Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
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Past Winner
2012 NSERC Synergy Awards for Innovation

Derek Gray

McGill University and FPinnovations, ArboraNano, and CelluForce Inc.

Category 3: Two or More Companies

Derek Gray
Derek Gray

We trust the wood beams holding up our homes to be strong. The source of that strength is cellulose fibres. The basic structural units of these fibres—the cellulose nanocrystals—can be chemically extracted from the fibres.

This natural, renewable, biodegradable, non-toxic nanomaterial has unique characteristics ranging from optical properties to reinforcement when added to other materials. Until recently, no one had produced more than a handful of the particles. Now, a university-private sector partnership has overcome the challenge—with a plant that is producing nanocrystalline cellulose by the ton. 

Derek Gray of McGill University, Jean Bouchard of FPInnovations; Ron Crotogino of ArboraNano and Richard Berry of CelluForce have received an NSERC Synergy Award for Innovation for their project Nanocrystalline Cellulose: from Laboratory Curiosity to Industrial Enterprise.

The pioneering work of Dr. Gray’s team at McGill developed the initial extraction recipe and discovered the unique optical properties. FPInnovations developed the technology to produce large quantities of nanocrystalline cellulose and built a portfolio of industrial applications.

ArboraNano is a Business-Led Network of Centres of Excellence that is carrying out 23 research projects on potential applications.

CelluForce (a joint-venture between Domtar and FPInnovations) is now operating a commercial demonstration plant in Windsor, Quebec, which opened in January 2012, creating 30 permanent jobs.

The speed at which this laboratory idea has moved to commercial industrial product—about seven years—has given Canada’s forestry industry a significant head start on other countries in this promising market. The development of industrial-scale production has sparked increased interest in nanocrystalline cellulose, with more sectors turning to the forest products industry as a source of environmentally friendly raw materials.