Federal government spends $2M on clean tech research in Cape Breton

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The federal government is putting $2 million into commercializing green technology research in Cape Breton.

The Verschuren Centre at Cape Breton University is getting a $1 million grant for large-scale equipment and two startup companies are getting loans of $500,000 each to make a biodegradable fertilizer coating and a soap-like product with a variety of uses.

The funding will help “catapult” the work of researchers out of the laboratory and into the business world, said Gudie Hutchings, Canada’s Rural Economic Development Minister and the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

“The two proponents are just exciting young entrepreneurs that have chosen to come here, work with the Verschuren Centre and now have their wings to fly and will be doing incredible work,” she said Tuesday in Sydney.

The Verschuren Centre will use the money to buy a stainless steel chemical reactor vessel that will help new companies achieve commercial-scale production, said the centre’s CEO Beth Mason.

Money to spark new business

“Typically, clients come and they produce product at 250 [millilitres], which is a flask,” she said.

“We scale them up to 100 litres, which is a small vessel, maybe five feet tall, then 1,000 [litres], which is about 15 to 20 feet tall.

“This investment gives us 10,000-litre and 15,000-litre capacity, so you can imagine the magnitude of that size. That’s 36 feet tall.”

Mason said there is only one other chemical reactor with that capacity available to small companies in Canada, so the federal money will help spark new businesses in the Atlantic region.

Cotex Technologies, an Indian company that is opening a new production facility in North Sydney, is getting ready to start field trials of a plant-based coating material that allows fertilizer to be slowly released into soil over time.

The company says that helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and eliminates leftover microplastics.

“One of the big decisions to come to Nova Scotia was that the Verschuren Centre is an amazing place to start up,” said Krilen Ramanaidu, the Cotex’s chief products officer.

He said the centre’s support network “allows companies …. to test drive their novel products with speed so we can get to market faster.

‘State-of-the-art facility’

Quebec-based Dispersa is an early-stage company that is turning food waste into a biosurfactant, a soap-like product that has multiple uses.

CEO Nivatha Balendra said conventional surfactants are made from palm oil or petroleum and her company will not only move away from those resources, but make new material from existing waste.

She said Dispersa has 12 employees and hopes to have a product ready for sale by the end of next year. It will be made in what she called the state-of-the-art facility in Cape Breton.

“Having the right resources to scale rapidly and efficiently can completely change the course of a startup,” Balendra said.

In 2022, the government of Nova Scotia announced $2.5-million in funding for an expansion of the Verschuren Centre. The ACOA added another $2 million in funding at that time from the Canada Coal Transition Initiative Infrastructure Fund.

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