Technology developed in Chemistry holds great potential for pharmaceutical and plastics industries
Technology developed in the Department of Chemistry has been in-licenced by GreenCentre Canada (GCC).
Funded by the federal government and the Government of Ontario, GCC is a liaison between university researchers who are working on developing new sustainable processes in chemistry, engineering and applied science, and industrial partners who are interested in lowering their ‘green’ bottom-line using these new technologies. GCC formally secures commercialization rights and their experts work with researchers to test their products and prepare them for the marketplace.
GCC believes catalyst technology created by Dr. Chris Kozak and his group is capable of ‘producing fine chemical compounds and well-defined polymers based on iron, a relatively benign and common metal.’ Unlike other catalysts, which are usually based on toxic or heavy metals, these unique catalysts have the potential to enhance the sustainability of high value pharmaceutical and fine chemical compounds, as well as for novel polymeric materials.
“I was working with iron catalysts as a non-toxic, inexpensive replacement metal for palladium which is more expensive and considerably more toxic, especially when you are trying to make pharmaceuticals,” he said. “Pharmaceutical companies end up spending a lot of money removing trace amounts of palladium from their product when they use it as a catalyst, whereas with iron, the tolerance for iron impurities is much higher.”
Dr. Kozak also teamed up with colleagues formerly of the University of Prince Edward Island who heard about his compounds and were interested in using them for a cleaner, more efficient synthesis of polymer plastics.
“I met up with Mike Shaver, a former lab-mate of mine from graduate school, at a conference. He thought my compounds were interesting and asked if I had done any polymerization work with them and we hadn’t. I ended up cleaning out the glove box and giving him every compound we had synthesized for testing.”
After reviewing all the compounds, Dr. Kozak’s colleague had found some iron catalysts he thought were the best for controlled radical polymerization he had ever seen.
“Iron is more of a mediator, it controls the amount of radicals that are formed so it slows down the rate of the reaction and generates a polymer of a particular size and molecular weight. So if you are trying to make an expanded foam or perhaps a plastic that is more rigid, you want to be in control of the reaction.”
He says using iron catalysts instead of copper also helps the plastic-making process become more environmentally friendly.
“The polystyrene you get out of using copper as a catalyst has a light blue or green tinge to it and you have to bleach the plastic before you can make things with it. Iron catalysts create a polymer that is completely colourless. So you don’t have to use harsh bleaches.”
Dr. Kozak says after hearing about the compounds, GCC got in touch and wanted to protect them through the patent process. There is now a tri-lateral agreement between Memorial, UPEI and GCC.
“Now that they’re protected, GCC is doing all the due diligence of scale up and reproducibility. They've been making the catalysts in their lab trying to prove they can do what we think they can do, but also to expand the horizon and do some large scale instrumentation work with them. They will then take all this data back to industry and try to find a potential partner to commercialize it with.”