Technology & Science

New Ont. facility to help 'green chemistry' reach industrial plants

A new research centre will be created in eastern Ontario to help guide more energy-efficient chemical processes from the benches of university labs into factories across the country.

A new research centre will be created in eastern Ontario to help guide more energy-efficient chemical processes from the benches of university labs into factories across the country.

The federal government announced Friday that it will provide $9.1 million over five years to help establish GreenCentre Canada at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

Rui Resendes, executive director of the newly established centre, said its focus will be green chemistry — the design of materials and processes that reduce and prevent the formation of waste. One of the key technologies that will be developed there is a "switchable solvent," he said.

One of the most expensive aspects of chemical manufacturing is introducing a solvent in one step, then using energy to remove that solvent so a different solvent with different properties can be used in the next step, Resendes added.

The chemical properties of a switchable solvent can be changed easily so it can be used in multiple steps.

"You avoid the use of those very energy-intensive and very environmentally damaging thermal cycles," Resendes said.

The centre will also study catalysts, substances that make chemical transformations more energy efficient to increase yield and decrease the amount of waste byproducts.

The centre is being established as one of the federal government's Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR), which aim to bring research results originating from universities to the stage where they will be applied by industry.

Filling gap between lab and factory

At the GreenCentre, new chemical processes developed in university labs across the country will be tested on a larger scale and adapted for practical applications.

Mary Ann Beaudette, a spokeswoman for Parteq Innovations, the technology transfer office for Kingston's Queen's University, said university labs just don't have the facilities to do that type of research, and industry considers it too risky.

"This centre is meeting what we call the discovery-development gap," she said. "It means the early-stage technologies will be much more attractive to industry at the other end."

The 2007 federal budget set aside $350 million to create new facilities under the CECR program.

The government held a competition and announced 11 successful centres in February 2008. A second competition was held in 2008, and the GreenCentre is one of the latest successful applications.