Posts by Applied Research

Lunch & Learn: Natural Health Products – Formulation and Process Development

November 5, 2014 • Written by

Don’t miss this applied research presentation by Said Hassan on the work he has done to assist a local health product manufacturer with product modification and development.

You are welcome to join us on-campus or via live streaming.

Date: Wednesday November 26, 2014
Time: 12:05-12:55
Location: eTV Studio B
Register to attend in-person: Click here
View via live-streaming: Visit this link at event time – http://blogs.rrc.ca/etv/streaming

Said will discuss his work on modifying and developing formulation of a liquid health product for a local manufacturer. In the context of this work, he will highlight some opportunities and challenges in conducting industrial applied research with external industry partners through the applied research platform at RRC.This session will be of interest to individuals in the areas of Biochemistry, Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical QA-QC, Allied Health Sciences and other health related RRC programs such as nursing.

Presenter Bio:

JCF_0567R-headshotSaid Hassan (BSc., MSc.) has worked on several research projects including extraction and identification of rare seed oils, researching lipid profile of oleaginous microorganisms, biotransformation of lipids and synthesis of biologically active molecules. From 1997 onwards, he has worked in the areas of drug analysis, formulation and quality. Since joining Red River College in 2005 to help start the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing program, Said has been awarded four CARD grants, two of which involve working with external industry partner

For more info:

Claudius Soodeen (TEIR) – csoodeen@rrc.ca or 204-632-2147

College Applied Research Series: Intellectual Property

November 3, 2014 • Written by
This article is the second in a series of four by Ray Hoemsen, Director, Applied Research & Commercialization, Red River College.

This article is the third article in the College Applied Research Series by Ray Hoemsen, Director, Applied Research & Commercialization, Red River College.

As originally published in the Canadian Association of University Research Administrators Newsletter.

Community-based economic development is a key driver of applied research in the college system, which supports industry innovation, productivity, and competitiveness. Technology diffusion (adoption and adaption of technology) is of greater relevance than technology commercialization. Most colleges do little, if any, curiosity-driven research. Therefore, most college applied research is industry focussed.

Many industry applied research projects are supported by funding from the Tri-Council, most often the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Intellectual Property (IP) can be an integral component of the research results – in which case NSERC policy does not make any claim to the IP, while generally expecting benefits to accrue in Canada. However, NSERC does expect/require that:

  • industry partners have the ability to use the research results for commercial purposes;
  • institutions and their researchers are able to use the research results for academic purposes; and
  • students are able to publish their thesis and acknowledge their participation on their resumes.

With the support of NSERC, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges has developed an “IP Toolkit[1]” which contains college-based IP-related practices and agreement exemplars. In contrast to the university sector, Canadian colleges tend to have relatively similar IP policies[2],[3], which generally exhibit the following characteristics:

  • mandatory institutional ownership of IP developed with college resources;
  • mandatory disclosure of inventions; and
  • equitable sharing of any net returns from commercialization activity.

However, since there is a strong desire by colleges to see research results used for economic benefit in the community, rather than as a source of royalty revenue, coupled with minimal interest in patenting by the institution; there is little need to negotiate licenses or royalties, which can be a very time consuming (and often irritating) exercise for little (potential) return for all concerned.

As a result, colleges frequently grant commercial rights to research results to their industry partners, while retaining rights for academic (research and education) purposes. For example, under Red River College’s Intellectual Property Policy (A10), the College has mandatory institutional ownership of IP (to enable maximum clarity if a licensing situation may arise), including any IP which is created by students employed on the project. The policy is flexible enough to accommodate transfer of ownership, in the event the private-sector partner(s) require ownership. The College’s normal practise is to grant private sector partners commercial rights (royalty free), while the College retains rights for further research and education. As a result, there have never been any IP-related problems or issues between the College and industry since this practise was instituted in 2004. Industry finds the College to be very “IP friendly” and agreements on applied research projects are normally negotiated and signed rapidly.

There are several advantages to such college-based IP policy and practise commonalities, such as:

  • industry partners working with multiple colleges tend to find similar practises dealing with IP;
  • there is clarity with respect to IP ownership, in the event a licensing situation arises;
  • IP does not create barriers to collaboration, fostering greater industry engagement;
  • institutional IP protection (and thus legal) costs are non-existent or greatly minimized, since patenting by the institution is relatively rare;
  • the time to negotiate project agreements is minimized, resulting in faster turnaround; and
  • IP is NOT an impediment to industry-academic research collaborations!

[1] http://www.collegesinstitutes.ca/what-we-do/applied-research/ip-toolkit/

[2] Intellectual Property Policies in Colleges and Institutes. Ray Hoemsen, P. Eng., Red River College. Presentation to the Association of Canadian Community Colleges Applied Research Symposium, Edmonton AB. February 27, 2008.

[3] National Model of Intellectual Property (IP) Practices in College/Institute Applied Research Projects. Association of Canadian Community Colleges IP Working Group. Report for NSERC. March 2012.

RRC earns global award for commitment to social development

October 31, 2014 • Written by
IMG_0070

Red River College’s commitment to social development was recognized today with an International Award of Excellence from the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP).

The bronze award, presented at the WFCP’s World Congress in Beijing, China, recognizes colleges and polytechnics from around the world for their commitment to community engagement, diversity and sustainability — with an emphasis on international campus collaboration, best practices and technologies, and advancing institutional diversity.

“This is another outstanding achievement for the College,” says David Rew, RRC’s interim President and CEO. “Sustainability, international collaboration and diversity are  key focus areas for the College. Our staff and students make substantial investments in these areas, so it is very satisfying to receive this type of recognition.”

The College’s award application focused on international applied research collaborations relating to the Zero Emissions Transit Bus, the Science of Early Child Development (pictured above), sustainable infrastructure, and clean water technologies.

Top 50 Coll_date_2014In 2013, RRC marked a decade of applied research, and in recent weeks was ranked one of the Top 10 Canadian Research Colleges for the second year in a row.

“From day one, we have been very engaged in sustainable infrastructure research in response to local industry demand and community needs,” says Ray Hoemsen, Director of Applied Research & Commercialization at RRC. “Social development is a key strategic heme for the College and related research initiatives have been advancing rapidly. We are also seeing the results of our relationship-building efforts with international partners.”

Pitch’Day by Innovate Manitoba

October 23, 2014 • Written by

pitch-day

PITCH. VALIDATE. CONNECT.

Pitch’Day is Manitoba’s foremost quick pitch competition, where hustling entrepreneurs, academic innovators, and businesses with innovative new ideas come to pitch, validate, connect, and win awesome prizes!

Date:               November 12, 2014

Time:               4:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Location:         RBC Convention Centre

Register/Enter: Online | Competitor deadline is: Oct. 31, 2014

Pitch’Day 2012 and 2013 participants have gone on to accelerate their growth at Launch’Pad and Venture’Challenge, as well as raise angel investments and earn local and international recognition!

Who Should Attend?

  • Entrepreneurs looking to kick-start their ventures.
  • Anyone interested in entrepreneurship, innovation, or new business and investment opportunities!

By taking part in Pitch’Day you can:

  • Participate in a fun and interactive event
  • Network and build relationships
  • Witness an exciting competition as entrepreneurs present their business ideas in two minutes or less to an expert panel
  • Enjoy pre- and post-event networking receptions with delicious food

How do I Register?

Registration is open! Enter to compete or purchase a ticket to enjoy the competition!

 

RRC climbs to sixth spot on list of Canada’s top research colleges

October 22, 2014 • Written by

For the second year in a row, Red River College has ranked among the top Canadian research colleges and polytechnics, climbing to sixth place on the list of Canada’s Top 50 Research Colleges, released this month by Research Infosource Inc.

Top 50 Coll_date_2014The College posted $5.82 million in research income during the 2013 fiscal year, an increase over the previous year, when it ranked seventh with $4.37 million.

“Red River College has been a leader in applied research over the last decade, and we’ve seen a steady increase in research income each year,” says David Rew, Interim President at RRC. “Applied research is an integral part of our overall strategy — it contributes in a very productive way to our communities and the experience of our students.”

RRC remains best known for applied research capabilities relating to extreme climate and cold weather technologies and applications, but a number of other research thrusts are rapidly emerging.

“We have built our applied research enterprise in response to community needs, especially our partners in industry.” says Ray Hoemsen, RRC’s Director of Applied Research & Commercialization. “With the support of both the federal and provincial governments we’ve been further developing capacity based upon our core capabilities within the schools and their respective faculty, staff and students.”

International collaboration emerged as an evolving theme over the year, with two efforts standing out: the Zero Emissions Transit Bus project — a partnership that includes Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan) — and the Science of Early Child Development (SECD), developed with multiple partners and funders, including the Aga Khan Foundation, the World Bank, and others.

Earlier this year, a prototype electric bus developed in partnership with Mitsubishi, New Flyer Industries, the province and Manitoba Hydro successfully completed its field testing stage during one of the coldest winters on record.

SECD, meanwhile, continues to strengthen its reputation as a “living” online resource that helps educators, students and child care professionals better understand the impact of children’s early years on longterm development, often replacing expensive and unattainable textbooks in countries around the world.

Both projects give Hoemsen reason to be excited about the year ahead.

“In an increasingly connected world, there has never been more reason to collaborate on an international level. These are exciting projects that will not only benefit our local communities and students, but communities and learners the world over.”

CANCOM 2015 – get your abstracts in!

October 2, 2014 • Written by
Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 8.14.53 AM

“Green to Gold: Environmental to Financial Benefits of Composites”

CANCOM2015 has a focus on the development and commercialization of composite materials and technologies. This technical forum facilitates the sharing of information and ideas about composite materials, process technologies and structures by bringing together international participants from industry, government and academia. The event will commence with a one day special symposium (Aug 17) that will consist of industrial presentations and an exhibition combined with industrial tours of companies that produce composite parts for aerospace, ground transportation and civil infrastructure markets. A three day technical conference (Aug 18-20) will follow featuring a variety of international keynote speakers and technical presentations.

Call for Papers – EXTENDED DEADLINE IS OCT. 17, 2014

Cancom 2015 has a focus on research, technology and product development in emerging and growth sectors, in addition to the traditional fields of composites application – aerospace and transportation. This technical forum facilitates the sharing of information and ideas about composite materials, process technologies and structures by bringing together international participants from industry, government and academia. The event will commence with industry focused events on August 17. During this day, industry presentations, workshops and tours are planned. A three-day technical conference (Aug. 18-20) will follow featuring a variety of international keynote speakers and technical presentations.

The following session topic areas are being considered for CANCOM 2015:

  • Aerospace
  • Bio-Materials: Natural Fiber and Resin Composites
  • Civil Infrastructure
  • Ground Transportation
  • Marine
  • Nano-Materials and Technologies
  • Renewable Energy
  • Smart Structures
  • Automated Processes
  • Bonding and Joining Methods
  • Fiber Materials
  • Liquid Molding Processes
  • Inspection Methods
  • Materials Characterization and Testing
  • Process Modelling
  • Repair Methods
  • Resin Systems: Thermoset and Thermoplastic
  • Structural Design and Analysis Methods
  • Composite Design and Analysis – Case Studies
  • Durability, Fatigue And Damage Tolerance – Methods and Case Studies
  • Product Certification: Approach and Case Studies

LEARN MORE ABOUT SUBMITTING ABSTRACTS

Conference Outline:

  • Monday, August 17:
    Committee and sponsor meetings, industry focused workshops, tours to companies
  • Tuesday-Thursday, Aug.18-20:
    Technical conference interspersed with keynote addresses and additional technology demonstrations/tours
  • Tuesday:
    Reception combined with student competition, Executive/keynote speaker dinner
  • Wednesday:
    Banquet at conference venue
  • Thursday:
    End of conference at lunch time

College applied research series: Community-industry engagement and partnerships

June 17, 2014 • Written by
This article is the second in a series of four by Ray Hoemsen, Director, Applied Research & Commercialization, Red River College.

This article is the second article in the College Applied Research Series by Ray Hoemsen, Director, Applied Research & Commercialization, Red River College.

As originally published in the Canadian Association of University Research Administrators Newsletter.

“Private Sector Partnerships with Colleges & Institutes Spike as Applied Research Solutions Fuel Economic Benefits” was the headline of the March 5, 2014 News Release by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. A recent environmental scan revealed a 19% increase in applied research partnerships over the previous year (and 51% over the last five years), with nearly 5,500 industry partnerships reported – along with an increase in private sector funding of college applied research of 21% to $72 million. Business and industrial research accounted for 96% of external funding. The majority of these partnerships (86%) were small- and medium-sized enterprises (78%) or micro-enterprises (8%). And, over 800 social innovation partnerships with community organizations and companies were reported; as well as nearly 50 international partnerships (an emerging area of interest) in 21 countries.

Community-based economic development is a key driver of applied research in the college system, which supports industry innovation, productivity, and competitiveness. Students are an integral element in applied research, enabling them to gain practical experience as part of their applied learning experience. Technology diffusion (adoption and adaption of technology) is of greater relevance than technology commercialization.

Colleges are driven by market needs (or pull) of the community, especially industry. Since most applied research activities are directed towards a particular client need; institutions such as Red River College routinely assign commercial rights to the client/partner, while retaining rights for research and education purposes. As a result, patenting (by the institution) is a relatively rare occurrence; most colleges do not typically engage in the traditional academic “patent and license” model.

Polytechnics Canada’s submission to the Government of Canada’s consultation on Science Technology and Innovation Strategy has reinforced this point-of-view:

“College applied research is motivated by building Canadian talent, not by driving discovery, nor by attracting world-class talent. Applied research is driven by solving Canadian industry problems, involves students in applied research and is characterized by industry-friendly intellectual property policies.”

Key factors/elements in industry/community engagement and partnerships for colleges include:

  • Economic development as a mandate of the college, often explicitly stated in the Vision or Mission.
  • Strong community connections, especially with fourth pillar organizations (such as the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program), SMEs, economic development agencies, and Program Advisory Committees (typically one for EVERY academic program offered by a college).
  • Government policy which has encouraged/driven the academic community to undertake more industry-relevant research and development, especially with SMEs; resulting in new initiatives like NSERC’s well-received “ARD” (college) and “ENGAGE” (university) programs which have helped to catalyze industry partnerships. A Social Innovation pilot program for colleges was just announced.
  • Strong desire by colleges to see research results used for economic benefit in the community, rather than as a source of royalty revenue; coupled with minimal interest in patenting by the institution, hence little need to negotiate licenses or royalties, which can be a very time consuming (and often irritating) exercise for little (potential) return.
  • Industry-experienced faculty who broaden/deepen their experience/knowledge with applied research.
  • Student engagement through class projects, capstone courses, business and entrepreneurship case studies, cooperative and term employment as well as internships (NSERC’s I-USRA program is now open to college students enrolled in degree programs), and integration of research into curriculum.
  • Flexible and nimble approaches to applied research, which can be inter-disciplinary in nature and often utilize a team or group approach with a relatively fast turnaround time.
  • Mutual needs and benefits – which are the key to successful partnerships.
  • Applied research offices are a “one-stop-shop” for industry liaison, research services, technology diffusion and knowledge transfer – and can offer practical, timely and cost-effective solutions.n Industry-experienced faculty who broaden/deepen their experience/knowledge with applied research.

Manitoba’s most promising startups get ready to Lift’Off for $100,000 on Wednesday

June 12, 2014 • Written by

Screen shot 2012-11-22 at 11.02.54 AMThis Wednesday, June 18th the most dynamic business event of the year takes place at Winnipeg’s Fort Gary Hotel.

It’s called Lift’Off and it is being hosted by Innovate Manitoba, Manitoba’s innovation accelerator.

The three-part, all-day event will help launch startups in the morning via the VentureChallenge, celebrate entrepreneurship at the Entrepreneur Power Lunch, and share best practices at the afternoon’s Entrepreneur IQ Forum.

The full schedule goes as follows:

8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. VC_LiftOff_-300x74

Six companies selected through the Launchpad Startup Skills Bootcamp compete in an investor pitch competition in front of a panel of expert judges and the VentureChallenge audience for over $100,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, including opportunities to present and expense-paid trips to some of the the most renown angel and venture capital events in North America.

The VentureChallenge competitors are:

  • Element Life Science: A medical device company specializing in patented RF coil technology for 2nd generation MRI use.
  • Exigence Technologies: A platform antimicrobial technology that can be applied to new and used textiles and polymer-based medical devices, to protect them for the lifetime of the product against antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • Kindoma: Makes video chat services that let families do things like read and draw, even when apart.
  • Konex Wake Parks: A manufacturer and international supplier of cable wakeboarding systems and obstacles.
  • PermissionClick: A platform that allows educators to collect web-based permission slips and fees from parents in a timely and transparent way.
  • Shut Ur Pie Hole: Shut Ur Pie Hole sells made from-scratch pies made with fresh, local ingredients served in full-size and single-serving jars.

12:00 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.

LiftOff_EPL_RGB-2-e1402331894985Break bread with innovators and investors at the Entrepreneur Power Lunch Hear short pitches from the six VentureChallenge competitors, discover the award-winners and get smart advice from our keynote speaker, Wade Barnes.

Wade is a globally recognized expert on the impact of technology on agribusiness, a TedX speaker, and Founder of Manitoba’s Farmers Edge Inc.. He will share the company’s journey from a two-person operation in 2006 to a global business with over $10 million in revenues and more than 80 employees worldwide. Wade will speak about the roller coaster ride that is the life of a high-growth startup, including raising capital from Canadian and US venture capital firms.

2:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

EIF_LiftOff_-300x61Tap into the brain trust of entrepreneurs, angel investors, and guest speakers. The Entrepreneur IQ Forum features two Expert Panels (listed bellow) followed by a networking reception.

From The Trenches – Raising Capital For Early Stage Businesses
Some of Manitoba’s early stage companies have raised millions in risk capital, but it has not been easy. Is this challenge unique to Manitoba or is it a problem all Canadian startups face? Join this interactive panel for lots of insights, and ask your own questions of the panelists.

Startup Sales – A Hard Nut to Crack
The lifeblood of any new business is sales, yet entrepreneurs often fail in their initial sales attempts. Founders may avoid sales and give away equity to find that person who will magically bring sales in the door. But Founders need to learn how to sell. These entrepreneurs figured it out. Hear their perspectives on sales, building a sales methodology and a sales team. Come. Ask questions. Gain some pointers.

You can register here while for additional information, including if you would like to become a sponsor, you can contact Brent Wennekes.

New app promotes safety zones and exercise around schools while providing data to city planners

June 11, 2014 • Written by
Steve Lawrence, Business Technology Instructor, student project leader David Kratochvil and Dan Greenberg, BIT project Coordinator.

Steve Lawrence, Business Technology Instructor, student project leader David Kratochvil and Dan Greenberg, BIT project Coordinator have spent the last 16 weeks developing the CounterPoint app.

There’s a new app on the block that will make Winnipeg’s kids more active, while also mapping out safety zones and routes around schools.

It’s called CounterPoint and students in Red River College’s Business Information Technology program having been working hard for the past two years to help bring it to fruition for the Green Action Centre and the Manitoba Active and Safe Route to School Program (ASRTS).

“The Green Action Centre approached us with an idea to basically capture how kids were getting to school by looking at their routes and their mode of transportation,” said Steve Lawrence, Business Information Technology (BIT) instructor at RRC.

“The main reason they wanted to do this was to find ways to get kids more active. So one way was to have contests between schools; to see which school had more kids walking, or biking, or skateboarding to school.”

In simplistic terms, the app functions like a straightforward counting device, although there is much more to it.

Detail of the tracking screen

Detail of the tracking screen

It involves a volunteer standing on a street corner, establishing a line through the road, then counting the number of vehicles or human powered travellers who cross that line in the street.

By simply clicking the 16 modes of transportation icons, a person can plot all the transportation activity in a designated area, refining the data by also plotting the time, duration of the count, and the weather – which can be a factor in to how students are getting around.

Once the data is plugged in, the app generates the totals and graphs them, painting an instantaneous picture of all the activity in the area.

“That data could be sent to the school, or the school division, and also the City of Winnipeg for future tracking and planning,” said Lawrence.

“For instance, you have a lot of kids biking to school, but in doing so they are having to go on a heavy traffic route. Well, maybe this serves as an indicator that now is time to put in a bike path for them.”

The app is the brainchild of Anders Swanson, the Winnipeg-based active transport guru, policy analyst and project manager, who for years has been advocating pedal power. He approached the College on behalf of the Green Action Centre with federal and provincial funding to develop a computer program that would make it fun and easy to count traffic. Anders brother Torin was also instrumental in its creation, working frequently with the students.

“We were eager to get the students working on this due to the complexity of what he [Anders] had done,” said Dan Greenberg, BIT project coordinator.

“We evaluate based on the learning possibilities for the students and we knew this was going to use technology that would be outside their comfort level to do. On top of that, there is a finite time frame of 16 weeks that the students have to develop whatever it is they can get done for the client.”

Once a count has been completed CounterPoint quickly generates a portrait of traffic in the area

Once a count has been completed CounterPoint quickly generates a portrait of traffic in the area

Two sets of students had a kick at it, working independently at the College while gaining real world experience in consulting and meeting with the client. The first group developed it as a computer program, while this past semester’s students — which include Daniel Craigen, Preston Ross-Sutherland, Qixuan Hong, Lindsay Donogh and David Kratochvil — converted it into an Android app.

“My favourite part of this project is that it I now know that if I have to learn something new to help my client, then I can train myself to do that,” said David Kratochvil, the student leader on the project, who taught himself how to write code for Android for the project. “It gave me a boost of confidence because I feel like I accomplished a real thing – it wasn’t just course work laid out.”

The app is just being released to the public (you can download it here) and Swanson has been shopping it around the globe from Europe, to Australia to the US this past year.

And while the primary focus in developing the app was to promote exercise while defining safe zones around schools, its other applications are quite endless.

“Both existing, and new businesses could also use this,” said Graham Thomson, Dean of Business and Applied Arts.

“When teaching entrepreneurship years ago I used to say ‘look, if you are thinking of opening a location in a strip mall, you’d better go see what the traffic is like.’ This would be ideal for calculating that; it makes it so easy to keep tabs on all the traffic in an area.”

Former rocket man lands at RRC and wades into clean water testing

June 5, 2014 • Written by
Chemist Michael Judge beside one of the College's high-performance liquid chromatographs

Chemist Michael Judge beside one of the College’s high-performance liquid chromatographs

Welcome to the second edition of Red River College’s Inventory of College Applied Research Expertise Researcher Spotlight where we share stories about the researchers that are available to help you solve problems and innovate.

You don’t meet too many chemists who went from propelling rockets to performing applied research on water, but such has been the trajectory of Red River College’s Michael Judge.

Before becoming an instructor at the College six years ago, Judge was the senior chemist for a decade at Manitoba’s Bristol Aerospace Rockwood Propellant Plant. This post saw him formulating the propellant for the Black Brant Rocket, whose incarnations since its inception in the 1960s have been hallmarks of Canadian aerospace technology – NASA and the Canadian Space Agency have constantly had them in their employ.

While you could say that Judge’s current work in chemistry is a bit more grounded (pun intended), it is arguably more important as his past two applied research projects are concerned with earth’s most vital resource: water.

Removing pharmaceuticals from water

For the past year at the College, Judge has been performing applied research that could potentially reduce insidious pollutants entering Manitoba’s lakes and rivers.

“There are a lot of concerns right now with nano-pollutants that end up in our waterways,” said Judge.

iCARE logo 200x60

RRC FACULTY: Tell us about your expertise and help us grow with iCARE

Michael Judge has already completed his iCARE survey, now his skills and resources can be found — along with our applied research experts at the College — in our iCARE database.
Complete your iCARE survey today and let us know your areas of expertise!

FOR INDUSTRY: Did you know?

  • 58% of iCARE respondents hold at least a Master’s level degree
  • 35% of respondents have over 20 years of industry experience

http://icare.rrc.ca/

“The idea is that someone takes an anti-depressant or birth control pill or any number other pharmaceutical whose active ingredients eventually get excreted from the body. These chemical substances are not fully metabolized by the body, so a lot of those ingredients go right into the sewer system and end up in our wastewater treatment processes.

And while wastewater treatments are designed to remove certain things that we don’t want going into the river, they aren’t designed to remove these nano-pollutants,” Judge continued.

Research done in this field, like those at Northwestern Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), have indicated that nano-pollutants, including surfactants found in detergents, antibacterials in hand soaps, psychoactive ingredients from pharmaceuticals, and estrogen from “the pill”, can bioaccumulate over time in species that live in these waters – and thereby make their way up the food chain.

“One of the main problems is that a lot of these compounds are what are known as endocrine disruptors; they mimic the actions of natural hormones and you tend to get odd things happening to various amphibians and fish like increased rates of cancer and changes in fertility and so forth,” said Judge.

“So there are concerns about long-term environmental consequences and about scenarios where this water may get repurposed as drinking water.”

To address this wastewater problem from our water treatment plants, Judge came up with a study to see if these nano-pollutants could be detected and removed.

After thoroughly exploring the literature on the subject, Judge and a summer student from the Chemical and Biosciences Technology diploma program decided on utilizing activated carbon (or charcoal) – which has a very high affinity for organic molecules – in lab-scale tests.

Using acetaminophen as a model nano-pollutant, Judge was able to confirm that finely powdered activated carbon could remove the compound. This was an encouraging start to the study and serves as an indication that the College has the ability to assess nano-pollutant removal on a lab-scale; an important first step in optimizing the process.

Detecting nano-pollutants

To further detect nano-pollutants in wastewater on a more precise scale, work was contracted out to the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals to utilize their advanced high-performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC). HPLCs are common in labs around the world, being an essential piece of instrumentation used to separate components in a chemical mixture.

Judge at work in the College’s pharmaceutical training lab

Judge at work in the College’s pharmaceutical training lab

“In general, HPLCs use a solvent (a liquid chemical) that is pumped at high pressures through a column filled with a specially-designed packing,” said Judge. “As the mixture of chemicals moves through the column, certain chemicals will have more affinity – or more bonding strength – with the packing and so they are slowed down and, as they come out the other end, the chemicals are going to be separated.”

While Judge uses the College’s HPLCs on a regular basis, the ones at the Richardson Centre are more advanced, having been interfaced with mass spectrometers – an analytic device essential for detecting the minutest trace of chemicals.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a method for testing for these compounds that uses a very advanced analytical instrument, where you have one of these liquid chromatographs interfaced with what is know as a mass spectrometer,” said Judge.

“The mass spectrometer essentially uses a stream of electrons to break molecules into little fragments, and then it looks at those fragments – so it can tell you exactly what chemical you have, and it can look at very low levels.

So through the Richardson Centre we were able to screen a variety of pollutants at very low levels, to establish that the technology exists in Winnipeg to do more advanced screening.”

Having now established the ability to detect trace amounts of nano-polluntants in wastewater, along with the utilization of active carbon in holding tanks as a successful filter, Judge is hopeful that more advanced research along these lines may be able to secure external funding in future; possibly from the City or Province, based on past expressions of interest in this topic regarding both Winnipeg’s wastewater and the state of Lake Winnipeg.

“What we concluded is there is a need here in Winnipeg and Manitoba to look at nanopollutants – there is a knowledge gap in that we are a little bit behind Europe and the United States where there is more of a concern and at the very least they are tracking things,” said Judge.

“So we’ve identified a gap. We’ve also identified the technology and the knowledge to screen for these substances, and we’ve demonstrated some lab-scale analysis of the most efficient removal methods.”

This applied research project was made possible due to funding from the College Applied Research Development (CARD) fund.

Making laboratory testing greener

Prior to this study, Judge had done another CARD funded project at the College that could very well make the world’s chemistry labs more environmentally friendly.

While HPLCs are excellent analytical instruments for chemical testing, they themselves produce a discharge that must be safely removed by a waste management company, due to the toxicity of the chemical solvents used to separate mixtures.

“One of the problems with HPLCs is that they need a constant flow of liquid solvent – and that solvent is usually something that is pretty toxic,” said Judge. “It’s common to use methanol, acetonitrile, and a number of other solvents. And what happens is this comes out the other end and you get a bunch of waste.

These solvents are basically a necessity to get good results from this kind of test, so the problem is we are creating this enormous waste stream; we have all these labs all over the world merrily pumping away and creating this, and you also have issues with vapors escaping and employees being exposed, so it would be beneficial if we could us a less-toxic solvent for that purpose.”

In 2010, Judge had been reading about the chemical ethyl lactate (EL), which a company was producing in a cost effective manner. Composed of lactic acid and ethanol, the chemical is fairly non-toxic, with a history of being used in food products and cosmetic formulations.

“Because ethyl lactate is formed from a combination of two non-toxic compounds, when it goes out into the environment there are lots of microorganisms out there that can use this as a food substance or degrade it. So it’s highly biodegradable, it’s non-toxic, and it’s easy to make from natural substances,” said Judge.

“So it occurred to me that it might be a useful solvent in HPLC work – I reviewed the literature and as far as I could tell nobody had done that, even though it is a relatively simple idea.”

Working in the College’s pharmaceutical training lab, Judge, along with pharmaceutical manufacturing instructor Curtis Aab (who was able to use the study’s results as a part of his BSc thesis), began to use the EL – which, as well as being biodegradable, is now potentially cheaper to purchase – and were pleasantly surprised with the results.

“Well, it worked,” said Judge. “We found that we could replace more toxic solvents with this and we got very good results for some common pharmaceuticals we separated.”

Solvatochromism uses the colour of a dye to compare the relative polarities of solvents. These coloured solvents were used to establish how similar ethyl lactate was to common solvents

Solvatochromism uses the colour of a dye to compare the relative polarities of solvents. These coloured solvents were used to establish how similar ethyl lactate was to common solvents

Students in Judge’s Organic Chemistry course also had a chance to participate in this project by using some lab time to investigate the polarity of ethyl lactate based on solvatochromism, a technique that relates properties of a solvent to the colour imparted to a special dye dissolved in the solvent.

Judge and Aab’s resulting data was then published in the Canadian Journal of Chemistry, a prestigious publication which has helped put their applied research on members of the scientific community’s radar. Since its publication, Judge has been approached by research facilities in France and Brazil, along with a couple others, who wanted to know more about their findings.

Judge believes that applications for EL can also go well beyond making labs around the world more environmentally friendly. Indeed, there’s a great deal of other instances where EL could replace other harsher chemicals in many products that people use on a daily basis.

“Moving forward, we’ve established that we have some comfort with this particular chemical, and that there could be some interesting applications for it,” said Judge.

“For instance, from an applied research standpoint there could be some possible patents; I thought it could be interesting to look at other things you could do with this, even something as simple as windshield washer fluid.

When you buy windshield washer fluid it’s often methanol based for low temperature conditions, which again is not all that healthy for the environment. So, it certainly has some future practical applications.”

1 2 3 11