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Agricultural Research Transforms Feedstock to Pharmaceuticals

Cutting-edge Alberta agricultural research is moving from the lab to the marketplace by transforming feedstock into innovative new substances that can be used to make consumer products such as pharmaceuticals and foods.

Photo of MP Blaine Calkins announcing federal funding towards strengthening Alberta’s agricultural sector through the development of new technologies and products.

MP Blaine Calkins announces federal funding towards strengthening Alberta’s agricultural sector through the development of new technologies and products.

But first, the road to the marketplace runs through Lacombe, Alberta, where last spring WD teamed up with the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF) to establish a manufacturing facility to test and commercialize the new crop-based products.

"This initiative will create additional demand for barley and other crops while providing new market and contract growing opportunities for western Canadian farmers," said Doug Walkey, Executive Director, ACIDF. "The pilot plant is another step leading towards realizing the potential for both branch plants of international companies and the development of new manufacturing companies here on the Prairies."

Alan Hall, Manager of New Initiatives for ACIDF, said the pilot project, which is expected to be operational in the summer of 2013, already has 32 companies from North America, Europe and Asia under contract and another 500 have expressed interest.

The new Lacombe plant will use feedstock, primarily barley proteins, as natural polymers – think plastic – in commercial products, instead of synthetic polymers. This research is being done by the University of Alberta’s Dr. Lingyun Chen, who in 2007 created a scientific program to determine if the different ingredients found in barley – such as lipids, carbohydrates, protein and cellulose – could have a use other than feeding livestock.

When she found that the barley proteins and cellulose could be used as a natural alternative to synthetic polymers in consumer products, the next step was to begin large-scale testing in order to prove its commercial value to industry. That’s when WD stepped in to provide ACIDF with the funding to buy and install the equipment needed to make the new Lacombe manufacturing facility a reality.

And already, the plant is showing signs of success.

"The level of interest that has already been generated within the private sector is an indication of the tremendous potential for this initiative to attract investment," said Minister Yelich. "This will lead to increased opportunities for manufacturing in our agricultural sector."

Red River College Home to New Food Testing Centre

Photo of Minister Yelich and Red River College executives with students of the College’s Culinary and Hospitality Program at Paterson GlobalFoods Institute in Winnipeg.

Minister Yelich and Red River College executives with students of the College’s Culinary and Hospitality Program at Paterson GlobalFoods Institute.

Manitoba’s Red River College is poised to become one of Canada’s top culinary and food-testing centres thanks to an investment by WD in its new Paterson GlobalFoods Institute.

The funding enabled the college to purchase specialized food science equipment for its Paterson Institute, scheduled to open January 2013 in the historic Union Bank Tower in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.

"Our Government’s top priority is creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity," said Minister Yelich. "This investment will help ensure the right conditions to develop, test, and commercialize products to bring to market in the food industry."

Ray Hoemsen, Director of Applied Research and Commercialization at Red River College, said the new equipment’s advanced technological capabilities are helping establish the college as one of Canada’s leading culinary and food-testing institutes.

"We now have one of the best-equipped facilities in terms of food preparation and advanced technology, particularly in the key areas of testing, tasting, preparation and storage for commercial use," said Mr. Hoemsen.

Equipped with this new technology, the College’s students and faculty will work directly with local industry to develop and test new food products and processes, ensuring healthier and tastier foods for Canadians.

By working in partnership with private industry, the College is translating its knowledge and technology into new commercial food products for large markets and creating new jobs.

As a result, Red River College is helping create new business opportunities by boosting the competitiveness of Manitoba’s food and beverage processing industry – an industry that represents close to one quarter of the province’s manufacturing output, and $4 billion annually in shipments.

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Stronger Plastics are Manufacturing Success

Photo of Minister Yelich announcing a WD investment in SAIT Polytechnic to establish a SAIT-AIM Centre for Innovation

Minister Yelich announces a WD investment to SAIT Polytechnic to establish a SAIT-AIM Centre for Innovation.

The sky’s the limit for Alberta’s already dynamic entrepreneurs and plastics manufacturing businesses.

The latest leap involves the collaboration between the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT Polytechnic) and Alberta-based Alta Injection Molding (AIM) to establish and equip a Centre for Innovation. The new Enerplus Centre for Innovation, which was made possible by a WD investment in February 2012, supports companies working to create new products that use composite materials, generally known as reinforced plastics.

"For manufacturing businesses in Alberta, this translates into exciting new possibilities to develop applications for markets which range from transportation and construction to aerospace and defence," said Minister Yelich. "Businesses in those sectors are increasingly using composite materials because they represent a durable, lower cost alternative to use in their manufacturing processes."

Broadly speaking, composite materials can be used to produce a large variety of high-quality products ranging from sporting goods and automobile parts to corrosion resistant pipes and commercial aircraft components.

Gerry Darichuk, President of AIM, said Enerplus, which opened in the fall, will help grow Alberta’s plastics manufacturing industry.

Enerplus will not only help to increase the number of new products using composite materials that are commercialized and manufactured in Alberta, but will also create opportunities to train students preparing for careers in the composites industry.

"This investment allows us to optimize resources and give SAIT students, faculty and clients access to facilities that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to extend to them," said Dr. Alex Zahavich, SAIT’s Director of Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS). "This significant public partnership also gives AIM and its industry partners access to SAIT for future workforce development and will help retain intellectual capital."