Saint Mary’s Industry Liaison Office (ILO) is pleased to report that Dr. Robert Singer has been awarded the Early Stage Commercialization Fund (ESCF) for a second year running. This funding will aid his research in green chemistry.

The ESCF is an annual competition sponsored by Innovacorp and Nova Scotia Economic Development. The award supports the academic community in the pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities by providing funds for projects demonstrating readiness to advance a technology with a possibility of attracting industrial partners and/or investment. The $20,000 award will go toward hiring a Post Doctoral Fellow to further advance research specific to the new ionic liquid compound developed in 2005 by Dr. Singer and former Saint Mary’s Post Doctoral Fellow, Dr. Jitendra Harjani.

The novel property of this new ionic liquid compound is its ability to extract heavy metals from aqueous solutions. Although still considered early stage research, such ionic liquid compounds have significant potential for use in a variety of applications where traditional more volatile solvents are used. Ionic liquids as solvents offer great potential in reducing environmental impacts related to industry practices. The unique properties of ionic liquids include a general lack of flammability, lack of measurable vapour pressure, and ability to dissolve organic, organometallic and some inorganic compounds. With further development, ionic liquids could introduce significant improvements in managing industry waste streams.

The development of ‘designer’ ionic liquids are part of the emerging green chemistry field where the focus is on new technologies that promote efficiencies, performance and greening of industrial processes. Such technologies have global scientific and commercial appeal given that new stringent regulations as well as public opinion increasingly want business to be more environmentally responsible.

The new compounds are patent pending and with the assistance of the ILO, Drs. Singer and Harjani are currently seeking full patent protection for their discovery. The patent process can take up to four years to complete. In the interim, the ILO continues to contact private sector companies from around the world who are interested in learning more about the capabilities of this technology and its potential applications. Gina Funicelli, the university’s Industry Liaison Officer comments that “growing interest in Dr. Singer’s invention from private sector companies is a great example of how applied research at Saint Mary’s can be leveraged to further benefit our community and the economic development of the region.”

Under the guidance of Dr. Singer, the Post Doctoral Fellow will conduct laboratory trials to further optimize the ionic liquids, leading to improved levels of efficiency in the extraction of metals from waste solutions, as well as its recyclability – a key component to attracting industry partners.

Dr. Singer comments, “The ESCF funding will enable us to further develop our new ionic liquids and move toward commercializing our discovery. The success of this project along with other projects within the Department of Chemistry will aid in the development of a Centre for Green Chemistry here at Saint Mary’s. The ESCF award then will not only support this specific project, but in the broader sense will strengthen the credentials of the increasingly more important field of green chemistry here at the university. Together with other faculty members in the Department of Chemistry, this will establish a niche of expertise that will be rather unique in the Maritime provinces.”

The stakeholders, including the ESCF sponsors, the university, the ILO and the inventors share a common objective to seek commercial success for the new compound. The path to commercialization with require extensive ‘homework’ for both the scientists and the ILO to make this happen, notably, in advancing the science and continued efforts by the ILO in finalizing a collaboration partnership with a private sector company. A team approach, bolstered by the financial support of the ESCF, will push us toward our commercial success story in green chemistry here in Nova Scotia.

For more information, please contact:
Paul Fitzgerald
Public Affairs Officer
Saint Mary's University, Public Affairs 

Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 24, 2007