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#TrentUResearch: Finding the Chemistry Between Carbon-Rich Waste and Environmental Restoration

July 15, 2019

Trent’s Dr. Andrew Vreugdenhil leads research transforming carbon waste into contaminant cleanser

Dignitaries and VIP's pose for a group photo a the Carbonix funding announcement.
Trent University hosts representatives from public and private sector for the announcement of $3.1 million for Carbonix from Natural Resource Canada’s Clean Growth Program. From left to right: Professor Andrew Vreugdenhil, Trent Chair of Chemistry, Research Principal Investigator for Carbonix projects, Darren Harper, Executive Vice President and Chief Engagement Officer, Carbonix, Paul Pede, President, Chief Executive Officer, Carbonix, Honorable Maryam Monsef '93, Minister of International Development and Minister for Women, and Gender Equality, Emily Whetung-MacInnes '03, Curve Lake First Nation Chief, Gary Bunio, GM, Strategic Technology Regional Development, Suncor, Marvin Pelletier, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Carbonix, John Knight, Manager, Corporate Research Partnerships.

It’s messy work, but it’s worth doing; Trent University is leading research developing clean technology from carbon-rich waste materials. Dr. Andrew Vreugdenhil, head of Trent’s Inorganic Materials Research Laboratory (IMRL), is at the centre of the innovative chemistry advancing methods of transforming various types of carbon waste to produce activated carbon, a highly-absorbent black powder.

For the past eight years, the IMRL has performed research and development on behalf of Carbonix, a company working to scale the process of ‘activating’ carbon for industrial applications.

“Activated carbon is used in many consumer products such as water filters, air circulation systems and even car deodorizers,” says Professor Vreugdenhil. “Our goal was to develop a process in which we could design and tailor activated carbon products for particular environmental applications.”

Prof. Vreugdenhil’s team has investigated different carbon waste products, from softwood lumber to petroleum coke, and optimized the process to develop an affordable and effective technology that turns waste into an environmentally friendly material that can help clean air, water and land.

This achievement earned Carbonix a $3.2 million federal grant from Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Growth Program to continue development and innovation around the clean carbon solution. Prof. Vreugdenhil and the IMRL will receive between $500,000 and $1 million from Carbonix over the next several years to support further development of this carbon technology.

The black powder is a very porous material, and this porous property is the ‘activated’ component. The target molecules interact with the surface of the activated carbon, and the pores offer a high-surface area meaning lots of space for molecules to interact, stick to the surface and thus clean the air, water or soil it is in contact with.

“The vision of Carbonix and the expertise and infrastructure here at Trent’s IMRL have generated a process which turns a waste problem into an environmental solution,” says Prof. Vreugdenhil.

Other key features of the process include its relatively short production time--the whole process takes about 3 hours from start to finish--and someone can be trained to do the process in about a day.

“We look forward to collaborating on the growth and development of these technologies,” says Prof. Vreugdenhil. “The results show what is possible in addressing environmental challenges and creating opportunities here in Canada when you combine the expertise of industrial, academic and government partners.”

Learn more about Trent’s Inorganic Materials Research Laboratory