The EcoSynthetix and Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology partnership announced today (Mar. 13, 2013) is an example of how tightly interlaced the relationships between academic institutions and their graduates’ start-up companies can be. A Mar. 13, 2013 news item on Nanowerk describes the partnership,
EcoSynthetix Inc. and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo have joined forces through an industrial partnership to collaborate on new applications for EcoSynthetix’ EcoSphere® technology. The five-year agreement will be jointly funded through an EcoSynthetix and NSERC (National Sciences and Engineering Research Council) Collaborative Research and Development Grant. The project matches the scientific expertise from the University of Waterloo in macromolecular science with the sustainability benefits of EcoSphere® bio-based nanoparticles which are based on green chemistry. The goal of the project is to broaden the scientific knowledge base of the EcoSphere® technology to support its introduction into new application areas.
The Mar. 13, 2013 EcoSynthetix news release, which originated the news item, mentions the relationship in passing while extolling the virtues of the partnership,
“As a global centre of excellence for nanotechnology research, this project represents a great opportunity for our institute, faculty and students at the University, to collaborate with a local innovator to further our understanding of the technology and its potential applications,” said Dr. Arthur J. Carty, Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (“WIN”) and an independent director of the board of EcoSynthetix. [emphasis mine] “Nanotechnology is a leading-edge, enabling technology that holds the promise of a lasting economic benefit for jobs and investment in the materials, energy and healthcare sectors. EcoSynthetix’s innovative nanotechnology has the potential to impact a wide-array of markets that would benefit from a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based products.”
“This ECO-WIN collaboration involves four professors and eight graduate students at the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology and is a great example of how industry and universities can work together to advance an exciting new area of science to benefit the community,” said Dr. Steven Bloembergen, Executive Vice President, Technology of EcoSynthetix. “Our EcoSphere® technology is already commercial and providing sustainable benefits in three separate markets today. Our team’s primary focus at this stage is near-term product development and product enhancements of carbohydrate-based biopolymers. By working with the Institute of Nanotechnology to deepen our understanding of the basic science, we can identify new future applications that could benefit from our sustainable biobased materials.”
The EcoSphere® technology is being commercially utilized as biobased latex products providing alternatives to petroleum-based binders in the coated paper and paperboard market. [emphasis mine] The goal of this project is to generate a greater understanding of the properties of EcoSphere® biolatex® binders by establishing a knowledge base that could enable tailor-made novel particles with the desired properties for a given application. The project team will be chemically modifying the nanoparticles and then characterizing how the properties of the novel particles are affected by these changes.
I don’t understand what “independent director” means in this context. Is the term meant to suggest that it’s a coincidence Carty is WIN’s executive director and a member of the EcoSynthetix board? Or, does it mean that he’s not employed by the company? If any readers care to clarify the matter, please do leave a comment. In any event, the EcoSynthetix timeline suggests the company has a close relationship with the University of Waterloo as it was founded in 1996 by graduates (from the company’s About Us History Timeline webpage),
As for the product line which birthed this partnership, there’s a disappointing lack of technical detail about Ecosphere biolatex binders. Here’s the best I can find on the company website (from the Ecosphere Biolatex Binders Performance page),
The smaller particle size characteristic of biolatex binders results in increased binder strength and performance. In coated paper, it provides improved aesthetics; a rich, bright finish; enhanced open structure and excellent printability across all grades.
I wonder if some of this new work will be focused on ways to use CNC (cellulose nanocrytals or NCC, nanocrystalline cellulose) in addition to the company’s previously developed “bio-based nanoparticles” to enhance the product which, as I highlighted earlier, sells to the “coated paper and paperboard market.” From the CelluForce (the CNC/NCC production plant in Quebec) Applications page,
NCC’s properties and many potential forms enable many uses, including:
- Biocomposites for bone replacement and tooth repair
- Pharmaceuticals and drug delivery
- Additives for foods and cosmetics
- Improved paper and building products
- Advanced or “intelligent” packaging
- High-strength spun fibres and textiles
- Additives for coatings, paints, lacquers and adhesives
- Reinforced polymers and innovative bioplastics
- Advanced reinforced composite materials
- Recyclable interior and structural components for the transportation industry
- Aerospace and transportation structures
- Iridescent and protective films
- Films for optical switching
- Pigments and inks
- Electronic paper printers
- Innovative coatings and new fillers for papermaking
Since I’m already speculating, I will note I’ve had a couple of requests for information on how to access NCC/CNC from entrepreneurs who’ve not been successful at obtaining the material from the few existing production plants such as CelluForce and the one in the US. It seems only academics can get access.
One last comment about this ‘partnership’, I’d dearly love to know what relationships, if any exist, between the proponents and the NSERC committee which approved the funding.
Interestingly, Carty is the chair for the recently convened expert panel for the Council of Canadian Academies’ The State of Canada’s Science Culture assessment, as per my Dec. 19, 2012 post about the announcement of his appointment. This latest development casts a new light on the panel (my Feb. 22, 2013 post notes my reaction to the expert panel’s membership) and the meaning of science culture in Canada.