Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
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Past Winner
2017 NSERC Synergy Awards for Innovation

Synergy Award for Innovation

Synergy Award for Innovation

Category 4: Colleges

Collège Shawinigan and Centre national en électrochimie et technologies environnementales (CNETE)
InnuScience Canada

We’ve all got a shelf of miracle cleaning products we turn to for those tough messes like calcium stains or greasy stove tops. But what makes those miracle products so effective? And by using them to clean up a mess in our house, are we actually just polluting the environment somewhere else?

Biotechnology cleaning products use molecules produced by bacteria and microorganisms such as surfactants, which are the compounds that release surface tension between, say, grease and an oven hood, so the surface can be wiped clean. Surfactants are often created using synthetic chemistry or by extracting them from plant biomass, and while most of these surfactants are biodegradable, the processes used to produce them can involve dangerous reactions that are harmful to humans or the environment.

Louis Tessier, a professor at Collège Shawinigan, has collaborated with InnuScience Canada (ISC) to develop effective, environmentally-friendly cleaning products. ISC specializes in producing high-performance biotechnology cleaning products for use in homes and industries. In 2007, ISC committed to taking a more green approach to how its products were developed, and reached out to Tessier and his team to help them achieve their goal. After several trials in the lab, the partners were able to develop an ecological biosurfactant that could replace chemical versions ISC was using in some of its products. Tessier’s biosurfactant has several advantages over conventional surfactants: not only is it biodegradable, but it is also non-toxic, which means it can be safely used in household cleaning products. This biosurfactant is also more effective, requiring fewer quantities to be used in the final product. And, thanks to Tessier’s unique fermentation process used to produce the necessary microbes and bacteria, the entire procedure consumes less energy, and is far less toxic.

The collaboration’s success spurred more innovations, and within a few short years Tessier and ISC produced one more biosurfactant that has since been integrated into their products. Today, ISC produces its own greener, safer, cheaper and more effective biosurfactants at its facilities, rather than importing chemically-produced surfactants, giving the company a strong advantage over its competitors.

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