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A one-stop shop for Canadian green chemistry discoveries

GreenCentre Canada – GCC

 This story is taken from the NCE anniversary report "Building on 25 Years of R&D Excellence."

University labs can only produce milligrams of a new green chemical. GreenCentre Canada has the skill and facilities needed to manufacture multi-kilogram batches suitable for industrial testing.

The business challenge

Promising green chemistry technologies are being developed in university labs across Canada, but few make it to market. That’s because industry wants technologies that are proven to be scalable, optimized for specific applications, produced in kilogram-scale batches and largely de-risked. Academics rarely have the resources to take those steps.


The opportunities for Canada

Turning these green chemistry discoveries into competitive commercial products and processes will create environmental solutions that benefit Canadians and people around the world. It will put Canada on the vanguard of a sustainable green chemical and materials industry as manufacturers around the world race to find alternatives that use benign substances, reduce waste and energy consumption, and make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources.


What GreenCentre is doing right

This is the first facility of its kind in North America to offer a “one-stop shop” to Canada’s best chemistry and material science discoveries. Technologies sent to the centre are assessed for their commercial potential and their estimated environmental impact compared to current technologies. The most promising technologies are in-licensed, then developed, de-risked, and scaled up in GCC’s labs. The result: a strong business case that companies can take to their clients. Here’s how they’re doing it:

  • Good governance and management: GreenCentre’s board of directors is led by senior executives representing major players in the chemical supply chain (e.g. NOVA Chemicals Corp. and Bayer MaterialScience) as well as end-users (e.g. Ford Motor Company and Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies). GCC recruited industry members with strong global connections, and an understanding of the public sector environment, to ensure technology development aligns with market opportunities. The board was recently restructured to include more independent members from the venture capital and communications sectors.
  • Technical expertise: The centre’s staff includes highly experienced chemists, commercial experts and business professionals. It also has a commercial and production development team with deep technical expertise and a proven track record of commercializing new technologies in this sector.
  • Shared funding, shared risk, shared benefits: GreenCentre takes a sweat equity approach, exchanging its technical, management and legal services for a share of licensing revenues and equity in any new spin-off. This business model has helped bring early stage technologies to market while generating short-term revenue to ensure the centre’s sustainability. GCC returns 75% of profits to the institution/inventors. In exchange for their financial support and participation in governance, industry sponsors gain one-stop access to Canadian green chemistry discoveries.
  • Aligning research with industry needs: Industry partners review every project disclosure, provide development and marketing advice, and receive priority access to IP. GCC takes a 90-day licence option on new technologies to conduct a thorough assessment of market opportunities, technology maturity, IP position, competition, price and required next steps. Industry partners then provide feedback on the results.
  • Ongoing oversight: The centre has adopted a gold-standard industry process for product development (called “stage gate”) which ensures projects are strategically managed, remain focused on market objectives, and are regularly evaluated as they evolve.
  • Flexible intellectual property (IP) frameworks: Rather than negotiate IP agreements with individual universities – a major hurdle to industry-university collaborations – GCC offers one-stop access to green chemistry discoveries from across the country. Companies have the option of licensing technology or acquiring it outright. The centre also helps partners file and protect any new IP.

Show me the results

  • Two Canadian companies – Digital Specialty Chemicals and GreenCentre spin-off Precision Molecular Design – have licensed a technology from GCC that will help microelectronics companies meet the insatiable demand for smaller, cheaper and faster devices. Called Atomic Layer Deposition, the technology overcomes the problem of connecting ever smaller microchip circuit components with metal conductors.

    GreenCentre’s access to expertise in synthesis and manufacture of novel electronic chemicals is helping our company hit the market faster with new chemical precursors that our customers need to meet the semiconductor industry’s demands for faster and smaller microchips.

    – Bill Stibbs, VP, Marketing & Business Strategy, Digital Specialty Chemicals Limited, Toronto

  • GCC’s Technical Director Philip Jessop invented “switchable” solvents that facilitate the separation of oil from solids or water. GCC tested and scaled up the technology, and created a new spin-off (Switchable Solutions Inc.) to market it as an environmentally friendly process for bitumen recovery and industrial processing.
  • Funding from the Ontario government enabled GCC to launch a commercialization fund to support Ontario-based, chemistry-driven small-and medium-sized enterprises. That funding, combined with GCC’s commercialization services, convinced U.S.-based biofuel developer Altranex to relocate its R&D operations to Kingston, Ontario.