2020 MSSI Ideas Fund Recipients

The McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative has just funded five new projects through the 2020 Ideas Fund

Each year, the MSSI Ideas Fund provides seed funding to McGill researchers developing bold projects and novel ideas in sustainability research. This year's fund provided $250 000 to projects tackling sustainability challenges related to energy harvesting, water scarcity, plastic waste and plastic alternatives. The next Ideas Fund is scheduled for Winter 2021. The MSSI also offers support to McGill researchers through the Innovation Fund and the SSH-Ideas Fund, more information is available on the MSSI website.

This year's Ideas projects:

3D printing of Architected Ferroelectrics for Sustainable Energy Harvesting
Hamid Akbarzadeh (Bioresource Engineering) & Agus Sasmito (Mining & Materials Engineering)

In efforts to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and to lessen their environmental impacts, a new sustainable energy material based on architected ferroelectrics will be designed and 3D printed to simultaneously scavenge energy from wasted resources and to strategically reduce energy consumption in structural systems and infrastructure.

Ultrahigh-efficient solar desalination via novel hydrogels spontaneously lowering enthalpy of vaporization
Jinxia Liu (Civil Engineering), Jianyu Li (Mechanical Engineering) & Mélanie Tetreault-Friend (Mechanical Engineering)

Solar desalination is an effective solution to address water scarcity, but the high energy demand to evaporate water poses a technology barrier. This project is developing novel light-sorbing hydrogels that can spontaneously lower the energy demand, owing to the unique ability to disrupt forces holding water molecules together. A prototype solar still equipped with the hydrogel will be tested for efficiency and water quality.

The effect of microplastics on cloud droplet formation
Thomas Preston (Chemistry; Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences) & Alison Bain (PhD student, Chemistry)

The elimination of single-use plastics is at the heart of many sustainability initiatives. Understanding the lifecycle and impact of these materials on atmospheric processes will be crucial in the design of their alternatives and key to avoiding an outcome where a replacement is unintentionally more harmful to the environment. Using optical trapping, we will be able to study water uptake and loss in small droplets that contain microplastics. These high-precision measurements will allow us to begin to understand the role of microplastics in cloud droplet growth and the subsequent implications for transport in the atmosphere and climate change.

Ultrathin and ultrastrong alternatives for plastic films
Theo van de Ven & Jean-Philip Lumb

Proof of concept will be developed that biorenewable, biodegradable, recyclable and water-insoluble ultrathin and ultrastrong transparent films can be made from cellulose by continuous flow casting from dilute solutions. This opens the door to sustainable plastic alternatives, thus tremendously reducing the amount of plastic waste.

All-plant-derived biodegradable packaging with mechano-bactericidal activity
Yixiang Wang (Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry) & Jennifer Ronholm (Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry; Animal Science)

The release of organic preservatives and inorganic nanoparticles incorporated into antimicrobial packaging materials presents a risk to consumers. At the same time, petroleum-based food packaging, like any other short-term storage packaging materials, is a serious sustainability challenge. This project is developing a mechano-bactericidal, biodegradable, material from natural polymers that is suitable for food storage.

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