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Category 1: Small and Medium-Sized Companies

Brahim Benmokrane
Université de Sherbrooke and Pultrall Inc.

The normal life span of vital Canadian infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels and parking garages could soon exceed 100 years, thanks to materials and technologies developed through a two-decade research partnership between the Université de Sherbrooke and Pultrall Inc.

Led by civil engineer Brahim Benmokrane, the research has developed ways to use fiberglass and carbon-fibre composites to reinforce concrete rather than the traditional steel. The refinement and commercialization of the new materials have earned the partners a 2010 NSERC Synergy Award for Innovation.

Particularly in places exposed to road salt, corrosion of the steel reinforcing bars is the leading reason for structures to start crumbling after only about 30 years. In contrast, composite materials are virtually immune to salt and other chemicals. They also have twice the tensile strength, weigh one-quarter as much and do not conduct electricity.

In addition to tripling the life span of countless concrete structures, the new technology will improve safety and drastically reduce maintenance costs. There are currently an estimated $74 billion in repairs needed to existing Canadian bridges and other concrete structures.

The composite reinforcing bar, marketed under the name V-ROD, has become Pultrall’s flagship product following its world premiere in 2001 to reinforce a bridge built in Wotton, Quebec. It has since been used in hundreds of projects around the world and helped Pultrall grow to a staff of 75 and annual sales of more than $10 million.

The role played by Dr. Benmokrane, a world-renowned expert in using fibre-reinforced polymer composites to reinforce concrete, included developing the right combination of fibres and resins, and optimizing the performance of the product using new manufacturing processes. He also contributed to the testing and validation that were crucial to showing regulators and the construction industry that the new material is safe and reliable.

The wider impact of his work includes results being incorporated into numerous standards and guidelines. Dr. Benmokrane’s ongoing research into materials and technologies has the potential to continue revolutionizing the construction industry and can also be applied to other civil engineering purposes.

Category 2: Large Companies

Ahmet T. Alpas
University of Windsor and General Motors of Canada Limited

In the pursuit of designing lighter automobiles, researchers are testing new alloys to find alternatives to traditional materials. Dr. Ahmet Alpas is a professor with the Department of Mechanical, Automotive and Materials Engineering at the University of Windsor who has been working in partnership with General Motors (GM) of Canada Limited to produce lightweight metal components for energy-efficient vehicles. An NSERC/General Motors of Canada Industrial Research Chair in Tribology of Lightweight Materials since 2002, Alpas and his team have made significant contributions to the advancement of lightweight materials that will benefit the automotive industry and many other Canadian sectors.

A significant outcome of the research partnership is the development of the new generation of linerless, aluminum-silicon alloy internal combustion engine. This light alloy engine provides exceptional efficiency and durability, and improved fuel economy with lower environmental impact. Alpas and his team have also conducted fundamental research in light metal friction, wear and adhesion mechanisms at the microstructural level. Through their research, they were able to create new models that better predict the micromechanical response of aluminum-silicon alloys and achieve improved sliding wear performance. The team also developed new methods to evaluate a wide range of tool/piston ring coatings and showed that diamond-like coatings essentially eliminate the adhesive transfer of aluminum. The results of these investigations have provided engineers with important insights into the durability of future components for lightweight engines and also provided direction for the selection of tool coatings in light metal cutting processes.

The team’s research into friction also led to improvements in GM of Canada’s manufacturing processes. They showed that it is feasible to use only a few millilitres of metal cutting fluid, thereby vastly reducing the gallons of coolant used in traditional flooded machining and resulting in longer cutting and forming tool life. The researchers were able to devise a simple and cost-effective technology that has allowed for environmentally sustainable machining of powertrain components and other aluminum and magnesium castings.

The fundamental research done by Alpas’ team and GM of Canada has been widely published. It laid the foundations for future advances in lightweight materials that can be tailored for specific applications in a wide range of industry sectors, including tool and die, aerospace, mining and electronics.

Category 3: Two or More Companies

Donald S. Mavinic
The University of British Columbia

As a component of DNA and a key ingredient of fertilizer, phosphorus is essential for all living things. It cannot be extracted, manufactured or substituted for, making the world’s resources finite. Morocco and China have the only major rock phosphate reserves and, globally, “peak phosphorus” is expected to occur around 2035.

To counter this limited supply of phosphor, Dr. Mavinic and his co-researchers at The University of British Columbia’s Department of Civil Engineering have developed technology that recovers 85 percent of phosphates from wastewater streams and converts it into an innovative new fertilizer. The technology was licensed to Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies Inc., in 2005, and developed from a pilot project to a full-scale system. With input from partners Stantec Consulting Ltd., Metro Vancouver, EPCOR Water Services Inc., and Clean Water Services Ltd., the first PEARL reactor began operating at Edmonton’s Gold Bar Wastewater treatment plant in May 2007.

The PEARL reactor reduces operating costs for wastewater treatment plants and provides significant benefits to the environment. In sewage treatment plants, phosphorus is a multi-million dollar headache. It forms a crystalline compound called struvite that builds up on the inner walls of sewage plant pipes, thus requiring expensive maintenance. The PEARL reactor collects this phosphorus and it is then packaged by Ostara and sold as the fertilizer, Crystal Green. It is designed for commercial users that require the slow-release of nutrients, such as nurseries, turf operations and golf courses. Through fertilizer sales, the nutrient recovery system will pay for itself in five to seven years.

Ostara have extractors in Portland, Oregon, and Suffolk, Virginia, with work underway to have reactors operating in China in the near future. Meanwhile, the City of Edmonton is currently building a facility to house four more reactors that will treat all of its wastewater and, by 2012, it will be the first city to fully adopt the recovery technology.

Leo Derikx Award

McGill Metals Processing Centre (MMPC)
Dr. Roderick Guthrie, Director, and Dr. Mihaiela Isac, Research Manager

Formed in 1990, the McGill Metals Processing Centre (MMPC) is a vibrant Canadian Research Centre created for research studies into the processing and production of advanced metallurgical materials. Led by Dr. Roderick Guthrie, Director, and Dr. Mihaiela Isac, Research Manager, the centre conducts a research program that is focused on the development and quantitative description of specific liquid and solid metal processing operations. Academic members pursue innovative, high-level, fundamental and applied research programs, make seminal contributions to the archival literature and produce exceptionally well-trained students. The centre provides its researchers with first-class facilities and state-of-the-art equipment, so as to allow them to compete at the highest international levels.

In keeping with its mandate for generic-type research in metals processing, and to provide a program of current interest and concern to industrial partners, the centre hosts Annual Review of Progress Meetings. There, academic members, prominent guest speakers and industrial partners from around the world make presentations on the latest developments and trends in process metallurgy. Graduate students are directly involved, making presentations, displaying technical posters and providing laboratory demonstrations to International Advisory Board Members and guests.

Presently, some 20 major international companies in the ferrous and light metals industries are corporate partners. As such, the MMPC has become a true International Centre for Process Metallurgy. Among its supporting member companies, special thanks go to Hatch, Novelis, Heraeus Electro-Nite, Sumitomo Metals Industries, and Rio Tinto, together with its subsidiaries QIT-Fer et Titane, and Alcan; all collaborators in the centre’s generic research activities described for this award.