Trent launches biomaterials research program

Trent University at Peterborough, Ont. has launched a new lab and research program aimed at the use of plant oils to make new biomaterials.

The Trent Biomaterials Research Program is to be led by Trent alumnus Suresh Narine, recruited to Trent from the University of Alberta, where he built the Alberta Lipid Utilization Research Program, focused on the use of fats and oils to produce industrial materials, edible applications and cosmetic ingredients.

Narine is also well known in the industry for his work developing the technology to convert canola oil and other vegetable oils to biodegradable plastics.

According to a release Wednesday, $2.5 million has been raised to bring Narine and his team of researchers to Trent and to set up the new lab, which Narine said will be “the best-built lab in the world for lipid and biomaterials research.”

Backers include Ontario Soybean Growers (OSG), which contributed $500,000; Illinois-based Elevance Renewable Sciences, in for $1 million; an “anonymous philanthropist” who put up $500,000 to set up Trent’s Biomaterials Innovation Fund; the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster and the Community Adjustment Fund, with $500,000; and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, with equipment.

OSG general manager Dale Petrie said in a separate release that the pledged funding from the organization, soon to be merged into Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), was “a catalyst in bringing other funding partners on board.”

OSG’s “legacy commitment” to the Trent biomaterials program will be carried forward by GFO, the group noted.

“Value chain”

“The OSG board sees the potential for Dr. Narine’s oilseed utilization work to create new market opportunities for Ontario soybeans,” OSG chairman Leo Guilbeault said. “Our funding support ties back to Trent’s research having an Ontario value chain focus, developing products utilizing oils produced from IP specific trait soybeans.”

“Our research offers an alternative solution — to employ agriculture (fats and oils) to create renewable feed stocks that then can be converted using science to create materials more environmentally benign and more in sync with the natural carbon cycle to abate and combat climate change,” Narine said in Trent’s release.

Biomaterials, Trent said, represent a multidisciplinary approach to the development of “environmentally responsible” materials from agricultural feedstock, using synthetic organic chemistry; microbial and enzymatic modification; materials chemistry and physics; and polymers physics.

The resulting products include functional foods and food matrices, toxin-free polymers, waxes and greases, specialized lubricants, cosmetics, and fuels.

“The traditional thinking about product life cycle is being transformed by Dr. Narine’s pioneering biomaterials research,” Trent wrote in its release. “The ‘cradle to grave’ model will be replaced by ‘cradle to cradle’ zero waste models, with the innate capability of biomaterials products assuming a new functionality at end of life, even if it is as compost-enriching soil.”

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