Lab Canada

Cellulose nanocrystal researchers win Synergy award

Montreal, QC – Dr. Derek Gray, holder of the NSERC/FPInnovations Industrial Research Chair at McGill University, has been presented with the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Synergy Award for Innovation. Dr. Gray shared the award with Jean Bouchard of FPInnovations, Ron Crotogino of ArboraNano and Richard Berry of CelluForce.

The award celebrates the partnership between McGill University, FPInnovations and ArboraNano and CelluForce, while honoring Dr. Gray’s ground-breaking research. This research led to the development of the initial extraction method and the discovery of the unique optical properties of cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), thereby positioning Canada as a world leader in the manufacture of cellulose nanomaterials and nanocellulose enhanced products.

“Dr. Gray’s team, in collaboration with researchers from FPInnovations, and experts from ArboraNano and Celluforce, have placed Canada at the forefront of cellulose nanocrystal technology,” said Pierre Lapointe, CEO of FPInnovations.

Following a long history of collaboration between FPInnovations and McGill University, Dr. Gray assumed the Research Chair in 2005 after having been an FPInnovations employee with a cross-appointment as a research associate in the McGill University Chemistry Department where, in the 1970s, he began his inquiries into the properties of cellulose nanocrystals. Fascinating as those early explorations were, the commercial potential and industrial application of this remarkable natural nanomaterial were not readily apparent. In the past decade, however, the close collaboration between Dr. Gray, McGill University and FPInnovations laid the groundwork for the 2005 realization that industrial production of CNC was at hand.

The combination of scientific and technical advances at McGill University and FPInnovations led to business relationships as well. Combining federal and provincial resources as well as those of the private sector, FPInnovations was directly involved in the creation of two important partners: ArboraNano, a business-led Network of Centres of Excellence specializing in CNC and CelluForce, a joint venture between FPInnovations and Domtar.

ArboraNano was created specifically to explore CNC applications. It is led by Dr. Ron Crotogino and Dr. Nicole Poirier. The range of potential uses is vast, from oil drilling mud, foam for transportation, coatings and paint, food wrap, drug delivery systems, membranes and films, aerospace composites, etc.

CelluForce, is a 50/50 joint venture between FPInnovations and Domtar. It is led by Jean Moreau, president and CEO. Dr. Richard Berry, a colleague of Dr. Gray and former FPInnovations employee, is VP and Chief Technology Officer. CelluForce focuses on the production, marketing and commercialization of CNC via its demonstration plant in Windsor, QC.