Tag Archives: Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures

Ceapro (a Canadian biotech company) and its pressurized gas expanded technology with a mention of cellulose nanocrystals

At the mention of cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), my interest was piqued. From a Nov. 10, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Ceapro Inc. (TSX VENTURE:CZO) (“Ceapro” or the “Company”), a growth-stage biotechnology company focused on the development and commercialization of active ingredients for healthcare and cosmetic industries, announced that Bernhard Seifried, Ph.D., Ceapro’s Senior Research Scientist and a co-inventor of its proprietary Pressurized Gas Expanded Technology (PGX) will present this morning [Nov. 10, 2015] at the prestigious 2015 Composites at Lake Louise engineering conference.

A Nov. 10, 2015 Ceapro press release, which originated the news item, describes the technology in a little more detail and briefly mentions cellulose nanocrystals (Note: A link has been removed),

Dr. Seifried will make a podium presentation entitled, “PGX – Technology: A versatile technology for generating advanced biopolymer materials,” which will feature the unique advantages of Ceapro’s enabling technology for processing aqueous solutions or dispersions of high molecular weight biopolymers, such as starch, polysaccharides, gums, pectins or cellulose nanocrystals, into open-porous morphologies, consisting of nano-scale particles and pores.

Gilles Gagnon, M.Sc., MBA, President and CEO of Ceapro, stated, “Our disruptive PGX enabling technology facilitates biopolymer processing at a new level for generating unique highly porous biopolymer morphologies that can be impregnated with bioactives/APIs or functionalized with other biopolymers to generate exfoliated nano-composites and novel advanced material. We believe this technology will provide transformational solutions not only for our internal programs, but importantly, can be applied much more broadly for Companies with whom we intend to partner globally.”

Utilizing its PGX technology, Ceapro successfully produces its bioactive pharmaceutical grade powder formulation of beta glucan, which is an ingredient in a number of personal care cosmeceutical products as well as a therapeutic agent used for wound healing and a lubricative agent integrated into injectable systems used to treat conditions like urinary incontinence. The Company is developing its enabling PGX platform at the commercial scale level. In order to fully exploit the use of this innovative technology, Ceapro has recently decided to further expand its new world-class manufacturing facility by 10,000 square feet.

“The PGX platform generates unique morphologies that are not possible to produce with other conventional drying systems,” Mr. Gagnon continued. “The ultra-light, highly porous polymer structures produced with PGX have a huge potential for use in an abundant number of applications ranging from functional foods, nutraceuticals, drug delivery and cosmeceuticals, to advanced technical applications.”

Ceapro’s novel PGX Technology can be utilized for a wide variety of bio-industrial processing applications including:

  • Dry aqueous solutions or dispersions of polymers derived from agricultural and/or forestry feedstock, such as polysaccharides, gums, biopolymers at mild processing conditions (40⁰C).
  • Purify biopolymers by removing lipids, salts, sugars and other contaminants, impurities and odours during the precipitation and drying process.
  • Micronize the polymer to a matrix consisting of highly porous fibrils or spherical particles having nano-scale features depending on polymer molecular structure.
  • Functionalize the polymer matrix by generating exfoliated nano-composites of various polymers forming fibers and/or spheres simply by mixing various aqueous polymer solutions/dispersions prior to PGX processing.
  • Impregnate the polymer matrix homogeneously with thermo-sensitive bioactives and/or hydrophobic modifiers to tune solubility of the final polymer bioactive matrix all in the same processing equipment at mild conditions (40⁰C).
  • Extract valuable bioactives at mild conditions from fermentation slurries, while drying the residual biomass.

The highly tune-able PGX process can generate exfoliated nano-composites and highly porous morphologies ranging from sub-micron particles (50nm) to micron-sized granules (2mm), as well as micro- and nanofibrils, granules, fine powders and aerogels with porosities of >99% and specific surface areas exceeding 300 m2/gram. The technology is based on a spray drying method, operating at mild temperatures (40°C) and moderate pressures (100-200 bar) utilizing PGX liquids, which is comprised of a mixture of food grade, recyclable solvents, generally regarded as safe (GRAS), such as pressurized carbon dioxide and anhydrous ethanol. The unique properties of PGX liquids afford single phase conditions and very low or vanishing interfacial tension during the spraying process. This then allows the generation of extremely fine particle morphologies with high porosity and a large specific surface area resulting in favorable solubilisation properties. This platform drying technology has been successfully scaled up from lab scale to pilot scale with a processing capacity of about 200 kg/hr of aqueous solutions.

Ceapro is based in Edmonton in the province of Alberta. This is a province with a CNC (cellulose nanocrytals) pilot production plant as I noted in my Nov. 10, 2013 posting where I belatedly mentioned the plant’s September 2013 commissioning date. The plant was supposed to have had a grand opening in 2014 according to a Sept. 12, 2013 Alberta Innovates Technology Futures [AITF] news release,

“Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures is proud to host and operate Western Canada’s only CNC pilot plant,” said Stephen Lougheed, AITF’s President and CEO. “Today’s commissioning is an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to provide technological know-how to our research and industry partners in their continued applied R&D and commercialization efforts. We’re able to provide researchers with more CNC than ever before, thereby accelerating the development of commercial applications.”

Members of Alberta’s and Western Canada’s growing CNC communities of expertise and interest spent the afternoon exploring potential commercial applications for the cellulose-based ‘wonder material.’

The CNC Pilot Plant’s Grand Opening is planned for 2014. [emphasis mine]

I have not been able to find any online trace of the plant’s grand opening. But I did find a few things. The AITF website has a page dedicated to CNC and its pilot plant and there’s a slide show about CNC and occupational health and safety from members of Alberta’s CNC Pilot Plant Research Team for their project, which started in 2014.

No mention in the Alberta media materials is ever made of CelluForce, a CNC production plant in the province of Québec, which predates the Alberta plant by more than 18 months (my Dec. 15, 2011 posting).

One last comment, CNC or cellulose nanocrystals are sometimes called nanocrystalline cellulose or NCC. This is a result of Canadians who were leaders at the time naming the substance NCC but over time researchers and producers from other countries have favoured the term CNC. Today (2015), the NCC term has been trademarked by Celluforce.

Alberta’s summer of 2014 nano funding and the US nano community’s talks with the House of Representatives

I have two items concerning nanotechnology and funding. The first item features Michelle Rempel, Canada’s Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification (WD) who made two funding announcements this summer (2014) affecting the Canadian nanotechnology sector and, more specifically, the province of Alberta.

A June 20, 2014 WD Canada news release announced a $1.1M award to the University of Alberta,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced $1.1 million to help advance leading-edge atomic computing technologies.

Federal funds will support the University of Alberta with the purchase of an ultra-high resolution scanning tunneling microscope, which will enable researchers and scientists in western Canada and abroad to analyze electron dynamics and nanostructures at an atomic level. The first of its kind in North America, the microscope has the potential to significantly transform the semiconductor industry, as research findings aid in the prototype development and technology commercialization of new ultra low-power and low-temperature computing devices and industrial applications.

This initiative is expected to further strengthen Canada’s competitive position throughout the electronics value chain, such as microelectronics, information and communications technology, and the aerospace and defence sectors. The project will also equip graduate students with a solid foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience to become highly qualified, skilled individuals in today’s workforce.

One month later, a July 21, 2014 WD news release (hosted on the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro and Nano Products [ACAMP]) announces this award,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced an investment of $3.3 million toward the purchase and installation of specialized advanced manufacturing and product development equipment at the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro Nano Technology Products (ACAMP), as well as training on the use of this new equipment for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

This support, combined with an investment of $800,000 from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, will enable ACAMP to expand their services and provide businesses with affordable access to prototype manufacturing that is currently unavailable in western Canada. By helping SMEs accelerate the development and commercialization of innovative products, this project will help strengthen the global competitiveness of western Canadian technology companies.

Approximately 80 Alberta SMEs will benefit from this initiative, which is expected to result in the development of new product prototypes, the creation of new jobs in the field, as well as connections between SMEs and multi-national companies. This equipment will also assist ACAMP’s outreach activities across the western Canadian provinces.

I’m not entirely clear as to whether or not the June 2014 $1.1M award is considered part of the $3.3M award or if these are two different announcements. I am still waiting for answers to a June 20, 2014 query sent to Emily Goucher, Director of Communications to the Hon. Michelle Rempel,

Hi Emily!

Thank you for both the news release and the information about the embargo … happily not an issue at this point …

I noticed Robert Wolkow’s name in the release (I last posted about his work in a March 3, 2011 piece about his and his team’s entry into the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s smallest electron microscope tip (http://www.frogheart.ca/?tag=robert-wolkow) [Note: Wolkow was included in a list of quotees not included here in this July 29, 2014 posting]

I am assuming that the new microscope at the University of Alberta is specific to a different type of work than the one at UVic, which has a subatomic microscope (http://www.frogheart.ca/?p=10426)

Do I understand correctly that an STM is being purchased or is this an announcement of the funds and their intended use with no details about the STM available yet? After reading the news release closely, it looks to me like they do have a specific STM in mind but perhaps they don’t feel ready to make a purchase announcement yet?

If there is information about the STM that will be purchased I would deeply appreciate receiving it.

Thank you for your time.

As I wait, there’s more news from  the US as members of that country’s nanotechnology community testify at a second hearing before the House of Representatives. The first (a May 20, 2014 ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative’ hearing held before the Science, Space, and Technology
Subcommittee on Research and Technology) was mentioned in an May 23, 2014 posting  where I speculated about the community’s response to a smaller budget allocation (down to $1.5B in 2015 from $1.7B in 2014).

This second hearing is being held before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade and features an appearance by James Tour from Rice University according to a July 28, 2014 news item on Azonano,

At the hearing, titled “Nanotechnology: Understanding How Small Solutions Drive Big Innovation,” Tour will discuss and provide written testimony on the future of nanotechnology and its impact on U.S. manufacturing and jobs. Tour is one of the most cited chemists in the country, and his Tour Group is a leader in patenting and bringing to market nanotechnology-based methods and materials.

Who: James Tour, Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry and professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of computer science.

What: Exploring breakthrough nanotechnology opportunities.

When: 10:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 29.

Where: Room 2322, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

The hearing will explore the current state of nanotechnology and the direction it is headed so that members can gain a better understanding of the policy changes that may be necessary to keep up with advancements. Ultimately, the subcommittee hopes to better understand what issues will confront regulators and how to assess the challenges and opportunities of nanotechnology.

You can find a notice for this July 2014 hearing and a list of witnesses along with their statements here. As for what a second hearing might mean within the context of the US National Nanotechnology Initiative, I cannot say with any certainty. But, this is the first time in six years of writing this blog where there have been two hearings post-budget but as a passive collector of this kind of information this may be a reflection of my information collection strategies rather than a response to a smaller budget allocation. Still, it’s interesting.

Alberta gave its cellulose nanocrystal (or nanocrystalline cellolose) production plant a soft launch in September 2013

It’s been a little over two years since Alberta’s proposed cellulose nanocrystal (CNC), then called nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), pilot plant was first announced (my July 5, 2011 posting). I gather that the plant was quietly opened in Sept. 2013. Finding a news release about the event has proved to be a challenge. The Alberta Innovates website does not list it in its Newsroom while the Alberta Innovates Technology Futures website does list a news release (September 12, 2013Alberta’s one-of-a-kind CNC pilot plant commissioned: Cellulose-based ‘wonder material’ now available to researchers, industry partnersf), despite numerous efforts on my part (try it yourself), I’m unable to access it. Happily, I was able to track down some information elsewhere.

First (in the order in which I found the information), there’s an Oct. 2, 2013 news item on the WorkingForest.com website submitted by Pulp and Paper Canada),

Alberta’s cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) pilot plant, which produces up to 100 kilograms of CNC per week, was commissioned in early September at Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures’ (AITF) Mill Woods facility before a crowd of researchers, industry leaders and government representatives.

The $5.5-million pilot plant, created through a collaboration of the governments of Canada and Alberta in partnership with industry under the Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA), uses wood and straw pulp from plants such as flax and hemp to create CNC for testing in commercial applications that will lead to production.

“Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures is proud to host and operate Western Canada’s only CNC pilot plant,” said Stephen Lougheed, AITF’s president and CEO. “We’re able to provide researchers with more CNC than ever before, thereby accelerating the development of commercial applications.”

The grand opening of the CNC pilot plant’s is planned for 2014.

Then, there was more information about the plant and the event in Catherine Griwkowsky’s Sept. 12, 2013 article for the Edmonton Sun,

A new cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) pilot plant will take wood and agricultural fires and turn it into a form that can make products stronger, give them sunlight-absorbing properties, add a negative electromagnetic charge and more.

The $5.5-million project in Mill Woods will churn out up to 100 kilograms of the crystals each week.

Technical Lead Frank Tosto said researchers will study various properties of the crystals, and work with an internal team as well as external industry and other researchers to transform knowledge of the properties into ideas for applications. Later, the team may experiment with unconventional sources of cellulose.

The CNCs can be used for drilling fluids, paints, industrial coatings, automotive components, building materials, plastics and packaging.

The process [of refining hemp, etc.] breaks down cellulose into smaller building blocks using a chemical process of acid hydrolysis, that separates crystal formations in cellulose from other structures. The width is between five to 10 nanometres with a length of 150 to 200 nanometers. To scale, cellulose fibre would be the size of a hockey rink and the nano crystal would be like a pen or pencil, he explained.

Ultimately, Tosto hopes they will find commercial applications for the CNCs. The pilot should last five to seven years. He said it’s hard to think outside the box when they don’t know where all the boxes are.

I’d love to know if any of the entrepreneurs who contacted me privately about accessing CNC so they could develop new applications are now able to purchase product from the Alberta plant or from the one in Quebec (CelluForce), which had a stockpile last I heard (my Oct. 3, 2013 posting). It seems odd to be building another plant when the country’s first such plant has stopped production. Meanwhile, there’s some action on the international scene. An Israeli startup company, Melodea has developed its own CNC/NCC extraction process and has received money to develop applications, from my Oct. 31, 2013 posting),

Melodea Ltd. is developing an economic ally viable industrial process for the extraction of NCC from the sludge of the paper industry, a waste stream produced at millions of tons around the world. The core of the novel technology was developed by the lab of Professor Oded Shoseyov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was licensed exclusively to Melodea.

Moreover, the company develops unique technologies to self-assemble the NCC into ecologically friendly foams for industrial applications.

Melodea Ltd. announced today that it has been awarded above 1,000,000 Euro in 3 projects of the European Union Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

You’ll note Melodea’s process extracts CNC from the paper industry’s sludge which leads me to this question: will there be any discussion of this extracting CNC from sludge technique at the 2014 TAPPI (Technical Association for the Pulp, Paper, Packaging and Converting Industries) nanotechnology conference being held in Vancouver (Canada), June 23-26, 2014 (mentioned in my Nov. 14, 2013 posting about the conference’s submission deadline, Nov. 22, 2013)?

Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab and its nanotechnology dreams

I believe the Nov. 6, 2013 news release from Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab was meant to announce this new lab’s existence (why does Alberta need another nanotechnology-focused institution?),

Alberta’s first accelerator laboratory brings together some of nanotechnology’s leading players to make small science have a big impact in Alberta, by harnessing and commercializing emerging technologies, and simultaneously addressing some of the grand challenges faced by our province.

“We still have an incredible amount to learn from nature. This we know,” says Ingenuity Lab Director, Dr. Carlo Montemagno. “The opportunity in front of us is the potential to create a bio-enabled, globally-competitive and value-added industry while training the next generation of researchers and innovators in Alberta.”

With a research team of 25 strong and growing, Ingenuity Lab is focusing its research on the mining, energy, agriculture and health sectors, and is a $40 million provincial government led initiative working in partnership with the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT), Campus Alberta and industry.

Alberta already hosts the National Institute of Nanotechnology (which was and perhaps still is partially funded by the province of Alberta) and there’s ACAMP “(Alberta Centre for Advanced MNT Products) is a not for profit organization that provides specialized services to micro nano technology clients. Clients have access to world-class equipment, facilities …” Both the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary have any number of labs dedicated to nanotechnology research and then there’s nanoAlberta which now lives on as part of  Alberta Innovates where* it’s listed on their Programs and Services page. It seems to me they have a number of organizations devoted to nanotechnology research and/or commercialization in Alberta. By the way, Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) can still be found on two different websites; there’s the NINT on the National Research Council of Canada website and there’s the NINT on the University of Alberta website.

While the lab’s Nov. 19, 2013 news release (h/t Nanowerk) explores the lab’s goals, it doesn’t really answer the question: why another one?,

Dr. Carlo Montemagno and a world-class team of researchers are working across disciplines to identify innovative solutions to some of the province’s most difficult issues, including optimal resource extraction while enhancing environmental stewardship of Alberta’s signature natural resources [oil sands].

“Nanotechnology will have a significant impact on Canada’s economic prosperity and global competitive advantage,” says Ingenuity Lab Director, Dr. Carlo Montemagno.  “This enhanced understanding of matter will provide the necessary underpinning for revolutionary discoveries across disciplines that will forever change the way we envisage the future.”

Ingenuity Lab is applying recent advances in targeted drug delivery and other areas to develop novel technologies that will enable the recovery of valuable materials, currently discarded as waste, from our industrial operations and the environment.

The Ingenuity research team is engineering new materials that have the capability to detect, extract and bind to rare earth and precious metals that exist in nature or synthetic materials. As this approach is refined, it will spawn a variety of applications like reclamation of trace amounts of valuable or harmful materials from soil, water and industrial process streams, including tailing ponds.

“Our molecular recognition techniques, what we call biomining, offer the ability to maximize the utility of our resources, establish a new path forward to restore damaged lands and water and to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to societal and economic prosperity,” says Dr. Montemagno. “The further we delve into the very makeup of the natural and inorganic components of our universe, the more opportunities we uncover. This radical shift away from conventional thinking means that we leverage research gains beyond their intended purpose. We achieve a multiplier effect that increases the capacity of nanotechnology to address the grand challenges facing modern industrial societies.”

I became a little curious about Dr. Montemagno and found this on the Ingenuity Lab’s About the Director page,

Dr. Carlo Montemagno

“The purpose of scientific study is to create new knowledge by working at the very edge where world-changing knowledge unfolds.” – C. Montemagno

Driven by the principles of excellence, honor and responsibility and an unwavering commitment to education as an engine of economic prosperity, Dr. Montemagno has become a world-renowned expert in nanotechnology and is responsible for creating groundbreaking innovations which solve complex challenges in the areas of informatics, agriculture, chemical refining, transportation, energy, and healthcare.

He was Founding Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at University of Cincinnati; received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and Bio Engineering from Cornell University; a Master’s Degree  in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering from Penn State and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences from Notre Dame.

“Research and education are critical to success because the transfer of knowledge creates economic prosperity.” — C. Montemagno

Dr. Montemagno has been recognized with prestigious awards including the Feynman Prize (for creating single molecule biological motors with nano-scale silicon devices); the Earth Award Grand Prize (for cell-free artificial photosynthesis with over 95% efficiency); the CNBC Business Top 10 Green Innovator award (for Aquaporin Membrane water purification and desalination technology); and named a Bill & Melinda Gates Grand Challenge Winner (for a pH sensing active microcapsule oral vaccine delivery system which increased vaccine stability and demonstrated rapid uptake in the lower GI tract.)

Despite my doubts, I wish the Ingenuity Lab folks good luck with their efforts.

*where’s changed to where, Feb. 3, 2014