Two University of Waterloo engineering students are redesigning a more sustainable way to make bricks with the help of bacteria.
Adrian Simone (BASc in progress) and Rania Al-Sheikhly (BSc ’22, MBET in progress) founded Bio-Brick Labs, a biotech company focusing on the research, development and manufacturing of sustainable building materials. Using a naturally occurring microbial process, bricks are made without the need for cement or ovens, which cuts the carbon emissions in the process to zero.
“Current masonry manufacturing is inefficient, and the methods used release one kilogram of CO2 for every kilo of material produced,” Bio-Brick Labs CEO Simone said. Existing green alternatives have issues with installation and costs; Bio-Brick offers a competitively priced alternative with the exact same installation time and method as current masonry.
This technology breakthrough has garnered media headlines and significant national and international attention. In 2022, Bio-Brick was the national runner-up in the James Dyson Award, a prestigious international design competition. This year, Bio-Brick was the innovation winner at 2023 Canadian Construction Association annual conference.
“We saw that there was a real need for green materials in construction,” Simone said. “Landowners and clients have become the driving force for net-zero construction, and that demand will only continue to grow. After validating the problem and our solution, we saw that people are willing to try a new material. Being named the innovation award winner by the Canadian Construction Association gave us the extra validation we needed to keep moving forward.”
Simone wants their products to become the standard for what green supply should look like in the construction industry. Theirs is not only a net-zero alternative, but one that can be easily adopted into existing projects to help expand the use of more sustainable materials.
Canadian entrepreneur Iris Redinger (BAS ’21) has made headlines with her breakthrough technology that uses bacteria to produce sustainable colourants for textiles.
Redinger is the founder and CEO of Material Futures, a startup that’s developed a bioprocess to manufacture coloured pigments using cells instead of petroleum. The innovation has the potential to revolutionize the dyes and colourants industry by reducing the environmental impact of textile dyes. Currently, the textile industry is responsible for an estimated 20 per cent of global industrial water pollution.
Traditionally, colourants have been produced using chemical synthesis, which can be harmful to the environment and human health. But Redinger is using bacteria to produce colourants, which offers a more sustainable alternative to conventional methods.
“Our technology harnesses the power of nature to create vibrant, durable colours that are both beautiful and environmentally friendly,” Redinger said. “By using bacteria to produce colourants, we can reduce waste, energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with traditional dyeing processes.”
Redinger, who studied architecture at the University of Waterloo, was inspired by biomimicry and the natural world to create this technology. After a few years of research and development, she successfully demonstrated and scaled her novel process, achieving a working process at a commercial scale.
In December 2022, Material Futures was chosen to take part in a highly selective trade mission to Japan, where Redinger presented her innovation to leading Japanese organizations, Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado and Canadian delegates including the Canadian ambassador to Japan, Ian McKay. This spring, Material Futures was granted SDTC Seed Funding, a highly competitive program that supports Canadian entrepreneurs working toward environmental sustainability.
With Redinger and her team planning to boost their manufacturing capacity as they bring this innovation to market, the potential to reduce the environmental impact of textile dyeing is poised to make a significant impact in the fashion industry and beyond.
Nfinite Nanotechnology Inc. is a Waterloo-based company that makes smart nanocoatings for sustainable consumer-packaged goods. Eliminating plastic waste is the company’s mission, so it’s no coincidence that Nfinite was founded on Earth Day in 2021 by Chee Hau Teoh (MASc ’20), Jhi Yong Loke (MASc ’21) and Dr. Kevin Musselman, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering.
“300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced annually. This is a pressing global challenge, and 170 nations have pledged to significantly reduce plastic use by 2030,” said Chee Hau Teoh, CEO of Nfinite. “The government and consumer demand for innovation in this sector has spurred the company’s rapid international success and has led to some major partnerships with Amcor, PepsiCo and Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas).
“We are currently working with consumer-packaged goods companies and packaging converters such as PepsiCo, Amcor and others to enable the barrier function of sustainable packaging materials to extend the shelf life of products and reduce plastic waste.”
Nfinite’s spatial atomic layer deposition technology lays down one atomic layer at a time, producing nanocoatings that are uniform, pinhole-free and ultrathin. The process is applied at low temperatures in the open air without a vacuum chamber, making it possible to integrate into current manufacturing facilities.
Chee Hau Teoh envisions a future where all packaging in the world will be recyclable and compostable, and he hopes that Nfinite’s nanocoating technology will be the trusted solution for eco-conscious consumers. “Seeing our logo on food products on the shelf will mean that consumers can be confident the food is safe and the packaging is part of a circular economy.”
Recyclable Materials Marketing
Since launching in 1996, Recyclable Materials Marketing (ReMM Group) has diverted millions of tonnes of recyclable materials from landfills and disposal outlets. Atul Nanda (BES ’89) founded the company with a vision to offer a centralized recycling service that has since become a leader in the full-service recycled materials market.
To combat the environmental impact of consumer goods, governments around the world are adopting policies that make it the producer’s responsibility to ensure the proper disposal management of post-consumer products such as paint, batteries, electronics and more.
“Extended producer responsibility, or EPR, is changing the recycling landscape across North America, making brand owners responsible for managing their own packaging,” Nanda said. “ReMM Group is uniquely positioned to assist with commodities marketing and provide consulting services to brand owners as EPR expands across North America.”
On top of buying and selling recovered recyclable materials, ReMM Group sources recyclable raw material for paper mills and plastics recyclers. ReMM Group also provides consulting services to help companies pursue their sustainability goals, including Zero Waste Certification, packaging redesign, and waste and recycling cost-saving initiatives.
The combination of ReMM’s long-term material services and consulting work has helped the company establish strong relationships with suppliers and broaden sources for finding new sustainable solutions.
“My parents and the University of Waterloo provided the foundation to look at environmental problems from a multi-disciplinary approach and operate in an ethical manner. Our dedicated team continues to use these principles to seek creative solutions for our clients.”
This approach has helped ReMM Group reinvent itself every few years to remain successful over the past 27 years and to position the company for future growth.