Funded projects

2018-2019 MSSI Ideas and Innovation fund recipients (photo by Egan/Dufour)

Over $2 millionawarded to McGill faculty and student research projects since 2017 through MSSI funds

SSH-Ideas Fund

The MSSI SSH-Ideas Fund provides seed funding to explore bold projects and novel ideas drawn specifically from social sciences and humanities research with the potential to illuminate or solve sustainability-related challenges. The ultimate result of successful proposal would contribute positively to society’s shift towards sustainability.

2020 SSH-Ideas Fund Recipients – Faculty

Aquaponics powered by clean energy to reduce poverty: A pilot study in Kenya

Matthieu Chemin (Department of Economics), Joackim Mitambo (CEO of Hydro Power Initiative) & Simon Newman (MA student)

For the past 3 years, Prof. Chemin has been collaborating with a Kenyan NGO called Hydro Power Initiative and a rural community in Kenya to undertake an impact evaluation of a community-based micro-hydro project in rural Kenya. The next idea is to find an electrical appliance that can be powered by this project and reduce poverty. This project will explore the promise of aquaponics in doing so, as well as develop a working prototype.

Learning for the Future: Understanding the impacts of collaborative learning among future teachers, future environmental scientists and youth as they engage issues of sustainability

Allison Gonsalves (Department of Integrated Studies in Education), Blane Harvey (Department of Integrated Studies in Education) & Emily Sprowls (PhD student)

This research addresses concerns youth have about sustainability by partnering them with future teachers and environmental scientists to solve sustainability problems through inquiry learning. Outcomes of this study will inform pedagogical innovation and curricular reform in sustainability education both in and out of school, and may lead to a model for future school-university partnerships.

‘I don’t trust supermarket food’: Supporting Sustainable Urban Agriculture in Asia

Sarah Turner (Department of Geography), Hien Pham (Département d'études urbaines et touristiques, UQAM), & Melody Lynch (PhD candidate)

Increasing food production in cities and practicing environmental-friendly food production can substantially reduce the ecological and carbon footprints of cities, working towards global sustainability. Cities import food and produce waste that is seldom recycled or reused, and while 55% of people live in cities, cities create 60% of global carbon emissions. This project explores the attempts of local residents in Vietnam and Indonesia to build alternative food provisioning approaches in small cities through urban agriculture. The focus is on small cities as they are set to become the dominant urban form in the Global South in the near future.


Ideas Fund

High risk/high reward projects are increasingly seen as avenues to move fields of research forward rapidly. The MSSI Ideas Fund provides small amounts of seed funding to explore bold projects and novel ideas which, if successful, could make a significant impact on a sustainability-related challenge.

The Fund allows recipients to explore the feasibility of ideas before dedicating significant resources to flesh them out. This includes development of collaborations and production of data required to justify a multi-disciplinary grant application in the area of sustainability. Its aim is to enable development of projects to a stage where they can attract other funding, perhaps in one of our thematic research areas.

2020 Ideas Fund Recipients – Faculty

3D printing of Architected Ferroelectrics for Sustainable Energy Harvesting

Hamid Akbarzadeh & Agus Sasmito

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, Jianyu Li & Mélanie Tetreault-Friend

Solar desalination is an effective solution to address water scarcity, but the high energy demand to evaporate water poses a technological barrier. We aim to develop 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 benchmarking and water quality.


The effect of microplastics on cloud droplet formation

Thomas Preston & Alison Bain

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

This project is developing a proof of concept that biorenewable, biodegradable, recyclable and water-insoluble ultrathin and ultrastrong transparent films can be made from cellulose using continuous flow casting from dilute solutions. This opens the door to sustainable plastic alternatives, thus tremendously reducing plastic waste.


All-plant-derived biodegradable packaging with mechano-bactericidal activity

Yixiang Wang & Jennifer Ronholm

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, represents a serious sustainability challenge. This project is developing a mechano-bactericidal, biodegradable material from natural polymers that is suitable for food storage.

2019 Ideas Fund Recipients – Faculty

GLAD – the Global Lake Analysis Dashboard

Jeffrey Cardille & Bernhard Lehner

This project will build the Global Lakes Analysis Dashboard (GLAD), a novel toolbox for both the general public and scientists to learn about lakes. GLAD will be a public repository of lake information, including satellite imagery, delineated lake perimeters, calculated area, estimated depth, and more. Running in Earth Engine, GLAD will provide the ability to graph time series, compute similarities between far-flung lakes, and find regional patterns.


Coupling microbial metabolism and biogeochemistry to identify mechanisms that mitigate positive feedback effects of thawing permafrost peatlands to climate change

Cynthia Kallenbach & Peter Douglas

Permafrost peatland soils store vast quantities of carbon. As it thaws under a warming climate, soil microbial communities could release much of this carbon as greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, creating a runaway feedback effect on warming. Combining molecular chemistry, genomics, and isotopic geochemistry, we will determine the microbial controls regulating if and when positive versus negative feedback effects to climate change occur.


Global contaminant fate model and data development to screen for chemicals in rivers and lakes

Bernhard Lehner & Jim Nicell

To protect our surface water ecosystems and to sustain their benefits to society, including the provision of safe drinking water, we need to understand the sources and distribution of potentially harmful substances in the river and lake network. This project aims to develop a contaminant fate model and associated data, in particular information about wastewater treatment plants, to screen for the concentrations of contaminants in the aquatic environment at large scales, including down-the-drain household chemicals, pharmaceuticals, microplastics, and nanoparticles.


Fabrication of Nanoporous Membranes for Blue Energy Harvesting

Walter Reisner & Peter Grutter

One attractive source of renewable energy, known as “blue” or osmotic energy, uses the salinity difference between ocean and fresh water to generate power. A major impediment to exploiting blue energy is the poor efficiency of commercially available membranes for blue energy conversion. Nanoscale membranes with pores at or below 5 nm in diameter may provide sufficient power generation to make blue energy viable, yet, currently no technology exists that can produce such membranes with sufficient control and scale. Here, leveraging a new approach developed at McGill for fabrication of nanopore arrays, "Tip-Controlled Local Breakdown," we will produce nanoporous membranes for blue energy conversion with sufficient control of pore size and spacing to optimize membrane efficiency.


Mining the Chicken Microbiome for Anti-Infective Probiotics to Eliminate the Need for Prophylactic Antibiotics

Jennifer Ronholm

Current high-density models of poultry production are not sustainable without the use of antibiotics, but due to antibiotic resistance agricultural use of antibiotics is becoming less accepted. This project aims to investigate the avian gastrointestinal tract as a source of novel probiotic bacteria, particularly within the Proteobacteria phyla, that have a negative effect on the ability of bacterial pathogens to colonize commercial poultry. The discovery of anti-infective probiotics could decrease reliance on prophylactic antibiotics and improve sustainability within the poultry industry.


Combined CO2 Reduction and Biomass Upgrading System for Sustainable Production of Fuels

Ali Seifitokaldani

Electrochemical CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) and biomass upgrading hold promise for CO2-mitigation and green fuel production. However, CO2RR suffers from high applied potential, and the biomass upgrading process emits significant amount of greenhouse gases - hindering their employment. Here, we combine these processes within a single electrochemical system to not only reduce the applied potential, but also to produce green chemicals and feedstocks with zero CO2 emission.

2019 Ideas Fund Recipients – Students

Seasonal energy storage through means of phase change of water contained in soil

Matthew Fong & Agus Sasmito (faculty supervisor)

Seasonal energy storage through means of phase change of water contained in soil: There is a growing need to incorporate renewables into our energy consumption budget. A lot of work has been done in including renewables into the electrical grid, however another way to do so is through heating and cooling. Directly incorporating renewables into heating and cooling systems allows for relatively easy and high impact reduction in emissions. This project seeks to use the cold from winter to cool during the summer and the heat from summer to warm during winter.

Read more here


Designing High Performance Photocatalytic Semiconductor Junctions for Solar Fuel Production

Asif Iqbal & Kirk Bevan (faculty supervisor)

This project aims at unraveling the in-operando charge transport process at a photocatalytic semiconductor-aqueous junction. Our scientific approach connects numerical computation with the experimental results to explore critical processes occurring at fast and slow timescales. A comprehensive study of this nature promises to open up new avenues to engineer the in-operando performance of photocatalytic semiconductor junctions en route to improved solar hydrogen production.


Designing fully degradable alternatives to single-use plastics by upcycling food waste

Nicholas Lin, Sunny Weng & Nathalie Tufenkji (faculty supervisor)

Most single-use plastics are not recycled. Instead, they accumulate in landfills for centuries. Many by-products from the food industry are degradable, biorenewable, nontoxic, and edible. Fruit peels, vegetable husks, and other food waste will be blended with natural biopolymers such as starches, gums, and seaweed extracts to design fully degradable products that can replace single-use plastics.


A new strategy to screen antagonistic bacteria against Staphylococcus aureus for sustainable therapeutics and medical interventions

Soyoun Park & Jennifer Ronholm (faculty supervisor)

This project aims to design and develop a new strategy to screen antagonistic bacteria against S. aureus which causes a broad range of diseases in livestock including bovine mastitis. Antagonistic bacteria has been suggested as one of the promising alternatives to antibiotics to maintain the sustainability of agriculture since antibiotics are being phased out of usage in Canadian agriculture. To find bacteria that are antagonistic to S. aureus among commensal bacteria, a more effective and efficient screening strategy needs to be developed. A new plasmid ‘pQS2’ will allow us to label S. aureus with fluorescent proteins and co-culture S. aureus with commensal bacteria to monitor its growth and quorum sensing activity.


“Green” antimicrobial straws - an alternative to synthetic plastic straws

Paola Sully, Camila Oliva, Shuting Huang, Yi Zhang, Benjamin Simpson (faculty supervisor) & Yixiang Wang (faculty supervisor)

We use “green” technology to produce composite straws from marine and agricultural waste that exhibit outstanding antimicrobial and mechanical properties. The generation of “green” antimicrobial straws is a sustainable approach to reducing the use of single use plastics by being compostable, biodegradable and nontoxic to the environment. Our goal is to propose an alternative solution to synthetic plastic pollution.


A compact, ready-made methane monitoring station powered by leaking oil and gas infrastructure

James William & Mary Kang (faculty supervisor)

Fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas sector represent a significant portion of the greenhouse gas budget in North America, but are still poorly understood in terms of their temporal emission patterns. A necessary step to improve our knowledge of temporal trends in emissions is long-term and continuous monitoring, which requires a power source that can sustain a measurement system. By harnessing fugitive natural gas emissions as a fuel source, our monitoring station will simultaneously reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of a leaking well, and gather long-term temporal data regarding emission patterns. Our project also has potential applications in other fields of methane emission monitoring, such as arctic regions where popular off-grid power sources (e.g. solar panels) are limited in their power generation capabilities.


Transformation of Soluble Phosphate, a Pollutant within Manure, to an Insoluble, More Sustainable Calcium Phosphate Solid with Waste Concrete

Tian Zhao & Sidney Omelon (faculty supervisor)

Phosphorus fertilization is essential for agriculture; however, the primary resource for making phosphorus fertilizer, phosphate rock, is non-renewable and depleting. Therefore, the goal of the project is to stabilize the phosphate in cattle manure and convert it into feasible phosphorus fertilizer, as a calcium phosphate crystal. Manure has a long history as a fertilizer, but excessive soluble phosphate in manure is environmentally problematic. The project can help offset the depletion of phosphate rock and ensure food security, as well as reduce soluble phosphate and avoid eutrophication. 

2018 Ideas Fund Recipients – Faculty

3D Printing of lightweight sustainable materials: Wood-fiber reinforced cellular composites

Hamid Akbarzadeh & Larry Lessard

As 3D printing is currently revolutionizing the manufacturing of intricate lightweight components with arbitrary topologies, a state-of-the-art practice is developed for transformation of waste lumber, woodchips, and sawdust into a form of 3D printed wood-fiber reinforced polymeric cellular composites with optimized microarchitectures to be used as durable engineered structural components.

Estakhrianhaghighi, E al. (2020). 3D printed architected waste wood-fiber reinforced composites. Advanced Engineering Materials, 22(2000565 ). [View Paper]


Development of an electrocatalytic method for the direct functionalization of methane to aldehydes

Bruce Arndtsen

Alkanes, and alkyl-containing compounds are perhaps the most common resource available for the generation of synthetic materials. As a result, the design of a method that allows the conversion of these feedstocks directly into easily manipulated products has become one of the central goals of chemical research, and would offer a significant step forward in their sustainable use. The proposed work is directed towards creating a new method to functionalize hydrocarbons such as methane: via their catalytic coupling with carbon monoxide. This would offer not only a new method to exploit alkanes in chemical synthesis, but also a potential avenue for the utilization of methane as a chemical and energy resource.

Levesque, T.M., Kinneya, R.G. & Arndtsen, B.A. (2020). A Palladium Catalyzed C-H Functionalization Route to Ketones via the Oxidative Coupling of Arenes with Carbon Monoxide. Chemical Science, 11, 3104-3109. Open access. [View Paper]


Supercritical metal-water reactor proof of concept

Jeffrey Bergthorson

Convenient access to clean and reliable energy sources is key to transitioning away from fossil fuels. This research focuses on using metal-water reactions to provide clean energy on demand. Metal fuels can be processed using renewable energy, such as wind and solar, thereby effectively storing and allowing for the transport of clean energy. The clean energy stored in the metal electrofuels can then be released via metal-water reactions to produce heat and hydrogen for use in a wide range of transportation and stationary power-generation applications.


Indigenizing concepts of food security

Treena Delormier, Gordon Hickey & Murray Humphries

Traditional food security, based on the sustainable local harvest of wild plants and animals, is a critical natural, health, and cultural asset of Indigenous Peoples globally. Most food security research focuses on market food accessibility and availability. Our project will realize a conceptual understanding of food security distinct to Indigenous Peoples Food Systems (IPFS) and valuing Indigenous knowledge.


Green supramolecular polymer assembly inspired by the velvet worm

Matthew Harrington

By mimicking supramolecular self-assembly achieved by nature, we aim to develop a novel bio-inspired paradigm for circular processing of polymeric materials. We will produce stable mechanoresponsive colloidal suspensions of nanoglobules using oppositely charged polymer chains that can be disrupted by mechanical shear, leading to triggered aggregation of polymer chains under controlled conditions.

Read more...


The role of induced earthquakes on methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in Western Canada

Mary Kang, Peter Douglas, Yajing Liu & Jeffrey M. McKenzie

Oil and gas production is the largest emitter of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, in Canada. Methane
emissions have been linked to natural earthquakes but the role of induced earthquakes on methane
emissions is unclear. Here, we measure and analyze methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure
and investigate potential links to earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing activities in Western
Canada.

Kang, M. et al. (2019). Potential increase in oil and gas well leakage due to earthquakes. Environmental Research Communications, 1(22). Open access. [View Paper]

Kang, M. et al. (2019). Reducing methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells: Strategies and costs. Energy Policy, 132(September 2019), 594–601. [View Paper]

Read about the experience of undergraduate researchers working on this project here.


Changing-climate resilient cisgenic crop variety development through genome editing

Ajjamada Kushalappa

Kushalappa lab at McGill has identified several disease resistance R genes. Some of these genes are mutated in commercial wheat cultivars, such as Pasteur, which will be replaced with functional gene segments from a resistant wheat land race based on genome editing using CRISPR-Cas9 system that does not leave any foreign DNA in the recipient plant. Following proof of concept, this technology can be used to enhance multiple disease resistance in hundreds of wheat and other crop cultivars, saving billions of dollars around the world.

Soni, N., Hegde, N., Dhariwal, A., & Kushalappa, A. C. (2020). Role of laccase gene in wheat NILs differing at QTL-Fhb1 for resistance against Fusarium head blight. Plant Science, 110574. [View Paper]


Engineering nanocatalysts for photo-fixation of nitrogen into ammonia

C.J. Li, Hong Guo & Zetian Mi

Nitrogen is one of the essential building elements for all living organisms. However, the industrial ammonia synthesis process requires high temperatures and pressures and consumes more than 1% of the world’s annual energy supply. This proposal will combine the expertise of Prof. Li, Prof. Mi, and Prof. Guo to develop sustainable nitrogen-fixation with solar light by using theoretical and experimental means.

Liu, M. et al. (2029). Efficient nitrogen fixation catalyzed by gallium nitride nanowire using nitrogen and water. iScience, 17, 208-216. Open access. [View Paper]

Read more...


Sustainable copolymer additives for durable roadway asphalts

Milan Maric

Many of us are familiar with the cracks over roadways during the winter season. Block copolymers have been applied previously as bitumen additives but face several limitations, which can be overcome by using controlled radical polymerization. Applying this method makes the process greener: polymerizations can now be done with a continuous aqueous phase. Further, the feedstocks will be derived from sustainable sources.

Luk, S. B., & Marić, M. (2019). Nitroxide-Mediated Polymerization of Bio-Based Farnesene with a Functionalized Methacrylate. Macromolecular Reaction Engineering, 13(3), 1–11. [View Paper]


Resilience planning in new master-planned cities

Sarah Moser, Idowu Ajibade & Laurence Côté-Roy​​​​​​​

This project is concerned with how new cities built from scratch around the world are adapting to or anticipating climate change and disasters. The research seeks to understand how new city projects are planned and executed, and how they may expose a large number of people to disasters and the effects of climate change in the coming decades. The study examines over 100 new city projects and focuses on six case studies in Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco.

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Developing the use of seawater eDNA to track species responses to environmental change

Jennifer Sunday​​​​​​​

Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding technology can allow a sample of “empty” to reveal nearby fish assemblages with remarkable speed and accuracy. We are developing this technology and testing sampling designs to bring us into an era of tracking of biodiversity in near-real time, adjusting the pace at which we can adapt.

Harrison, J., Sunday, J., & Rogers, S. (2019). Predicting the fate of eDNA in the environment and implications for studying biodiversity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286(1915). Open access. [View Paper]

Read more...

2018 Ideas Fund Recipients – Students

SymBioSyn

Yves Abanda, Stephanie Goyer, Robert Ishimwe, Connor Spencer, Treena Delormier (faculty supervisor)​​​​​​​

In partnership with the First Nations Adult Education Center(FNRAEC) of Kahnawà:ke, winner of the Ken Spencer award for alternative education, SymBioSyn is designing a pilot Food Sovereignty Leadership program. Rooted in the desire to support indigenous communities’ members transitioning towards sustainable self-determination, the methodologies employed will stem from collaborative action-research, traditional Mohawk and Academic views of food security and education - and focus on community building in cross-cultural context. This will offer McGill students unique Applied Student Research opportunities and hands-on experience in food sovereignty topics within the context of, and in partnership with, an Indigenous community in Québec


Using air and solar energy as a sustainable source of water

Kevin Kelly, David Villegas, Jan Kopyscinski (faculty supervisor)​​​​​​​

Presently, water scarcity affects every continent. In 10 years, more than two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water stressed conditions. However, a significant amount of water resides in our atmosphere, a resource that if made available, would help solve the problem of water scarcity. Taking on this challenge, we have come up with an idea to extract humidity from air using low grade thermal energy (e.g., solar heat), and create water through a novel process.


Development of a solar-powered UAV

Callaghan Wilmott, Jovan Nedic (faculty supervisor)​​​​​​​

This project aims to design, manufacture and test a solar-powered UAV capable of long endurance flights. The platform will be designed to carry a multispectral camera for use in large scale crop monitoring, enabling farmers to more effectively utilize their resources whilst simultaneously increasing crop yields.


Innovation Fund

Do you have an innovation that has potential for commercialization or a process that will lead to policy development in the field of sustainability? Do you need funds to proceed to the next stage of development? The MSSI Innovation Fund can provide up to $75K to accelerate the innovation or process and move your project forward.

2020 Innovation Fund Recipients

Plant-based pigments from cellulose nanocrystals for color cosmetics and organic seed coatings

Mark Andrews​​​​​​​

This project will develop a new class of vibrant, naturally sourced pigments based on algal and plant-derived dyes, combined with cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). We establish how “molecular mixing” of botanical dyes on the surface of CNC yields a gamut of hues, quantify color stability and demonstrate applications for Natural color cosmetics and seed coatings for organic farming.


Supercritical aluminum-water (SAW) reactor for on-demand hydrogen production

Jeffrey Bergthorson​​​​​​​

Building on previous success, where aluminum was reacted with supercritical water to produce heat and hydrogen, this project focusses on the design of an industry-relevant supercritical aluminum-water reactor capable of delivering a continuous stream of hot hydrogen and steam to an engine.


Including Persons with Disabilities in Multilateral Climate Governance

Sébastien Jodoin & Prof. Nandini Ramanujam​​​​​​​

As the world moves forward with measures to tackle the climate crisis and adapt to the impacts of climate change, it is critical that these efforts include persons with disabilities. This project will establish a working group of disabled persons organizations and their allies that want to collaborate on disability-inclusive climate action and justice. Through collaborative research, capacity-building, and advocacy, this working group will help ensure that the rights and perspectives of persons with disabilities are meaningfully included in the climate justice movement and in the adoption of climate policies and initiatives.

Prototype reactor for the Power-to-Gas (methane) process

Jan Kopyscinski & Annie Levasseur (École de technologie supérieure, Université du Québec)

The Power-to-Gas (P2G) process is a promising technology in which renewable electricity is converted into chemical energy (methane) and stored in the natural gas grid. The main challenges are the catalytic conversion of H2 and captured CO2 into CH4. This project will build prototype reactors (catalytic heat exchanger design with alternate reactive and non-reactive channels) and evaluate their performance in terms of CO2 conversion, long-term stability as well as conduct a techno-economic and life-cycle-analysis. Goal: Canada’s first P2G process!


Deconstructing to Reconstruct – A Sustainable Valorization of Lignin to Pharmaceuticals

Jean-Philip Lumb​​​​​​​

To maximize value from biomass, the value of lignin must be increased. Since more than 90% of current pharmaceuticals are produced from petroleum, large growth opportunities for lignin-derived building blocks exist in this sector. This research aims to capitalize upon recent advances in lignin depolymerization technologies to create a value chain that affords the chemotherapeutic podophyllotoxin. By valorizing lignin into pharmaceuticals, we hope to create an economic incentive for increased biomass utilization, and motivate additional engagement from pharmaceutical companies interested in developing sustainable manufacturing practices from renewable feedstocks.


Assessing the environmental impact of urban micro-mobility services

Grant McKenzie​​​​​​​

The influx of micromobility services, such as dockless scooter-share and e-bikes, in many cities are contributing to a substantial change in urban transportation. The rapid arrival of these services, however, has left little time for city regulators and citizens to assess the environmental impact of these services and compare them to existing transportation options. In this project we will develop and widely disseminate a survey to both users and non-users of micromobility services across Canada. Given the results of this survey, and vehicle emission data, we will calculate the actual environmental (GHG) impact of these new services on urban centres across Canada.

2019 Innovation Fund Recipients

Greener synthetic approaches to biologically active oligonucleotides

Masad J. Damha & Tomislav Friscic​​​​​​​

Current methods of DNA and RNA chemical synthesis are challenged by problems of cost, scale, and environmental impact associated with extensive use of solvents that subsequently become chemical waste. To overcome this problem, a new method that utilizes milling/grinding technology is being developed by the Damha‐Friscic research groups, opening a path to eliminate or significantly reduce solvent consumption.

Thorpe, J. et al. (2020). Mechanochemical synthesis of short DNA fragments. Chem. Eur. J.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/chem.202001193. [View Paper]


Building Resilience in Fragile Ecosystems: Innovative cellulose hydrogels for water and fertilizer savings in dryland agriculture

Chandra Madramootoo & Yixiang Wang​​​​​​​

Hydrogels derived from forestry waste will be engineered for the slow release of NPK fertilizers by crops. In combination with new drip irrigation technology, precision amounts of water and nutrients will be delivered to the rhizosphere to meet crop requirements. Sustainability benefits include: improved water efficiency, reduced fertilizer use and greenhouse gas emissions, and reuse of waste biomass to produce bio-degradable hydrogels.

2018 Innovation Fund Recipients

Solvent-free enzymatic depolymerization of poly(ethylene terephthalate

Karine Auclair & Tomislav Friscic​​​​​​​

•Plastic contamination is a major environmental problem.
•Poly(ethylene)terephthalate (PET) is one of the most widely used plastics with 30M tons produced globally in 2015
•This project will explore a novel, non-conventional method for the degradation of PET
•Unlike current degradation processes, our method is clean and does not restrict to downcycling

Kaabel, S., Friscic, T., & Auclair, K. (2019). Mechanoenzymatic transformations in the absence of bulk water - a more natural way of using enzymes. Chembiochem: A European Journal of Chemical Biology, 1–18. [View Paper]

Read more...


Novel plasma technology for renewable ammonia synthesis

Sylvain Coulombe​​​​​​​

Ammonia (NH3) is one of the most important chemicals produced today. It is produced at large scale using the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch (H-B) process, and used in the synthesis of fertilizers and virtually all synthetic nitrogen-containing chemicals. The annual production of NH3 is larger than 160 million tons, with associated CO2 emissions exceeding 300 million tons, and energy requirements accounting for ~2% of the world’s energy consumption. The proposed plasma technology bears the potential to displace the energy-intensive and polluting H-B process by using electricity from renewables as the only energy source.

Sustainable Green Plasticizers

Richard Leask, Milan Maric & Jim Nicell​​​​​​​

Plasticizers are added to the majority of consumer plastics to improve their flexibility and processing behavior. During the last decade, the most common plasticizers, known as phthalates and which are produced in the millions of tons annually, have been shown to have adverse health effects. Moreover, they are made from fossil fuels and are ubiquitous environmental contaminants. In this work, we will be performing large scale production run of our replacement sustainable green plasticizer as a validation towards commercialization.


Design of advanced Na-ion batteries

Eric McCalla

The poorly understood Na-Fe-Mn-O pseudo-ternary system contains promising Na-ion cathode materials. Herein, high-throughput techniques will be used to characterize and screen the battery performance of hundreds of compositions. This will help develop advanced electrode materials from earth abundant benign materials and thereby lower the batteries’ environmental impact.

Read more...​​​​​​​


Closing the Phosphorus Loop through Phosphate Rock Production from Municipal Sludge

Sidney Omelon

Municipal wastewater contains high concentrations of phosphorus (P) that must be reduced to prevent algal blooms and eutrophication. Current wastewater treatment precipitates insoluble iron phosphate, which is too stable to act as a P-fertilizer. This project investigates P-capture as phosphate rock to produce P-fertilizer from municipal wastewater, CO2, and limestone.

Read more about this project in an interview with Prof. Omelon and M. Eng student Sarah Bluteau.

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