There is no question that the environment is in crisis. Parts of the world are experiencing extreme weather that is costing people their homes, their livelihoods and even their lives. More companies than ever — like the four featured here — are making it their mission to contribute to environmental protection, conservation and sustainability.
Cyclic Materials’ CEO Ahmad Ghahreman wants to do something big when it comes to recycling. In August, the Kingston, Ont.-based company — Ghahreman’s cleantech startup that focuses on the recycling of rare-earth magnets from end-of-life products — finished its proof-of-concept bench-scale test work and delivered its first samples of recycled rare-earth oxides to service providers. “Today’s shipment of sample product is an important step in the creation of a sustainable supply of these critical metals,” Ghahreman said in a recent press release. “It demonstrates the high-quality product we produce and will allow us to build the downstream supply chain necessary to create rare-earth magnets with 100-percent-recycled material.”
Trained in hydrometallurgy, Ghahreman had extensive experience working with mining companies. He also co-invented a technology around copper sulfides. While he was a technical advisor to lithium-ion battery recycling company Li-Cycle, Ghahreman realized how valuable magnets are, especially when it comes to the efficiency of motors. “Magnets are all around us and they use the most critical rare-earth materials that are key when it comes to technologies such as electric vehicles and wind turbines. Plus, the majority are from China, so there’s a risk when it comes to the North American supply chain,” he says. “I started looking into the business idea of how to recycle these magnets and make these rare-earth metals more available to North America. Not only would it help the environment, but it would mean we wouldn’t have to rely
on countries on the other side of the world. Plus, we would be creating jobs and enabling new technologies by providing a supply of critical metals in our region in a sustainable way. It checked all the boxes.”
Ghahreman says while most metals are produced with about 40 percent recycled material, less than one percent of rare-earth metals are recycled from end-of-life products such as traction motors, hard drives, electric seats in cars, wind turbines and MRI machines. These rare-earth materials end up in landfills, and that’s a shame, says Ghahreman. “Ingredients like cobalt and nickel can be used in many other places. We could be saving so much instead of sending it all to landfills. What’s happening to those critical metals is unfortunate and we’re here to change that.”
The team at Cyclic Materials, which was recently accepted into the GreenCentre Canada Advance-ON program (funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario), are looking forward to raising its Series A in the next six months. Ghahreman says he’ll then be looking to hire up to 30 people. “We will bring jobs and
new innovations to the province,” he says proudly.
Purafy aims to work with partners worldwide to apply
cutting-edge materials and innovations in nanotechnology
to manufacture and distribute robust and effective
water-filtration systems for commercial and residential use.”
Launched in January 2022 in Kingston, Ont., Purafy aims to work with partners worldwide to “apply cutting-edge materials and innovations in nanotechnology to manufacture and distribute robust and effective water-filtration systems for commercial and residential use.” The team was inspired to use graphene-based materials manufactured by its parent company Grafoid Inc., and it is now the first company to use certified graphene-based materials for drinking water applications. The science isn’t super easy to grasp but, in layman’s terms and put simply, Purafy is using polymers and graphene (a form of carbon derived from graphite) to enhance filtration of polluted water. Its products include the Portage, which contains filters that can treat up to 300 litres per hour of contaminated water to turn it into drinkable water. This device is highly beneficial when it comes to remote communities across the country that have been on boil-water advisories for years — decades for some. It’s lifechanging.
Runte and his colleagues are now focused on strengthening and formalizing commercial partnerships that have allowed the company to ramp up activities and achieve commercial goals. “Our partnership with De.mem in the Australia and Singapore regions is very exciting and will allow our product offerings to reach beyond our own backyard in North America,” he says. What’s more, the company is focused on a research project with Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College — they are testing the greywater recycling systems installed at Kate’s Rest Foundation in Prince Edward County. “Its initial data on the water treatment quality and performance consistency will help us present the system to key stakeholders in a way that really raises the bar on what is possible to achieve for in-home water conservation through recycling greywater safety.”
Sebastian Alamillo-Falkenberg knows what it’s like to be a founder. He started his career by founding a cleantech startup out of the University of Waterloo. Alamillo exited in 2020 and decided it was worth trying to make a difference in the cleantech start-up world. “There are extreme ups and downs that come from starting a business. These extremes were only deepened because I was developing a cleantech company in a SaaS- and software-oriented ecosystem,” he says. “I didn’t have the scale-up facilities, the industry-specific expertise nor the access to investors who understood the unique challenges of science-based start-ups. So, I wanted to make it easier for those who came after me.”
Following his exit, he wanted to bridge the gap between university research and commercialization for deep-tech companies. In Canada, the current ecosystem is well-positioned to support early-stage development because of a 20-year history of investing in strong university-driven innovation. But often, before they can bring economic value back to Canadians, companies leave in search of the talent, infrastructure and capital required to mature. Alamillo says that’s part of the impetus for this venture as the founding executive director of Reaction Hub (RXN HUB).
The chemtech commercialization hub will redefine clean technology development by providing new technical infrastructure and connecting start-ups to the critical resources required for their post-MVP growth. “Unlike a traditional incubator or accelerator, the commercialization hub has two functions: It acts as a centralized ecosystem with the wraparound services I wish I had; and it provides bespoke services for multinationals to integrate sustainable technologies using open innovation and corporate venturing strategies. By connecting the two worlds, we create a fully supported pathway to commercialization,” he says. “We’re really engaging the local Kingston ecosystem of 200+ full-time chemical process experts and our global network of venture-building partners to enable a facilitated scale-up environment.” With access to this unique environment, the hope is that founders will be able to build better technology and better businesses to help lead the world into a sustainable future backed by industry leaders.
The facility will launch in fall 2023. Alamillo is currently formalizing partnerships with firms including the Kingston Process Metallurgy Inc., GreenCentre Canada, Dupont, Climate Ventures, Foresight Canada, Fractal and many others. This past August, the city of Kingston committed $3 million to support the launch of RXN HUB. With Kingston’s commitment, as well as dollars earmarked from other partners, the RXN HUB will open a 21,000-square-foot space that will give founders piloting and coworking spaces, a wet lab, an analytics lab and a machine shop. “As a founder, I’m excited that the RXN HUB will be expanding the technical services and capabilities needed to do this in Canada. I could have really used a hub like this when I was starting my first business,” he says. “I’m also excited to lead with empathy. The ecosystem I ‘grew up’ in often felt cold, lonely and hard — that’s the opposite of what I want to create. The entire management team is made up of founders like our founding director of commercialization, Morgan Lehtinen; we’re founders leading founders. This will be a game-changer for technology development in Canada.”
“I didn’t have the scale-up facilities, the industry-specific expertise nor the access to investors who understood the unique challenges of science-based startups. So, I wanted to make it easier for those who came after me.”
Making a mark when it comes to innovating environmentally friendly processes in Kingston, Ont., is Jeosal Materials Research Corporation. Osayuki Osazuwa is the company’s CEO and says Jeosal is a company that works to develop efficient, eco-friendly solutions for materials we use every day. Specifically, the company has been making huge advances in the recycling of fibre-reinforced plastics and was even recognized in 2019 by the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge for its research surrounding fibreglass recycling. “We are developing real-world recycling solutions for the tens of thousands of watercraft that end up in Canadian landfills and waterways each year,” says Jeosal’s website. “Fibreglass hulls are hard to recycle and there hasn’t been an economically sufficient way to recycle them until now,” says Osazuwa. Jeosal’s team came up with ways to recycle the raw materials and use them in electronics, automotive parts and sporting goods.
Osazuwa, who did his Ph.D. at Queen’s, says the company formed when he and his fellow researchers were on the hunt for new technologies to reduce reliance on rare metals typically used for electrical conductivity. They ended up making significant discoveries in polymers and composites and how they can be used to replace traditional materials. After finding success in polymer research, Osazuwa and his cofounder diversified their focus and started looking at fibre-reinforced plastic recycling. He says the government estimates that more than 43,000 fibreglass vessels reach the end-of-life stage each year, and most wind up in landfills and waterways. “We want to find affordable ways to recycle glass fibre reinforced plastics (GFRP) and keep them out of landfills. This is a big problem in Canada, and we are finding ways to deal with GFRP panels, for example, from end-of-life marine vessels,” he says.
So far, Jeosal has seen incredible results from processing materials such as wind turbine blade parts, carbon fibre reinforced plastic panels from cars and panels from boats. The team has even been lauded by both the provincial and federal governments for their work to date. Jeosal’s innovative research and its development of environmentally and economically responsible ways to recycle fibre-reinforced plastic waste is working wonders for not only our province, but our country.