Tag Archives: Darren Anderson

Nanotechnology in agriculture: an introduction and a 15th anniversary

It’s not often that I publish a posting meant for beginners since I tend to take an understanding of nanotechnology for granted. For anyone who has stumbled across this posting and needs an introduction to nanotechnology, M Cynthia Goh’s* (professor, Chemistry, University of Toronto) April 25, 2021 essay about nanotechnology and agriculture, on The Conversation website, provides a good entry point (Note 1: The excerpts are not in the order in which they appear in the essay Note 2: Links have been removed) ,

Nanotechnology is the science of objects that are a few nanometres — billionths of a metre — across. At this size, objects acquire unique properties. For example, the surface area of a swarm of nanoscale particles is enormous compared to the same mass collected into single large-scale clump.

Varying the size and other properties of nanoscale objects gives us an unprecedented ability to create precision surfaces with highly customized properties.

Agriculture is one of the oldest human inventions, but nanotech provides modern innovations that could dramatically improve the efficiency of our food supply and reduce the environmental impact of its production.

Agriculture comes with costs that farmers are only too familiar with: Crops require substantial amounts of water, land and fuel to produce. Fertilizers and pesticides are needed to achieve the necessary high crop yields, but their use comes with environmental side effects, even as many farmers explore how new technologies can reduce their impact.

Custom-made nanoscale systems can use precision chemistry to achieve high-efficiency delivery of fertilizers or pesticides. These active ingredients can be encapsulated in a fashion similar to what happens in targeted drug delivery. The encapsulation technique can also be used to increase the amount dissolved in water, reducing the need for large amounts.

Current applications

Starpharma, a pharmaceutical company, got into this game a few years ago, when it set up a division to apply its nanotechnological innovations to the agriculture sector. The company has since sold its agrochemical business.

Psigryph is another innovative nanotech company in agriculture. Its technology uses biodegradable nanostructures derived from Montmonercy sour cherries extract to deliver bioactive molecules across cell membranes in plants, animals and humans.

My lab has spent years working in nanoscience, and I am proud to see our fundamental understanding of manipulating polymer encapsulation at the nanoscale make its way to applications in agriculture. A former student, Darren Anderson, is the CEO of Vive Crop Protection [emphasis mine], named one of Canada’s top growing firms: they take chemical and biological pesticides and suspend them in “nanopackets” — which act as incredibly small polymer shuttles — to make them easily reach their target. The ingredients can be controlled and precisely directed when applied on crops.

*M Cynthia Goh was a co-founder of Vive Crop Protection but is not actively involved in the company. She receives funding from NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) Canada and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

Vive Crop Protection’s 15th anniversary

March 30, 2021 marked 15 years for Vive Crop Protection (formerly Vive Nano) according to the company’s March 30, 2021 news release. It’s been a number of years since I’ve written about the company and I’m glad to see they seem to be thriving. Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Darren Anderson (he was formerly the company’s Chief Technical Officer) was interviewed on camera by Kim Bolton for BNN Bloomberg; a link to the video is available from this April 29, 2021 Vive Crop news webpage.

(BTW, BNN Bloomberg is “(formerly Business News Network and Report on Business Television) is a Canadian English language specialty channel owned by Bell Media. It broadcasts programming related to business and financial news and analysis. Since April 30, 2018, the network has operated as a partner of the U.S. business channel Bloomberg Television, …” See more about BNN Bloomberg in its Wikipedia entry.)

For anyone interested in Vive Crop’s technology, see my December 31, 2013, posting.

Catching up with Vive Crop Protection—advanced insecticide formulations, marketing in the US, and more

Starting with the “and more” part of the headline, it’s great to have found an article describing Vive Crop’s technology in language I can understand, Sadly, I failed to see it until Dec. 26, 2013,. Titled “Vive La Crop! nanotech venture vive crop protection of toronto has developed a more eco-friendly way to keep pests, fungi and weeds out of farmers’ fields. and that’s just the beginning,” is written by Tyler Hamilton for the April 2012 issue of ACCN the Canadian Chemical News (L’Actualite chemique canadienne) and it answers many of the questions I’ve had about Vive Crop’s Allosperse technology,

Pesticides don’t have the best reputation when it comes to their potential impacts on human health, but even more concerning — for regulators especially — are the volatile organic solvents frequently relied on to deliver crop-protection chemicals to farmers’ fields.

The solvents themselves are often known carcinogens, not the kind of thing we want on farmland that grows soy, corn and wheat. And they’re not as effective as they could be. Farmers tend to overspray to make sure enough of the active ingredients in insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are dispersed across a field to be effective.

It’s why Vive Crop Protection, a Toronto-based nanotechnology company specializing in crop protection, has been attracting so much attention from some of the world’s biggest chemical companies. Vive Crop (formerly Vive Nano, and before that Northern Nanotechnologies) has done away with the need for volatile organic solvents.

At the heart of Vive Crop’s technology are polymer particles the company has trademarked under the name Allosperse, which measure less than 10 nanometres in size. It describes these particles as ultra- small cages — or “really tiny little FEDEX boxes” in the words of CEO [Chief Executive Officer] Keith Thomas — which hold active pesticide ingredients and are engineered to disperse evenly in water.

Even and thorough dispersal is critical. Avinash Bhaskar, an analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan who has followed Vive Crop closely, says one of the biggest problems with pesticides is they tend to agglomerate, resulting in uneven, clustery distribution on fields. “You want uniform distribution on the soil,” Bhaskar says. “Vive Crop’s technology prevents agglomeration and this is a key differentiator in the market.”

How Vive Crop chemically engineers these Allosperse particles is the company’s core innovation. It starts by dissolving negatively charged polymers in water. The like charges repel so the polymers spread out in the solution. Then positively charged ions are added to the mix. These ions neutralize the charge around the polymers, causing the polymers to collapse around the ions and create a kind of nanocage — the Allosperse.

The company then filters out the positive and negative ions and loads up the empty cages with molecules of active pesticide ingredients. The cage itself is amphiphilic, meaning it has both water-attracting and water-repelling areas. In this case, the outer shell attracts water and the inner core doesn’t. “While in water the active ingredient, which also hates water, stays inside (the cages),” explains Vive Crop chief technology officer Darren Anderson. Because the outside of the cages like water, the particles freely and evenly disperse. “Once sprayed on the crop, the water droplets evaporate and the active ingredient gradually disperses from the particles that are left behind.” How does Vive Crop assure that the Allosperse cages are amphiphilic? “I can’t tell you the answer,” says Anderson. “It’s part of our secret sauce.”

What the company can say is that the polymer cages themselves are benign. Vive Crop makes them out of chitosans, found naturally in the shells of shrimp and other crustaceans, and polyacrylic acid, the super-absorbent material found in baby diapers.

Interestingly, the core technology appears to be based on a former student project,

The core technology was developed in the early 2000s by Jordan Dinglasan, a chemistry student from the Philippines who took up graduate studies at the University of Toronto. Dinglasan and fellow researchers at U of T’s Department of Chemistry, including Anderson and chemistry professor Cynthia Goh, decided in 2006 that they wanted to reach beyond the walls of academia and create a company to commercialize the technology.

At the time of the Hamilton article, the company had 30 employees. Since the April 2012 article, the company has been busy as I’ve written an Aug. 7, 2013 posting about the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval of Vive Crop’s VCP-01, Bifenthrin 10 DF insecticide for foliar use on crops, turf, and ornamentals. and a September 25, 2013 posting about funding for two Vive Crop projects from Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Now in the last weeks of December 2013 Vive Crop has issued two more news releases. First, there’s the Dec. 17, 2013 Vive Crop news release announcing a marketing initiative with a US company, AMVAC Chemical Corporation, which is wholly owned by American Vanguard Corporation and is based in California,,

Vive Crop Protection, Inc. and AMVAC Chemical Corporation are pleased to announce a collaboration to develop and market an advanced insecticide formulation for multiple uses in the United States.  The products leverage Vive’s patented AllosperseT technology delivering enhanced agronomic performance and new application opportunities to AMVAC’s customers.

“We are quite excited about working with AMVAC to add to their portfolio of innovative products,” said Vive CEO Keith Thomas. “Vive is rapidly developing a strong pipeline of effective crop protection products for our partners and growers.”

“As part of AMVAC’s continued commitment to innovate and deliver products with the best technology available, we are very pleased to be working with and investigating this new technology from Vive” said AMVAC Eric Wintemute, CEO of AMVAC .

Vive Crop followed up with a Dec. 19, 2013 news release announcing another marketing initiative, this time with United Suppliers (based in Iowa, US),

United Suppliers, Inc. and Vive Crop Protection, Inc. are pleased to announce a collaboration to demonstrate and market advanced formulation technologies in the United States. Targeted to launch in the 2015 growing season, these technologies will leverage Vive’s patented AllosperseT delivery system to provide enhanced agronomic performance and new application opportunities to United Suppliers’ leading-edge owners and customers.

“We are pursuing the capabilities of getting more activity out of the products we are using in current and expanded applications,” said United Suppliers VP of Crop Protection and Seed Brett Bruggeman. “United Suppliers’ retail owners are in the best position to deliver new technology to growers.”

“We are quite excited about working with United Suppliers to provide innovative products to their customers,” said Vive CEO Keith Thomas. “Vive is rapidly developing a strong pipeline of effective crop protection products for our partners and growers.”

About United Suppliers
United Suppliers is a unique, customer-owned wholesale supplier of crop protection inputs, seed and crop nutrients, with headquarters in Eldora and Ames, Iowa. Founded in 1963, United Suppliers is today comprised of more than 650 agricultural retailers (Owners) who operate nearly 2,800 retail locations throughout the United States and parts of Canada. The mission of United Suppliers is to be the supplier of choice while increasing its Owners’ capabilities and competitiveness. To meet this goal, United Suppliers strives to provide Owners with transparent market intelligence, innovative products, reliable market access and customized business solutions. For more information, please visit www.unitedsuppliers.com.

About Vive Crop Protection
Vive Crop Protection makes products that better protect crops from pests. The company has won a number of awards and was highly commended for Best Formulation Innovation at the 2012 Agrow Awards. Vive’s patented Allosperse delivery system has the ability to coat plants more evenly, which provides better crop protection and can lead to increased yields. Vive is working with partners across the globe that share our vision of bringing safer, more effective crop protection products to growers everywhere. For more information, see www.vivecrop.com.

I wish Vive Crop all the best in 2014 as it capitalizes on the momentum it seems to be building.

Transitions at Vive Crop

Yesterday, Vive Nano; today, Vive Crop Protection. I got a notice that the company, based in Ontario, Canada, has effected a name change. From the Nov. 23, 2011 company notice,

In keeping with our increasing focus on crop protection, we are changing how we present ourselves.  Going forward, we will be referring to our company as Vive Crop Protection, or simply as Vive.

We feel that this helps clarify what we do.  We are “simple small”, so simplifying our name is the right thing.

Last February I featured an interview with then Vive Nano’s Darren Anderson, Chief Technical Officer, and Keith Thomas, Chief Executive Officer (my Feb. 25 2011 posting). Here’s the latest description of what the company does (from the home page which is now at www.vivecrop.com),

We formulate and deliver active ingredients using our ultra-small, water dispersible polymer particles. Our formulations enhance product performance, add convenience and reduce the use of harmful chemical additives. Our main focus is the formulation of crop protection active ingredients. We also work with customers to design formulations for other applications.

The company was recently profiled (Nov. 22, 2011) in a slideshow about innovation in Canada by Tavia Grant for the Globe & Mail newspaper. Excerpted from the ‘Vive Nano’ slide,

It can’t compete with the likes of multinational giants like DuPont or Bayer, who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on research. But it can work with them to supply new ingredients to their fertilizers that are less harmful to the environment, particularly as patents in the sector expire and big companies search for new replacements.

In its five-year history the company has won many awards and developed a clientele that spans the US, Europe and India.

India’s nanotechnology efforts lacking?

According to the Chair of the Indian Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Committee, C. N. Rao, India lags behind neighbours China and Japan in its nanotechnology research efforts. From the July 6, 2011 news item on India’s Economic Times website,

India could miss the “nano bus” if it did not catch up soon with China, Japan or the US that were making rapid strides in the field of nanotechnology, the next frontier of science, says top scientist C.N.R. Rao.India, which had made rapid strides in IT and space technology, was not doing enough in the nanotechnology sector, compared to China, Japan or the US, said the chairman of the scientific advisory committee to the prime minister.

Rao lamented that India was languishing at the 10th or 12th position in the world in conducting research in nano-science and contributing papers in the field.

“In terms of publication of papers, research wise, we are way behind others, in the 10th or 12th in the world, while China is at the top, followed by the US and Japan,” Rao said in an interview on the margins of a nanotech event Tuesday [July 5, 2011].

I always like  to find out how other countries (in this case, India’s chief science advisor) view nanotechnology generally and how they perceive their own nanotechnology efforts in relation to the rest of the world.  Here’s what Rao had to say about the urgency of the effort,

Referring to the critical problems of energy, drinking water and environment/climate faced by India and many countries in the world, the Linus Pauling research professor said the prime minister had set an ambitious target of producing about 800,000 MW of power by 2020. But there was no way of reaching even half the target with the available resources, including fossil fuels.

If you want the full picture according to Rao, please do follow the link. Meanwhile, after noticing the reference to drinking water I searched out my Feb. 25, 2011 posting of an interview with Darren Anderson and Keith Thomas of Vive Nano, a Canadian cleantech company (focussed on crop protection) has interests in India (we mostly discuss the market not the nanotechnology).

Interview with Vive Nano’s CTO, Darren Anderson, and CEO Keith Thomas

I first mentioned the Canadian company, Vive Nano, in my Nov. 9, 2009 posting when it received $3.8M from the Ontario government through that province’s Innovation Demonstration Fund. They’ve been mentioned here since (June 25, 2010 posting about their Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation Award and Oct. 11, 2010 posting about their marketing efforts in India) and, after my good intentions ran out, I finally got a chance to interview Darren Anderson, Vive Nano’s  Chief Technology Officer and (ETA Mar.1.11) Keith Thomas, President and Chief Executive Officer.

(a) Can you tell me a little bit about why the company is called Vive Nano and give me a brief company history, e.g. was it a spin-off from a university; how many founders are there; how did you get to know each other, etc.?

The company was founded by 6 scientists at the University of Toronto.  The scientists had been working together for years and a number had participated in a course called Entrepreneurship 101, which is run by an Ontario-funded organization called MaRS.  [You can find MaRS here.] We decided to pursue a non-traditional route, instead of joining academia or a research lab – and we have not looked back since.  We spun the company out of the university in 2006 and it really got going in 2007 when the full management team joined and outside investment was brought in.

We chose the name Vive Nano because we felt it would work well across cultures.  When we heard the word vive we thought of life; we felt that it had a strong, vibrant and forward thinking feel.   And we felt that it mirrored our company values:  smart, open and responsible.  We strive to be smart in how we execute our work, open to new ideas and responsible in the application of what we do for the greater good.

(b) The Vive Nano website states that your main focus is developing products for the ‘catalyst’ and ‘crop protection’ industries. Could you give me a little more detail about that? For example, I associate crop protection with pesticides, is that what you mean?

A large part of our work is on improved crop protection formulations that can positively impact crop yields and lower environmental impact.  We work with bioinert and biodegradable polymers in place of the solvents currently used to deliver crop protection products.  We are developing products, including pesticides that have the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of chemicals used by farmers, leading to cleaner air, cleaner soil and cleaner water.  We’re enthusiastic about working in crop protection because the safety standards are very stringent and we’re working with partners with tremendous resources and commitment to ensuring product safety.  Vive Nano also works with catalysts, specifically on materials that help to improve the air we breathe and water we drink.

For our efforts, Vive Nano has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 10 companies, as a leading green technology company by Deloitte, as one of the 2009 Green 15™, and by Canadian Business magazine as the winner of Canada’s Clean15 competition.  In addition, Vive Nano has received other market recognition including:

·       Frost & Sullivan North American Technology of the Year Award – 2010
·       Next 10 Emerging Cleantech Leaders Award Winner – 2009
·       Ontario Premier’s Cleantech Mission to India

(c)  ‘Partnering on projects’ is also mentioned on the website. Could you explain how what you mean by partnering and what kinds of projects and products you have or are currently partnering on?

Vive Nano partners with a range of companies, from small Ontario businesses to Fortune 500 firms.  We develop the products in conjunction with our partners, who provide project goals and market access.  We are not able to talk about most of our projects, but one of our key projects is to reduce the use of solvents in delivering crop protection products so that the products are more environmentally friendly.  We also have smaller projects to develop advanced glass coatings and to clean water.

(d) The website features a description of Vive Nano Product Stewardship where you state: “… prioritization process to ensure product information for products with known toxic effects, physical hazards or potential consumer exposure is provided to our stakeholders in a timely manner.” Could you give some examples of you how provide this information since you sell products such as nano silver, nano cerium oxide, nano zinc oxide, and nano magnetite, all of which, by the way, are subject to a ‘call for information regarding testing procedures’ by the State of California’s Dept. of Toxic Substances Control.

We are members of Responsible Care® and are committed communicating information about our materials to all of our stakeholders, including our employees, our customers, our collaborators and the general public.   We make Product Stewardship Sheets for our materials available, which provide a product description, the chemical identity, uses, and any known health or environmental effects or potential for exposure, as well as risk management information.

We recognize that the state of knowledge relating to health and environmental effects of nanotechnology is in its infancy and as a result we are taking a conservative approach with respect to the design and manufacture of our materials. We continually monitor legislative requirements regarding nanomaterials and aim to exceed all current guidelines with respect to occupational health and waste streams, including water and air emissions.  Much of the concern surrounding exposure to nanomaterials is regarding aerosols, thus we endeavour to work with our materials in liquid form whenever possible.

As I mentioned at the start, we want to be responsible in what we do for the greater good.  We are working with the Canadian National Institute of Nanotechnology in Alberta on a federally funded multi-million dollar project to ensure that all of our products we develop are safe throughout their product lifetime.  We are also participating in a McGill University study to look at product safety.

I’m going to shift focus with these next questions:

(e) Vive Nano was featured in an Oct. 27, 2010 guest column written by Hari Venkatacharya on the subject of Canadian technology firms and the Indian market. Is this involvement part of a larger strategic focus on international markets and/or where there specific reasons for focusing on the Indian market?

Cleantech is global, by nature.  For several years, we have been working internationally, though mostly focused on developed economies.  A few years ago, when developed economies were having issues with the recession, we made a strategic decision to work with a key developing economy and chose India.  There was a sound business case and good demand for our products.  We also were able to successfully work with Hari to access top level decision makers in that market.

(f) What have you learned from your work in the Indian market?

First, focus is important.  India is too vast, so we don’t have an India strategy, but rather a Maharashtra strategy.  Second, cost is important.  India really forced us to drive down our costs – the economics in India are based on volume, not margin.

We also found it important to put things in writing – as prep or follow-up to phone calls, as we had some significant noise issues, especially with poor quality phone lines.  We had a number of times where we would speak to someone on their cellphone in traffic and have difficulty picking out enough words to understand what they meant.

Lastly, we found we needed to be there, in almost constant contact in person.  We found that progress came in waves.  If you were about to go to India, were there, or had just left, there was progress; otherwise other priorities came to our customers’ minds.  We were just one of probably dozens of opportunities from Germany, France, and the US that kept coming to them.  SO we needed to go back.  And back.

(g) What kind of a market (or markets) is there for your products in Canada?

As I mentioned, a lot of our work is on making better crop protection products.  These will support the $150 billion Canadian agriculture industry, which employs one out of every seven Canadians.  We anticipate that they will result in significant environmental and waste reduction benefits.  We are also working on coatings to improve the energy efficiency of glass and improved catalysts can potentially deliver major advances in water and air purification. Canada has an environmentally-aware population and a desire to be a leader in clean technologies, so we think it’s a great place to be.

(h) Are you working on any new products or partnerships that you can discuss at this point?

One thing that we are very excited about is our anti-reflective glass coating.  It can improve light transmission noticeably.  It is a very different application from our crop protection work, but uses the same underlying technology.

(i) Is there anything you’d like to add?

Nothing I can think of.

I would like to add just a bit more about Darren Anderson. From Vive Nano’s Management Team page,

Darren Anderson, Ph.D. was the founding President of Vive Nano. Dr. Anderson currently oversees all technical direction at the company, including product development, strategic direction, and intellectual property. He is the author of 4 issued patents, 24 pending applications, 10 refereed papers, and over 40 conference presentations and publications. He earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Toronto as an NSERC Doctoral Fellow.

Plus, I want to say Thank You for taking the time to answer my questions in detail that I much appreciate. I look forward to hearing more about Vive Nano in general, about the new glass coating product, and about the product safety projects with Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology and with the researchers at McGill soon.

ETA Feb.28.11: I understand from Darren Anderson that Keith Thomas, Vive Nano’s President and CEO answered some of the questions. So, thank you to Keith Thomas. Here’s his biography from Vive Nano’s Management Team web page,

Keith Thomas is a proven entrepreneur and was most recently CEO of Vector Innovations, which was backed by a number of well regarded venture firms and successfully exited. He has led a number of large-scale projects, restructuring companies in 3 countries at New York-based Tandon Capital, managing strategy and operations projects at Booz Allen & Hamilton and completing corporate finance transactions at Citibank in the US and Europe. He is a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and holds an M.B.A. from Columbia University, an M.A. in Economics and a B.A.Sc. in Engineering from the University of Toronto.