Creating Sustainable Materials for the Future

Creating Sustainable Materials for the Future is a transdisciplinary research programme that focuses on the design, development, evaluation and use of safe and sustainable materials (i.e., functional materials and molecules) to meet societal needs and help address the Grand Challenges of the 21st Century.

The ability to make new functional materials and molecules is central to economic prosperity and social well-being. The core of “clean tech” - biomaterials, catalysts, energy storage materials, electronic and photonic materials, lightweight structural materials, organic electronic materials, polymers and polymer composites - have immense potential to contribute to a range of Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., clean water, clean energy, food security, resilient urban infrastructure, and human welfare). Despite great promise, the explosive and unchecked growth of emerging materials and molecules as well as their entry into markets to meet existing or new needs has led to major challenges. There are heightened social and regulatory concerns about the risks associated with these new materials with ample evidence that both intentionally produced materials in commerce as well as unintended chemical manufacturing by-products are eroding the fabric and resilience of our ecosystems. There is also a realization by the business community that is increasingly aware that toxic risks associated with new materials may eventually become business risks. In addition, there are disciplinary gaps that further exacerbate the dilemma. Scientists and engineers currently working on novel functional materials and molecules are often limited to knowledge on one “moment” in their life-cycle, and on materials applications, without risks considerations. These groups – focused on design and development - are often disconnected from those with skills to assess human and ecosystem health risks as well as the social sciences community that can advise on stakeholder concerns and needs.


Our vision is to establish a transdisciplinary research programme at McGill concerning the design, development, evaluation, and use of sustainable materials (i.e., functional materials and molecules) to help address grand challenges of the 21st century. To achieve this vision, the MSSI Sustainable Materials group will coalesce activities into the following mutually reinforcing domains: (1) to develop de novo function-driven materials and molecules that meet pressing societal needs [benign by design]; (2) to identify, characterize, and assess risks associated with emerging materials and molecules – at the level of design and synthesis - with respect to human and ecosystem health [21st century risk assessment]; (3) to understand and inform government and business policy that promotes responsible stakeholder adoption and catalyzes the commercialization and scaling of sustainable materials while reducing extant risks to acceptable levels [stakeholder-driven].

Directions for research

  • The core team focuses on the study of materials relevant to energy applications, a sector of strong foundational strengths at McGill and great transformational potential. Namely, functional nanomaterials that are found in LCD screens and green energy materials that are found in solar cells are examples of case studies. Research in this area will generate research articles in top peer reviewed publications.
  • We established inter-disciplinary and multi-sectoral research teams at McGill that are taking tangible steps towards the design, fabrication, development, evaluation and use of sustainable materials (e.g., paints, plastics).
  • We bring together scholars, students, and stakeholders across the natural, engineering, medical and social sciences to enable dialogue and networking so that a more comprehensive and holistic approach to the development and use of emerging functional materials and molecules can be pursued. Networking is being realized through regular meetings, workshops, seminars, and symposia, both at the academic staff and student levels.
  • We will generate publications (e.g., guidance documents, checklists, commentaries) on how to carry out inter-disciplinary and multi-sectoral research concerning the design, development, evaluation and use of sustainable materials as resources for the broader community.


Theme co-Leads

Nil Basu

Dr. Nil Basu holds a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Environmental Health Sciences and is an Associate Professor at McGill University. His group is based in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences where he holds appointments in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Department of Natural Resource Sciences, School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, and School of the Environment. Prior to joining McGill Dr. Basu spent six years on Faculty at the University of Michigan School of Public Health (Ann Arbor, USA) and he is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. The goal of Dr. Basu's research is to take an ecosystem approach to community, occupational, and environmental health whereby evidence is collected, scrutinized, and compared from both humans and ecological organisms.

George Demopoulos

Dr. George P. Demopoulos is presently Gerald G. Hatch Chair Professor of Materials Engineering and serves as Chair of the Department of Mining and Materials Engineering. His research is in the area of aqueous solution processing of inorganic materials spanning from hydrometallurgical extraction to advanced environmental and energy material applications. For his lifetime research contributions, he was recently selected to receive the 2017 Metallurgy & Materials Society Research Excellence Award. Over the last 8 years, he has worked on the synthesis and fabrication of nanostructured electrodes for sensitized solar cells (DSC) and lithium-ion batteries (LIB). This work has led to the development of a new aqueous synthesis process of nano-TiO2 and associated novel paste formulation or electrophoretic deposition (EPD) protocols that provide low cost and green fabrication routes for mesoporous electrode films. Through collaboration with Hydro-Québec, Demopoulos is developing next generation Li-ion battery materials.

Audrey Moores

Audrey Moores is an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry. She was for 4 years the co-associate director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Catalysis and acts as scientific director in the board of GreenCenter Canada, an Ontario-based tech transfer company. She received a Science Communication Fellowship for Green Chemistry in 2011 and CNC-IUPAC travel award in 2016. She is a leading expert in the field of catalysis using metal, metal oxide and biomass-based nanomaterials, with a special emphasis on sustainable processes and use of earth abundant starting materials.

Co-Principal Investigators

Sylvain Coulombe, Department of Chemical Engineering
Jaye Ellis, Faculty of Law
Tomislav Friscic, Department of Chemistry
Subhasis Ghoshal, Department of Civil Engineering
Peter Grutter, Department of Physics
Barbara Hales, Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics
Dmytro Perepichka, Department of Chemistry
Nikolas Provatas, Department of Physics

Other Collaborators

Saji George, Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry
Steve Maguire, University Of Sydney
Maureen McKeague, Department of Chemistry/Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics
Sidney Omelon, Department of Materials Engineering
Emine Sarigollu, Desautels Faculty of Management


The MSSI Materials Theme group has directly supported 10 HQP (highly qualified personnel, e.g. graduate students & postdocs), and has provided networking and professional development opportunities to 40 more HQP.

Related links

M. Kaushik, K. Basu, C. Benoit, C.M. Cirtiu, H. Vali, A. Moores,* "Cellulose Nanocrystals as chiral inducers: Enantioselective catalysis and Transmission Electron Microscopy 3D Characterization". J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2015 137 (19), 6124–6127 [Link]

M. J. Rak, N. K. Saadé, T. Friščić, A. Moores*, “Mechanochemical Synthesis of Ultrasmall Monodisperse Amine-Stabilized Gold Nanoparticles with Controllable Size”, Green Chem., 2014,16 (1), 86-89. [Link]

R. Hudson, G. Hamasaka, T. Osako Y.Y.A. Yamada, C.J. Li, Y. Uozumi,* A. Moores,* “Highly Efficient Iron(0) Nanoparticle-Catalyzed Hydrogenation in Water in Flow”, Green Chem., 2013, 15, 2141-2148. [Link]

Cazabon D, Fobil JN, Essegbey G, Basu N. Structured Identification of Response Options to Address Environmental Health Risks at the Agbogbloshie Electronic Waste Site. Integr Environ Assess Manag. 2017 Jul 25. doi: 10.1002/ieam.1964. [Link]

Basu N, Renne EP, Long RN. An Integrated Assessment Approach to Address Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining in Ghana. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Sep 17;12(9):11683-98. doi: 10.3390/ijerph120911683. PubMed PMID: 26393627; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4586700. [Link]

Arini A, Mittal K, Dornbos P, Head J, Rutkiewicz J, Basu N. A cell-free testing platform to screen chemicals of potential neurotoxic concern across twenty vertebrate species. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2017 Jun 8. doi:10.1002/etc.3880. [Link]

Arini A, Mittal K, Dornbos P, Head J, Rutkiewicz J, Basu N. A cell-free testing platform to screen chemicals of potential neurotoxic concern across twenty vertebrate species. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2017 Jun 8. doi:10.1002/etc.3880. [Link]

Hsien-Chieh Chiu, Xia Lu, Jigang Zhou, Lin Gu, Joel Reid, Raynald Gauvin, Karim Zaghib and George P. Demopoulos* Capacity Fade Mechanism of Li4Ti5O12 Nanosheet Anode, Adv. Energy Mat., 2017, 7, 1601825.;doi:10.1002/aenm.201601825. [Link]

Andrea Paolella, Cyril Faure, Giovanni Bertoni, Sergio Marras, Mirko Prato, Pierre Hovington, Abdelbast Guerfi, Basile Commarieu, Zhuoran Wang, Chandramohan George, Zimin Feng, George P. Demopoulos*, Michel Armand and Karim Zaghib. Light-assisted delithiation of LiFePO4 towards photo-rechargeable Li-ion batteries, Nature Communications 8, Article number: 14643 (2017). [Link]

M. J. Sussman, N. Brodusch, R. Gauvin, and G.P. Demopoulos*. Engineering 3-D Li-Ion Electrodes with Enhanced Charge Storage Properties based on Solution-Processed and Sintered Anatase-Carbon Mesoporous Structures, ACS Sust. Chem. Eng. 2015, 3 (2), 334–339. [Link]

Core Project #1 - Cadmium quantum dots with LCD screen: behaviour in aquatic environments and toxicity

The goal of this project is to develop a holistic approach towards toxicity and ecotoxicity-free nanomaterials with quantum dot properties for electronic applications. Currently cadmium-based nanomaterials are incorporated into consumer products such as high-end LCD flat screens. There are however very limited knowledge about how they can be released and what is their fate in the aquatic environment. Also, their toxicity and ecotoxicity, taking into account the matrix they are released from, is poorly understood. In this project, the group is using models as well as real life samples to address these questions. The project brings together McGill professors Ghoshal (Civil Engineering), Moores (Chemistry) Basu and George (Natural Resource Sciences).

Core Project #2 - Sustainable Materials for Thin Film Hybrid Perovskite Solar Cells

The goal of this project is to contribute to the development of next generation solar energy photovoltaic technology that will be green and affordable for wide global adoption. By far at present, hybrid perovskite solar cells attract great R∓D attention as the most promising new generation photovoltaic technology thanks to their record efficiency of >22%. However, contrary to their impressive efficiency, much remains unresolved including the issues of sustainable and non-toxic (Pb-free) material use and fabrication, stability, and hysteresis. These issues are addressed by green synthesizing and testing alternative perovskites, interfacial optoelectronic probing, device performance, and material component assessment studies. The project brings together McGill professors Demopoulos (Materials Engineering), Grutter (Physics), Friscic, Moores and Perepichka (Chemistry) and Basu (Natural Resource Sciences).

Affiliate Project #1 – Engineered Nanomaterials in Paint and Paper Materials

The goal of this project is to work with stakeholders from Environment and Climate Change Canada and the paint industry to increase understanding of the chemistry, fate and potential toxicity of engineered nanomaterials released from paint and paper materials into aquatic environments. The project brings together McGill professors Ghoshal (Civil Engineering), Basu (Natural Resource Sciences), Tufenkji (Chemical Engineering) and George (Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry).

HQP poster session, June 8th, 2018
Forty HQP presented their research in a poster session followed by informal discussion between HQP and co-PIs.

HQP research workshop, August 30th, 2018
Twenty HQPs, including 3 MSSI supported, attended and contributed to the workshop. Five presented flash presentation on their research. This was followed by a team building/research planning activity in smaller group.

2018 Cells to Society Symposium, October 26th, 2018
This was a full day event to publicly launch the MSSI Materials Team efforts and bring together researchers from across McGill and beyond interested in the theme of Environment & Health: Sustainable Materials.

Over 85 people from McGill and beyond attended the event. The day’s events included two keynote speakers (Andrew Maynard, Arizona State University & Joel Tickner, U-Mass Lowell), two panel discussions and research presentations from McGill faculty and students. You can see Andrew Maynard’s Keynote talk here.


[Visit the photo gallery here...]

Co-Lead Discussion

Theme Update

Andrew Maynard Talk

See details here

LTO-Rotating Lithium