Student Feature: Nivatha Balendra

Founding a Company to Address Oil Contamination

Nivatha Balendra is currently completing her final year at McGill University, with a major in Physiology and minor in International Development Studies.

Oil contamination is one of the most pressing environmental issues plaguing our world today. Worldwide, there are 65,000 oil fields currently extracting 95.3 million barrels of oil on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, this does not go without leaving a lasting environmental imprint. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated that there are 14,000 oil spills occurring each and every year in the U.S. alone. There are other contributors to oil contamination, such as tailings ponds and contaminated pipelines as well. The current methods of cleaning up oil contamination sites, such as chemical surfactants and burning oil, only exacerbate this problem.

I founded Dispersa, a CleanTech company, just 4 months ago. My focus is to develop a sustainable solution for oil and gas companies that use traditional, toxic, and expensive methods to remediate oil contamination sites. Dispersa’s novel technology will harness the power of oil-degrading bacteria to present an efficient, 100% biodegradable, and low-cost alternative to address oil contamination.

I started working on the fundamental research at the heart of our technology at the age of 17 for a local science fair project. I was inspired after the Lac-Mégantic train crash oil spill and was motivated to find a local solution to a global problem: oil contamination. After collecting soil samples from across Montreal, I worked in a lab and isolated novel species of oil-degrading bacteria. These bacteria produce biosurfactants, which are naturally- produced lipids capable of dispersing hydrocarbons.

I am currently working with support from the federal government, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), and the innovative entrepreneurial hub at MaRS Discovery Centre to accelerate this business over the next two and a half years. This was possible due to Canada’s Women in CleanTech Challenge in which I am among the Top 6 finalist cohort. The Women in CleanTech Challenge was a national competition organized by NRCan and MaRS Discovery Centre to support the development of Cleantech startups led by female CEO/Founders.

I am always in the process of building up my company but over the course of the next few months, I will be focusing on moving into a company lab space for Dispersa and tying up the research and development phase of our product development.

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