’s supporting will lead to green chemistry breakthroughs that can be applied in industry. That’s the basic premise of any CECR — to get research out of the lab, off the shelf, out of the file cabinet and into the real world where the market can determine its value.
Dr. Grant (left) is developing organic superconducting polymers that have potential to operate at liquid nitrogen temperatures (-196 C). He’s doing it with a technology based on organic materials that promises to be more durable, less brittle, and more easily processed than conventional inorganic superconductors. Potential uses of the new technology include medical imaging equipment, highly efficient electric transmission lines, and superconducting magnets used in low-friction train lines.
GreenCentre expects to award up to 30 similar grants annually in support of technologies that have strong commercialization potential but require further basic research or testing before they can be reassessed for its market value.
“We are now able to begin putting real support behind some of the highly promising green technologies that have come to us from Canada’s universities,” says Dr. Rui Resendes, GreenCentre’s executive director.
The global challenges of sustainability and climate change are driving a growing demand for the chemical industry’s green products and processes. Green chemistry-derived products are becoming a more profitable part of the worldwide chemical industry and demand is rising rapidly.
Dr. Singer’s work (he's pictured at right) advances a novel method of using what are known as “ionic liquids” Singer-R-St_Marys98X134.jpgto eliminate harmful metals from industrial wastewater streams. These specialized compounds can effectively remove a wide variety of metals from wastewater using less energy and without the risk of releasing toxic chemicals in the process. Current methods often require large amounts of energy and chemicals that are themselves toxic. GreenCentre is supporting development of next-generation ionic liquids specifically designed for large-scale water purification.
GreenCentre brings together leading researchers from universities across Canada, national and international industry partners, and commercialization experts to identifyand develop clean, less energy-intensive alternatives to traditional chemical products and manufacturing processes. Its collaborative approach includes everything from technology assessment, scale-up and testing to intellectual property protection, business management and financial resources.
In its first year GreenCentre has received about 90 technology disclosures from Canadian universities. It’s expected by the Ontario government that in the next five years it will commercialize a total of 50 green chemistry technologies, execute 10 licence agreements with companies and create six start-ups that will either create or retain 250 high-value jobs in the province.
Ontario has a big say because its Ministry of Research and Innovation has contributed $14 million to GreenCentre, which is based at a state-of-the art lab and scale-up facility at the Innovation Park at Queen’s University. PARTEQ Innovations — the university’s phenomenally successful (in Canadian terms) technology outsource centre — will support the CECR’s operations.
The global chemicals industry is one of the largest manufacturing industries in the world, with annual global revenues of over $3 trillion. The industry is central to the modern world economy, converting raw materials such as oil, gas, air, water, metals and minerals into more than 70,000 different products. Its workforce is highly skilled and highly paid. Revenues in Canada are over $47 billion. The industry employs about 41,000 workers in Ontario.

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