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May | mai 2012

Canadian Chemical News | L’Actualité chimique canadienne

Let the

Shine in

Cementing a Carbon­Cure Catalytic Conversion of Coke 

Chemical Institute of Canada

Table of Contents

May | mai Vol.64, No./No5





Concrete Cure for Carbon

CarbonCure Technologies ­permanently sequesters CO2 ­within its concrete­ moulds. By Tyler Hamilton



Let the Solar Shine In

Canadian researchers are on the cusp of solar energy advancements that could radically change how we utilize­ the sun’s power. By Tyler Irving


Surface Secrets

Quantiam Technologies­of Edmonton reveals­the nano-secret to catalytically cleaning petrochemical­furnaces. By Tyler Irving


From the Editor


 uest Column G By Jonathan W. Martin


 hemical News C By Tyler Irving


Society News


ChemFusion By Joe Schwarcz

May 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   3

ď‚š Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering

62nd Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference Incorporating the 3rd International Symposium on Gasification and its Applications

Call for


Opens: March 15, 2012 Closes: May 31, 2012 Vancouver, BC, Canada OCTOBER 14–17, 2012 Energy, Environment and Sustainability

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Executive Director

Roland Andersson, MCIC


Roberta Staley

Editor (on leave)

Jodi Di Menna

news editor

Tyler Irving, MCIC

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Society NEws

Bobbijo Sawchyn, MCIC Gale Thirlwall

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his month, the 95th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition is being held in Calgary, a metropolis of glass skyscrapers surrounded by a moat of suburbs, within sight of blue mountains, greens ­foothills, rivers and flat crop lands. The conference theme, Energizing Chemistry, couldn’t be more apt for a province that is also home to vast oil sands that are second only to Saudi Arabia in size of deposits.These vast reserves are fuelling ­advancements in pure and industrial chemistry as well as research into the ­environmental impact of extraction — all fodder for discussion at this Canadian Society for ­Chemistry-hosted gathering. The conference showcases a particularly rich vein of discovery and innovation from Canadian chemists and chemical engineers in a myriad of areas, from surface science to analytical, organic, inorganic and biological chemistry. Materials science is particularly interesting, presenting the latest in renewable and clean energy options, from fuel cells to solar fuels. ACCN complements these discussions in its cover story, “Let the Solar Shine In,” detailing advances in such solar technologies as dye-sensitized solar cells, organic photovoltaics and quantum dot solar cells. A breakthrough will change the way we think about solar power, giving hope that viable energy alternatives to fossil fuels lie in our near future. A remarkable Canadian innovation by Halifax’s CarbonCure Technologies is also featured in this issue. CarbonCure injects CO2 from a variety of sources into concrete moulds, thus sequestering this greenhouse gas. Exceptional innovation is also being shown by Edmonton’s Quantiam Technologies, whose founder, Steve Petrone, has found nanotechnology solutions — making catalytic coatings for furnace tubes — to big industrial problems. On a final note, this is my last issue as interim editor. Jodi Di Menna is back from maternity leave and poised to continue bringing you the latest news and features from the world of Canadian chemistry and chemical engineering. Thanks to everyone for their support during this past year. It’s been a trip!

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May 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   5

guest column

Can chemistry get the oil sands out of hot water?


ot water is still the key ingredient for extracting bitumen from the oil sands and there is no denying the social, political, or environmental ‘hot water’ issues that continue to boil over in northern Alberta. Think tailings ponds, contaminated rivers, dead ducks and potentially elevated rates of cancer in downstream communities. Much of the concern stems from the heavy reliance of the industry on water, or the impacts that the industry may be having on ambient water quality. Are chemists doing enough to alleviate these problems? Water issues heated up in early 2010 because of two studies by David Schindler at the University of Alberta. The studies showed elevated ­deposition of contaminants around oil sands development, a result that was in conflict with conclusions drawn by the industry-funded Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program. The controversy spurred Environment Canada to design an environment-monitoring plan for the region. Although the plan has yet to be fully implemented, it is encouraging to see such rapid transformation in response to environmental chemistry research. Chemistry and sound science can clearly make a difference. All this attention to chemicals escaping to the environment is important, but the elephant in the room demands attention too. Large tailings ponds already contain a billion cubic meters of acutely toxic water and inventories grow daily. This water is needed for the surface mining oil sands industry to operate — the water is continually recycled for the extraction process — but eventually this water must be returned to the natural environment.

How will this be done? The going strategy is not yet widely discussed, but tailings ponds will soon begin to disappear, only to be replaced by permanent end-pit lakes. In these structures it is hoped that natural processes will detoxify the water such that it may eventually be safely discharged. The first end-pit lake will be commissioned this year, yet a report by the Royal Society of Canada points to many unknowns and highlights that these lakes could still be toxic 50 years down the road. Surely there must be a better way and surely chemistry can help! Many chemists and chemical engineers already contribute to the science of water and oil sands, but primarily on the extraction and processing side. Research on non-aqueous bitumen extraction techniques, for example, may get the oil sands industry out of hot water. This is important work, but it won’t make current tailings ponds or future end-pit lakes disappear. We still have little understanding of what chemicals are present in tailings ponds, let alone authentic standards to quantify their concentrations or to study their toxicity and environmental behaviour. Much more analytical, organic and environmental chemistry research is needed before a solution can develop. Is there too little funding for such research? The oil sands industry is eager to participate in water reclamation studies and why wouldn’t Canadian funding agencies be keen to back research that may solve widely acknowledged problems? NSERC, for example, funds major research projects through its Strategic Project Grants in targeted areas, including Environmental Science and Energy. It is surprising, then, that none of the projects

By Jonathan W. Martin

awarded in 2012 had anything to do with oil sands. As a member of the internal review panel, I recall how the room went quiet when another panel member asked, “Where are all the oil sands applications?” There were none. Perhaps the problem is that ­chemists are not trained with the right mixture of knowledge to tackle multidisciplinary environmental issues? Philip Jessop’s guest column, “Are you Ready for a Green Wave?” in ACCN last February, points out that high school graduates are “charged up” to help the environment and would be well served by universities offering ­multidisciplinary chemistry training that includes toxicology. Such ­scientists are exactly what is needed, but Jessop argues that this sort of training is generally not occurring. This is at least part of the problem. The water issues posed by oil sands development are large and will require a multidisciplinary approach to be solved. Chemists have a huge role to play, but we need to work with ­biologists, toxicologists and ­engineers to demonstrate the real-world validity of any solution. In such a team ­environment, the added benefit is that students will effectively receive multidisciplinary training, even without a formalized program. Can chemistry get the oil sands out of hot water? I believe so, but not on its own and not in isolation. Jonathan W. Martin is an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology and an environmental analytical chemistry researcher, studying the effects of pollutants on humans, wildlife and natural systems.

May 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   7

Chemical News

By Tyler Irving Environment

New data shed light on bromine explosions


Chemical biology program gets an 'A' 8  L’Actualité chimique canadienne

Last month, the second cohort of Canada’s first undergraduate program in chemical biology ­received their degrees. First offered in 2008 by the Department of Chemistry and Chemical ­Biology at McMaster University, the program is now straining against its enrolment limit, a testament to its success and to growing interest in this emerging field. Unlike biochemistry, in which enzymes are often studied by turning off the genes that code for them, chemical biology focuses on using small molecules that interact with the enzymes. “It’s a ­‘perturb-and-observe’ approach, as opposed to a ‘wreck-and-check’ approach,” says assistant professor Nancy McKenzie, who was part of the team that developed the chemical biology program for students interested in applying chemical techniques to life science problems such as drug development. In addition to traditional instruction in physical, inorganic, analytical and organic chemistry, the team developed two new lab courses to teach techniques specific to chemical biology. These include characterizing protein-ligand interactions, synthesizing complex

Mai 2012

Feiyue Wang

At the University of Manitoba’s Sea-ice Environment Research Facility frost flowers can be created under controlled­ conditions. These structures, which grow on young sea ice in the Arctic­, can expose concentrated ocean brine to the ­atmosphere and may be implicated­in bromine explosions.

Frost flowers and bromine explosions sound almost extraterrestrial but they ­occur ­regularly in Canada’s Arctic. According to a recent study conducted as part of the ­2007–2009 International Polar Year, these phenomena may be linked to changes in sea ice formation and could increase in the future. Since the 1990s, researchers have noted that the return of the sun during the Arctic spring appears to trigger increases in atmospheric concentrations of bromine oxide (BrO). At the same time, concentrations of ground-level ozone (O3) and gaseous elemental mercury (GEM) decrease, often to near-zero values. It is hypothesized that these phenomena are related through a cascade of photo-catalyzed reactions, called a bromine explosion. Feiyue Wang is a professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manitoba and one of the authors of the study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Taking direct ground measurements from the Canadian research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, Wang’s group was able to show a strong correlation between rising levels of BrO and falling levels of O3 and GEM in real time. The study also used satellite data to examine the spatial distribution of increases in BrO. “It's mainly limited to the Beaufort Sea area, which suggests it is a ­tropospheric phenomenon, as opposed to a stratospheric one,” says Wang. One possible source of bromine could be newly forming sea ice. As sea water freezes, its natural salts, including bromides, get concentrated on the top and bottom of the ice sheet. At the same time, filamentous ice crystal structures called frost flowers form on top of the ice. Frost flowers can act like sponges, soaking up concentrated brine and exposing it to the atmosphere. However, it’s unclear how the anionic bromide in the salts becomes activated to form atomic bromine and BrO. To answer that question, Wang and his team designed the outdoor Sea-ice Environment Research Facility (SERF) at U of M to create frost flowers under controlled conditions. “Although it's only been operational for a couple of months, we’ve already got several nice frost flower events, including a really beautiful blossom that lasted about 30 hours,” Wang says. If it’s proven that frost flowers are the source of bromine, it could have major implications. Climate change is reducing the amount of multi-year sea ice, which could mean more newly forming first-year ice. This in turn could drive more bromine explosions, drawing mercury from the atmosphere into the surface environment. Mercury levels in Arctic marine mammals are already of concern, especially for those people who rely on these animals for food.

Chemical News Canada's top stories in the chemical sciences and engineering


Ozone corrals mad cow disease Prions - the misfolded proteins that cause mad cow disease are highly resistant to degradation, which is a major problem for animal processors. Canadian research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology has provided convincing evidence that ozone treatment could provide a solution. Prions cause disease by interacting with normally folded proteins and causing them to misfold. Because of their resistance to degradation, prions can be hazardous for years. Since 2003, Canadian food regulations have classified the brains and spinal cords of all processed cattle as specified risk materials due to the slight possibility that they could contain prions. This means that they must be incinerated or destroyed by hydrolysis with caustic agents like sodium hydroxide (NaOH) at great expense. Mohamed El-Din, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Alberta, is part of a team that has been researching how effectively ozone can destroy prions. The team exposed controlled amounts of prions to various doses of ozone-saturated solution at a variety of temperatures and pH levels. They then tested whether infectious prion proteins retained the ability to misfold normal proteins in vitro. “With 24 milligrams/litre of ozone at pH 4 and a temperature of 20 C, we can get four levels of inactivation, which is more than 99.99 per cent, in about five seconds,” says El-Din. El-Din cautions that in actual slaughterhouse effluent, other components in wastewater could interact with ozone and must be removed by pre-treatment. Still, adding small-footprint ozone

treatment systems to wastewater effluent pipes could offer an inexpensive solution to a costly problem. “Ozone has been used widely in the wastewater treatment, so we have experience in designing ozone systems and we can retrofit with minimal cost,” El-Din says.

organic molecules, extracting bioactive small molecules from natural sources and purifying both native and recombinant proteins. Another course emphasizes skills like inquiry, critical thinking and oral and written communication skills. That was appreciated by students like Cory Ozimok, one of the program’s first graduates. “They don’t spoon-feed you the answers; it’s an environment that encourages students to do their own research, teach each other and take an active approach to learning,” says Ozimok, who is now studying medicine at the University of Ottawa. The program’s demanding work load, high entrance requirements and enrolment cap of 40 students tend to select for high achievers: 80 per cent of Ozimok’s classmates are pursuing postgraduate study, mostly in the life sciences. According to third-

year student Karen Giang, that is also part of the appeal. “The work is tough, but the profs know that we can do it and having such a close-knit group to support you really helps drive you forward,” says Giang. Like many students in the program, Giang has spent her summers working in interdisciplinary research labs like that of Molly Shoichet at the University of Toronto. Some of her classmates have even published papers. McKenzie is pleased with the response to the program from both students and faculty. “The word is getting out there: this program is difficult, but you’re going to get trained really well.”

May 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   9

Chemical News Fundamentals

Materials Science

New composite strengthens military ­helmets

Nearly two years ago, the ALPHA project - an international collaboration involving Canadian scientists - announced it had trapped antihydrogen for the first time. The team’s latest results, published in Nature, demonstrate for the first time an ability to not only hold on to ­antihydrogen, but also to probe its ­properties. Antihydrogen is made of an antiproton and a positron. Like electrons, positrons have a quantum property called spin which creates a tiny magnetic field that can interact with an external magnetic field. The ALPHA researchers exploited this interaction in order to trap the neutral antihydrogen in a magnetic ‘cage.’ ­However, also like electrons, the spin of positrons can be ‘flipped’ if they are subjected to a high-frequency microwave signal. “This is normally called electron spin resonance; with antimatter we call it positron spin resonance,” says Mike Hayden, professor of physics at Simon Fraser University and an ALPHA team member. Current theories predict that the properties of antimatter should be the same as those for matter, so the ALPHA team hit the antihydrogen with microwave signals at frequencies that would cause a spin flip in a normal hydrogen atom. Sure enough, these frequencies appeared to flip the spin of the positron and eject the antihydrogen from the trap. Signals at different frequencies did not result in antihydrogen ejection. Although the results were expected, there is still a mystery to be solved. As far as we know, the Big Bang created equal amounts of matter and antimatter, but today’s universe contains matter only. One of the goals of the ALPHA project is to look for clues that might explain this asymmetry. “We’ll either discover an ­unexpected difference between matter and ­antimatter, or we’ll confirm our ­current knowledge and force ourselves to look elsewhere to explain this mystery,” says Hayden. “It’s exciting either way.”

10  L’Actualité chimique canadienne

A soldier at CFB Valcartier tests out a new, stronger helmet based on ­composites developed by the ­National Research Council's ­Industrial Materials Institute.

A new polymer composite material for army helmets could help better protect Canadian soldiers from head injuries while in conflict zones like Afghanistan. The new material has been in development since 2007 by the National Research Council’s Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI) and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). The team started by evaluating the materials being used in the current generation of helmets, which were designed in the mid-1990s. These are mostly composites with re-enforcing fibres made of aramids (aromatic polyamides) embedded in a matrix made of another polymer. Aramids such as Kevlar are state-of-theart for protection against projectiles, but there was room to play with the surrounding matrix. “Most of the materials that are commercially available are based on a thermosetting matrix,” says Sylvain Labonte, an NRC-IMI researcher who worked on the project. “Ours is based on a thermoplastic polymer, which makes a big difference,” Labonte says. The collaboration created 30 prototype helmets that were tested at CFB Valcartier, in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, Quebec. The helmets are designed to be more effective than the previous version without being heavier. “Soldiers are wearing heavier equipment for long periods of time each day, so every gram counts,” says Labonte. The group is now investigating new processing techniques that could enhance performance even further and whether the new materials could be used for other applications, such as vehicle armour.

Policy and Law

No regulation required for D5 This past February, a three-year debate over the need to regulate ­decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, also known as D5, ended when federal Environment Minister Peter Kent concluded that it does not harm the environment. D5 and related siloxanes are noted for their ability to provide a quick-drying, non-oily feel to everything from shampoo to sunscreen. In January 2009, a screening assessment, conducted as part of Canada’s ongoing Chemicals Management Plan, flagged D5 as potentially harmful to the environment. However, in July 2009 the Silicones Environmental, Health and Safety Council of North America submitted a Notice of Objection. In response to this, then-environment minister Jim Prentice established a scientific board of review to look into the matter. The board issued its report last fall. The Report of the Board of Review for Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (Siloxane D5) concluded that, due to its high vapour pressure, D5 tends to partition primarily into

Mai 2012

Defence R&D Canada – Valcartier

Mysteries of antimatter antihydrogen probed

Chemical News Canada's top stories in the chemical sciences and engineering Earth Chemistry

Iron mediates carbon sequestration

Eric Lamontagne

Much of the carbon that eventually becomes oil and gas starts off as organic matter trapped in sediments. A new study published in Nature highlights the critical role of iron in preserving this carbon and offers a glimpse of what could happen if this mechanism is disrupted. Carbon-based organic molecules are constantly raining down on sediments as floating and swimming organisms die. Most of this carbon is immediately degraded by bacteria. Some becomes adsorbed into crevices in clay particles, which makes it inaccessible to degradation. But there is a third option: iron oxides present in the water can form complexes with organic molecules. The result is a kind of a snowball effect, with alternating layers of organic molecules and iron oxides eventually growing big enough to preserve the interior of the particle from bacterial attack. Yves Gélinas, a professor of chemistry at Concordia University, wondered how much carbon was preserved through association with iron as opposed to clay. To find out, graduate student Karine Lalonde treated various sediments from around the world with a citrate–dithionite solution that selectively reduces iron oxides, causing them to dissolve. The pair then compared the amount of carbon released with the amount that remained in the sediments. “Without iron oxides, about 20 per cent of the preserved carbon would not remain in the sediment,” says Gélinas. That’s quite significant, especially given that iron oxide formation could be on the decline. Many marine environments are becoming depleted in oxygen due to eutrophication, or excessive plant and microbial growth due to an increase in nutrients in the water. “If we reach a point where iron oxides no longer form, there will be a big positive feedback mechanism that release more carbon to the bottom waters and make the situation even worse,” says Gélinas.

Iron oxides present in both freshwater and marine ­environments play a key role in sequestering organic carbon in sediments. New research from Concordia ­University shows that this phenomenon accounts for about 20 per cent of the total carbon stored this way.

air, where it is quickly degraded into harmless compounds by indirect photolysis. Although it can persist in sediments and accumulate in sediment-dwelling organisms, it does not biomagnify through the food chain. The report noted that “siloxane D5 will not accumulate to sufficiently great concentrations to cause adverse effects in organisms in air, water, soils, or sediments.” A coalition of environmental groups that intervened in the review was disappointed with the decision. “To my knowledge, no other country has ever made a determination about whether or not a substance bioaccumulates on the basis of whether or not it biomagnifies,” says Joseph Castrilli, a lawyer for the Canadian Environmental Law Association who worked on the case. However, the decision was welcomed by the Canadian Cosmetics, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CCTFA). “We think that these decisions should not be based on political interference or pop culture, but ultimately on sound science and risk assessment,” says CCTFA president Darren Praznik.

Chemical structure of decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, known as siloxane D5

May 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   11

Concrete for carbon


CarbonCure Technologies of Halifax injects CO2 directly into concrete moulds, thus ­sequestering the greenhouse gas within the finished product. By Tyler Hamilton


nergy-intensive industries worldwide are actively exploring ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their products and the cement and concrete industry is no exception. Worldwide it represents an estimated five per cent of ­human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, mostly because extremely high temperatures are needed to bake the limestone and clay powders that form cement, the active ­ingredient in concrete. Tremendous amounts of fossil fuels are burned to get to those temperatures, which can reach 1,500 C. Makers of cement have explored a number of options to reduce their emissions. Some are using biomass, such as locally grown switchgrass, to displace coal and ­petroleum coke in cement kilns. Others see algae as a way to capture kiln ­emissions and turn them into biofuels. Concrete makers, meanwhile, are including more ­recycled materials in their products and coming up with new formulas that reduce the amount of cement in their overall mix. CarbonCure Technologies Inc. of Halifax is promoting an altogether different approach that has great potential in the market for precast concrete, which represents a range of products that are moulded and cured in a controlled setting before being

14  L’Actualité chimique canadienne

mai 2012

President and founder of ­Halifax-based CarbonCure ­Technologies, ­Robert Niven, explains the ­technology used to make their ­concrete blocks to Nova ­Scotia ­Premier ­Darrell Dexter (left).

CarbonCure Technologies

Chemical Engineering | concrete design

shipped to their place of use. Indeed, the company sees carbon dioxide (CO2) as an important ingredient in the manufacture of concrete blocks, pipes, slabs and other precast products, rather than just an unwanted by-product of production. It has developed a low-cost process, built on four decades of lab research at McGill University in Montreal, which injects CO2 directly into concrete moulds just prior to the standard curing process, effectively sequestering the greenhouse gas within what becomes a hardened, finished product. “We help close the carbon loop,” says Robert Niven, CEO and founder of five-year-old CarbonCure. Niven says that about twothirds of the CO2 emitted during cement production comes from a chemical reaction called calcination, which occurs when limestone (calcium carbonate) is baked in cement kilns. For every kilogram of cement that’s produced, half a kilogram of CO2 is released. “It’s that calcination process we’re reversing,” he says.

“Making cement emits the CO2 but our process puts it back into the concrete.” In effect, CarbonCure is permanently ­recycling CO2. Key to the process is the use of special moulds designed with small perforations, similar to the tiny pin-sized holes found in air-hockey tables. Through these perforations a controlled flow of CO2 is fed from a supply tank at low pressures into freshly filled moulds. As the CO2 enters and mixes with the fresh concrete it reacts readily with residual calcium ­silicates in the mix to create limestone. Niven says that concrete typically gets its strength when cement is mixed with

may 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   15

Redesigned Core Bar

16  L’Actualité chimique canadienne

mai 2012

facilitating pilot and demonstration projects in high-rise buildings. CarbonCure concrete blocks will be used in one of Tower Labs upcoming projects as a way to showcase their durability and the process behind their creation. “This company has the potential to make a rare contribution to greening the built environment without adding cost or compromising integrity,” James adds. The blocks are more resistant to shrinking and cracking and less permeable to water, says Niven. It means longer-lasting building materials and infrastructure. It also means less waste

CarbonCure Technologies

water to create a mineral called Portlandite — a reaction called hydration — but a lot of the cement doesn’t end up reacting. CO2 injection supplements the hydration process by forming limestone from unreacted compounds in the cement, ultimately creating a stronger concrete product. “With a standard grey concrete block we’re seeing 15 per cent higher strength, and we can get that number higher with different mix designs as we get better at this,” says Niven, adding that the window of opportunity for injecting the CO2 is very short before the blocks begin to solidify. Getting the CO2 into the mix so quickly and ­thoroughly is a key part of CarbonCure’s proprietary process. “We only have about five to 10 seconds.” An obvious benefit to CarbonCure’s approach is the ability of manufacturers to sequester CO2 in precast products and thus differentiate their offerings as green relative to the competition. This is becoming increasingly important as more developers and construction companies pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified projects. “Concrete is the most significant construction material in the world in terms of volume and in terms of embodied carbon intensity,” says Jamie James, president of Toronto-based Tower Labs, an organization that helps get green building products to market by

This modified core bar, ­representing the ­negative space inside a concrete block, ­allows pure CO2 to be injected into the concrete just prior to the standard ­curing ­process (black and red ­arrows). The extra CO2 reacts with the ­cement in the concrete to form solid limestone, ­permanently sequestering the gas. The process reduces the amount of cement and energy required to make concrete, and increases the strength of the block by up to 20 per cent.

resulting in up to 20 per cent fewer defects. “Some manufacturers throw out one in 10 products, so if you can increase that to one in 50 that leads to serious savings, because about 90 per cent of cost of production are in materials,” he says. Alternatively, it gives precast manufacturers the option of using less cement and energy in their process, which results in lower costs and additional carbon savings. “How they choose to take advantage of the added strength is up to them,” Niven adds. The company’s focus at the moment is concrete blocks, the simplest and most standardized product in the precast marketplace, with four billion blocks produced in North America each year. Niven says the process is capable of capturing 50 to  150  grams of CO2 per 17 kilogram block. “Multiply that by four billion and it becomes very sizable.” Just making concrete blocks this way, according to rough calculations, could reduce emissions for the entire cement industry by up to five per cent. Beyond blocks, the company’s next target market will be concrete pipes and pavers used for driveways and walkways. The technology is attracting serious industry attention. An early pilot project with Nova Scotia-based engineering and construction giant The Shaw Group helped CarbonCure refine its process. A larger demonstration is now underway at Shaw, as well as at Basalite Concrete Products in California and Midland,  ­Ont.-based Atlas Block. Don Gordon, CEO of Atlas Block, says his company already manufactures products with glass from recycled wine bottles in them and CO2 injection offers another way to reduce the environmental footprint further. Blocks from these manufacturers will be installed in commercial buildings in Halifax, San Francisco and Toronto. “We really like the idea of being able to re-use flue gas in our production line,” says Gordon. “We know CO2 is a big problem, so if we can use some of it in the manufacture of our products and get a better quality product at the same time, it’s a win-win.” This spring, a CarbonCure system was to be integrated into part of Atlas’s block-making unit at its facility just north of Barrie, Ont. “We’re going through this in steps,” says Gordon, who is cautiously optimistic that he’ll be able to expand use of the system throughout his plant. “Because this is a relatively new technology there is a lot of testing to do to understand what’s happening to our mix. We have certain expectations, but you only know for sure through testing.” In addition to precast concrete manufacturers, CarbonCure has also attracted the interest of several investors. This past February it secured $1.1-million in financing from Innovacorp, a technology incubator and venture capital firm in Nova Scotia. The investment was part of a larger $4-million round of financing that CarbonCure will use to commercialize its system over the next 18 months. It has also had funding support from Sustainable Development Technology Canada via a $1.2 million grant. Niven says that the key to market adoption is to keep the system simple and design it to be easily integrated into existing precast plant systems and processes. “That is paramount, for this industry especially,” he says. “We’re talking low

capital expenditure and low barrier to entry. The operator shouldn’t notice anything different with how they operate their plant. It should be same cycle times, same inputs. When we talk plug-and-play, it truly is.” The moulds do have to be specially designed, but for blocks, pipes and other standardized materials there is a secondary mould-manufacturing industry that has specifications for most plant equipment. CarbonCure need only call up any of these manufacturers and have them design and ship out a new mould in three to four weeks, Niven says. As for where CarbonCure sources its CO2, the company has an agreement with Air Liquide, the world’s largest gas supplier. Air Liquide strikes deals to purchase CO2 from large emitters, which it purifies and resells. A lot of it goes toward carbonating beverages and refrigeration applications, but CarbonCure’s technology creates a whole new market. Ask material scientists about the process and they’ll quickly point out that CO2 will already absorb naturally into concrete products over time, a fact that Niven does not dispute. “But to get in the amount of CO2 we’re putting in, it would require centuries, not decades.” In effect, CarbonCure does in a matter of seconds what nature takes many human lifetimes to do. That’s important in a world that urgently needs to rein in CO2 emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Niven adds that CarbonCure is proving that such emissions can be reduced by boosting, not sacrificing, profits. “Concrete made with our technology is simply better concrete.”

may 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   17


Let the

Let the

Shine in

Shine in

Canadian researchers are hard at work on the next generation of solar cells.

By Tyler Irving


he words ‘solar power’ cause most people to picture large, bulky assemblies of dark silicon panels mounted on buildings or free-standing trackers. But what if solar power meant recharging your smartphone with a portable cell that rolls up like a piece of paper, or creating tinted windows that harvest the sun? These ideas are not as ­far-fetched as they sound. Canadian chemists and engineers across the country are at the leading edge of research into advanced solar technologies like dye-sensitized solar cells, organic ­photovoltaics and quantum dot solar cells. A breakthrough in any of these laboratories could radically change the way we think about solar power.

Silicon basics In any bulk material, electrons can only exist at certain energy levels, called bands. In semiconductors, there is a gap between the low-energy valence band, where electrons are bonded to individual atoms, and the high-energy conducting band, where electrons can flow freely through the material. By absorbing energy from photons, electrons can be promoted across this gap. The band gap of silicon is about 1.1 electron-volts, which means it can be bridged by medium to high-energy photons — anything with a wavelength shorter than 1,100 nanometres (nm). This includes visible and ultraviolet light, where most solar radiation lies, but leaves out the infrared region that comprises about 19 per cent of the solar spectrum. In order to make current flow, the excited electron must be separated from the ‘hole’ it left behind. Crystalline silicon cells achieve this through a p-n junction, a sandwich of two silicon wafers that have been chemically altered, or ‘doped,’ to have slightly

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Chemistry | solar innovation

Dye-sensitized solar cells

different numbers of electrons and holes. The junction creates an ­electric field that causes the electrons to flow one way and the holes another. In order to re-unite with its hole, each electron must flow through a circuit, creating electricity. Due to its low band gap, good charge conduction and durability, silicon can be used to make cells with overall efficiencies above 20 per cent. The main drawback is that in order to have these desirable properties, solar-grade silicon must be extremely pure and free of defects in its crystalline structure. Manufacturing this material is an extremely energy-intensive process and must be carried out in ultra-clean facilities with a high capital cost. The main driver for alternative solar technologies is the potential to use cheaper processing techniques that could drastically reduce the cost of solar power.

Curtis Berlinguette is the director of the Centre for Advanced Solar Materials at the University of Calgary. Berlinguette’s research focuses on dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) that use a different mechanism to perform the two different roles played by silicon: light absorption and charge separation. In DSSCs, the semiconductor is titanium dioxide (TiO2, also called titania) that, unlike silicon, does not have to be ultra-pure in order to function. “It is the disorder of titania that makes this type of cell so promising. On top of that, titania is stable, environmentally benign, easy to form into films and dirt cheap,” says Berlinguette. Unfortunately, TiO2 has too large a band gap to get excited by most sunlight, so it must be sensitized by coating it with dyes, molecules specifically designed to absorb lots of light. Typically, cells consist of a sponge-like layer of TiO2 nanoparticles with a high surface area. This is coated with a dye carefully designed to absorb light and inject its excited electrons into the TiO2 semiconductor. The electrons then flow through a circuit and are returned to the dye by a liquid electrolyte. The design allows for potentially cheaper cells than silicon, but the dyes have room for improvement. One problem is that the dyes, which are often metal-organic complexes, tend to decompose or detach from their TiO2 substrate after a couple of years of exposure to sunlight. Berlinguette’s group is focused on determining why this Glass Anode (indium tin oxide or fluorine tin oxide) Dye-coated mesoporous TiO2 layer Hole transport layer (liquid or solid electrolyte) Cathode (Al, Ag, Au etc.)

Dye-sensitized solar cells use a mesoporous TiO2 semiconductor that is sensitized to absorb light energy by the addition of dye molecules. Their advantages include ease of manufacture and an ability to be efficient at variable light levels. Their first commercial­ applications will likely be in consumer electronics.

Tio2 Dye

may 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   19

happens and how to prevent it. Last fall, they reported a new ruthenium-based dye that does not contain the components that are most likely to degrade, while maintaining a leading-edge cell efficiency of more than nine per cent. Berlinguette doesn’t see his technology as being in direct competition with silicon. “Crystalline silicon is great for solar farms because they are optimized for intense sunlight and stable for decades,” he says. “DSSCs require less energy to fabricate and their power conversion efficiency is not as sensitive to light intensity. They work at all light conditions and are consequently better suited for urban environments, including indoor applications.” This could include translucent solar cells coated on the inside of south-facing windows or cells built into the protective cases of smart phones and tablet personal computers.

from A to B and must run through the circuit to return to where it started. In order to maximize the interface between the two polymers, they are mixed into a non-homogeneous layer, like the light and dark regions of marble cheese. This arrangement is called a bulk heterojunction. Mario Leclerc is a professor of polymer chemistry at Université Laval who specializes in OPVs. In his cells, the electron acceptor is usually (6,6)-phenyl C61 butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM), a molecule that includes the soccer ballshaped fullerene group. As for the electron donor, Leclerc’s group has developed a plethora of polymeric compounds in their search for the ideal combination of properties, including band gap, light absorption and charge conductivity. Some of the compounds he has developed are derivatives of poly(N-alkyl-2,7-carbazole) or PCD, which is noted not just for its ability to conduct holes but also the ease with which different side groups can be substituted on the nitrogen atom, making it easy to tweak the material’s properties. In 2009, one of these derivatives, called PCDTBT, was used in a solar cell that achieved 6.1 per cent efficiency, which at the time was a world record. More recently, in collaboration with the National Research Council’s Steacie Institute of Molecular Sciences (NRC-SIMS), Glass or transparent polymer film Anode (indium tin oxide) Electron/light transport layer (poly 3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene /poly styrenesulfonate) Bulk heterojunction layer (various organic compounds) Hole transport layer (TiO2 or LiF) Cathode (Al, Ag, Au etc.)

Organic Photovoltaic Cell Another technology that will likely see its first applications in tablets and smart phones is the organic photovoltaic (OPV) cell. These were made possible by the discovery of semiconducting polymers more than 30 years ago, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the focus turned from using them to produce light from electricity to doing the reverse. OPVs are made of two semiconducting organic compounds in which the highenergy conducting band of compound A (the electron donor) is slightly higher than that of compound B (electron acceptor). When an electron near the interface of the two compounds gets excited by a photon, it naturally flows

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Mai 2012


(1) Organic photovoltaics (OPV) rely on the ­conduction band offset between two different conducting­polymers to achieve charge separation. Their advantages include inexpensive manufacturing­techniques and flexibility. Like dye-sensitized­ solar cells, OPVs will likely see their first commercial applications in consumer electronics (2) (6,6)-phenyl C61 butyric­acid methyl ester (PCBM), a molecule that includes­the soccer-ball shaped fullerene group, is often used as the electron acceptor in organic solar cells.

canada science and technology museum

Leclerc’s group reached 8.1 per cent efficiency using a different electrondonating polymer called PDTSTPD. Leclerc says that the maximum efficiency of OPVs is likely to be around 10 to 12 per cent due to the fact that amorphous polymers can’t transport electricity as well as ordered crystalline silicon. Their advantage lies in being able to use solution processing techniques that are far cheaper and more flexible than those used to make silicon. “Imagine you can make a solar-absorbing ink, which you could print at room temperature at a speed of three metres per minute,” says Leclerc. “Clearly this would reduce the cost.” OPVs are also interesting for their flexibility; the NRC has produced a prototype flexible OPV that could be stitched into the side of clothing or handbags.

Quantum Dot Solar Cells Of all the advanced solar technologies on the horizon, quantum dot solar cells may be the most unique. Quantum dots are extremely small particles of semiconducting substances, typically only a few nanometres in diameter. They are so small that their excited electrons are restricted and cannot flow freely in the way that they do in a bulk crystal, giving them unique properties that are intermediate between individual molecules and bulk materials. One advantage of this is that, unlike dyes or organic polymers, quantum dots can be tuned to absorb different wavelengths of light simply by making them slightly bigger or smaller, rather than changing their chemical composition.

This organic solar cell bag is exhibited as part of the Energy: Power to Choose exhibition at the Canada Science­ and Technology Museum. It was created­by a partnership between the Natural Research Council's Institute for Microstructural­ Sciences, Massachusetts-based OPV manufacturers Konarka, and Chicago-based designers Noon Solar. Such bags currently retail for over $400, but improvements in OPV technology could enable them to be mass marketed­."

Quantum dots were discovered in the 1980s but their application to solar cells only began in earnest in the early part of this century. One of the handful of labs working on quantum dot solar cells belongs to Ted Sargent at the University of Toronto, whose team of researchers includes chemists, materials scientists and electrical engineers. Their quantum dot material of choice is lead (II) sulfide (PbS), which they form into quantum dots by slowly condensing it out of a salt solution. The more time the dots are given to form, the bigger they get. By making quantum dots of different sizes, it’s possible to create a multi-junction solar cell in which successive layers absorb different wavelengths of light, making better use of the solar spectrum. Last summer, Sargent’s laboratory managed to do just that. Their two-junction quantum dot solar cell — a world first — had one layer tuned to absorb light below 775 nm and another below 1,240 nm, with an overall efficiency of 4.2 per cent. There is a dilemma inherent in quantum dot solar cells. “To conduct electrons and holes, you need to have sufficient communication from one quantum dot to the next,” says

may 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   21

Glass or transparent polymer film Anode (fluorine tin oxide or indium tin oxide) Electron transport layer (TiO2) Quantum dot active layer (PbS) Cathode (Al, Ag, Au etc.)


(1) Quantum dot solar cells exploit quantum confinement properties to absorb­light at almost any wavelength. Their advantages include tunability­, ease of manufacture, and an ability to create multi-junction solar cells. (2) PhD candidate Illan Kramer holds up a vial containing a ­solution of quantum dots in octane. The ability to use solution-processing techniques could allow for greatly decreased costs for manufacturing quantum dot solar cells as compared to traditional silicon.

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replacement for fossil fuels, hydroelectricity, or nuclear power. Although silicon will likely continue to dominate solar farms for some time, the new materials being developed at these and other labs across Canada allow us to imagine a world where power generation is widely distributed: from self-charging tablets and laptops to buildings that can offset their need to draw from the grid. The ability to harness solar energy is a trick that the natural world figured out a long time ago; now it’s time for chemical innovation to make that ability accessible to everyone.

sargent group, university of toronto

Illan Kramer, a PhD candidate in Sargent’s group. “But if you bring them to the point where they’re in physical contact, you start to lose some of that quantum confinement,” Kramer says. “You need to bring them very close together without actually touching.” The solution is to cover each quantum dot in a passivation layer, a coating of organic molecules that keeps the dots separate. Last fall, Sargent’s lab worked out a way to replace the traditional bulky passivation agents with smaller and simpler halogen ions. This allowed the overall efficiency to climb to six per cent, currently the best available for quantum dot technology. Quantum dots still have a way to go in order to catch up with DSSCs and OPVs, let alone silicon. Still, their ability to exploit quantum phenomena may ultimately give them the best crack at success. “There’s no other system I can think of where by changing a physical parameter, you get an effectively different material,” says Kramer. “Even with a single junction, by using different sizes of quantum dots, you could change the behaviour of the whole solar cell in an advantageous way. So we’re inventing entirely new device architectures through this unique materials system.” If there’s a theme to all this research, it’s that solar energy should not necessarily be thought of as a drop-in

QA &

Surface Secrets

Quantiam Technologies designs nanoscale solutions for big problems.

Quantiam Technologies founder Steve Petrone has found a solution to industrial carbon-based fouling.

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By Tyler Irving

Business | catalytic coatings


hen Steve Petrone finished his PhD at McMaster University in 1988, nobody was talking about nanotechnology. But the surface chemist could see that big industrial problems like the carbon fouling that impairs the function of petrochemical furnaces could be solved by carefully controlling only a few atomic layers of material. In 1998, Petrone founded Quantiam Technologies Inc. to develop a line of specialized catalytic coatings for furnace tubes. Today, the Edmonton-based company is poised to bring its groundbreaking solution to the world through partnerships with major global companies like NOVA Chemicals and BASF. ACCN spoke with Petrone about the journey from laboratory to market. ACCN Can you give us some background on

carbon-based fouling?

Jessica Fern Facette Photography

SP This is a problem any time hydrocarbons are

processed at elevated temperatures but it’s especially severe in steam hydrocarbon pyrolysis, which is used to produce olefins like ethylene and propylene. Pyrolysis, or cracking, is carried out in furnaces that consist of an assembly of tubes that range from two to six inches in diameter, installed in a vessel three-to-five storeys tall. They are gas-fired on the outside to 1,100 C or 1,150 C. The alloys used to make these tubes and fittings are primarily based on transition metals — generally iron, nickel and chromium — that give them their hightemperature operating capability. But various oxides formed of iron and nickel have unwanted catalytic functionality and convert the hydrocarbon feedstock into filamentous coke. This is essentially the growth of carbon nanotubes on the internal surfaces at very rapid rates, like cholesterol in one’s arteries. Because the carbon is a thermal insulator, you have to fire the outside of the tubes hotter and hotter to maintain critical temperature of the feedstream internally. You typically get anywhere from 10 to 40 days of operation before you have to shut it down and remove the carbon by oxidation.

There is a second type of carbon deposition that arises from the complex radical chain mechanism in the gas phase — it isn’t catalysed by the surface. This is called amorphous coke or gas-phase coke. In lighter feedstocks such as ethane and propane, the balance is typically 80 per cent filamentous and 20 per cent amorphous coke. At the other extreme, heavy feedstocks such as naphthas show the reverse: 20 filamentous and 80 per cent amorphous. ACCN What can be done about this? SP If you can control the outermost two or three atomic layers

of these tubes so that there are no unwanted catalytic sites that form filamentous coke, you’ve eliminated that problem. Of course, amorphous coke deposition is not a surface reaction but it’s affected by filamentous deposition because the filaments act as collectors. In the 60 years prior to about 2002, industry spent about $1 billion on rendering the surfaces of these tubes inert, with limited success. No coating solution had ever survived more than six months. ACCN What was your approach to this problem? SP We asked ourselves what we had to do to get rid of amor-

phous coke. One clever way would be to turn it into gaseous species such as CO and CO2. Oxygen is present in the H2O from the steam, so we just needed an appropriate catalyst. But there had been no success in trying to incorporate gasification into this thermal process because the fouling rate was so extreme that catalysis made no sense. In 2001, Quantiam Technologies and NOVA Chemicals sat down and defined 21 chemical, physical and thermo-­ mechanical properties that would need to be addressed in order to have a viable solution. From that, we tested 657 catalyst systems, of which six were believed to survive at the conditions inside the reactor. Nine years and $18 million later, we commercialized two of those six. One is a low-­ catalytic gasifier designed for lighter feedstocks where the amount of amorphous coke is relatively low, the second one is a high-catalytic gasifier designed for heavier feedstocks.

may 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   25

ACCN How did your early research influence your decision­to found this company? SP In the early 1990s, there was a company in Alberta called

Sherritt Gordon that was essentially a nickel refinery with an advanced materials group. In partnership with the federal and provincial governments, they launched something called the WESTAIM Initiative, for Western Advanced Industrial Materials. They had about $180 million over five years — it was a significant effort in advanced materials for Canada. They went on a hiring spree and a few of the PhDs that they employed were Canadians. I was one of them. We did about 60 projects, four or five of which were ­eventually commercialized. One of them was a technology that I led, rendering the surfaces of these tubes and fittings chemically inert. A change of management followed and I founded my own company in 1998.

With the completion of the field trials and securing some investment capital from private equity and a strategic venture capital group, we built a full-scale 34,000 square-foot advanced manufacturing facility in the Edmonton Research Park and moved in last August. We have 22 employees and we’re still skewed toward PhDs. If you want to be on the leading edge, you’ve got to have the skill set.

ACCN Why did this particular problem­appeal to you? SP In this line of work, you’re always looking for industrial

problems that have been around a long time and are of great commercial value, large enough that if you spent a fortune trying to find a solution, you could actually get a return on it. From a scientific perspective, it was obvious it could be done if you could only control a few atomic layers and make sure they survive for the full life cycle of five years. ACCN How did the company evolve? SP In the first three years we were primarily doing research.

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This scanning electron micrograph image shows the topmost surface of the the low-catalytic gasification coating designed by Quantiam Technologies as part of its catalyst-assisted ­manufacture of olefins (CAMOL) process.

ACCN What are the latest developments­? SP We installed our first European furnace in January 2010

and that’s still running quite nicely. We’re about to install a second one in the next couple of months and we’re talking about a third with that organization. Most significantly, we’ve now partnered with BASF of Germany to create a new company, BASF Qtech Inc. This company will focus on commercializing the advanced catalytic surface coatings that Quantiam has developed for use in the global petrochemical industry.

quantiam technologies

I hired every surface chemist that I could find in Canada, as well as some solid bulk materials folks. We provided consulting and analytical services for a number of years just to pay the bills, all the while pumping everything we could into developing new products, until we came together with NOVA Chemicals in 2001. To align with the start of the NOVA project, we moved into a 14,000 square-foot facility in Pinnacle Industrial Park in Edmonton. We built our research facility and also a halfscale pilot plant. The minute we were able to coat a prototype tube, we went into a furnace. That was one of the big advantages of the project: in having a petrochemical company as a partner, we weren’t afraid to test things in the field. We did three furnace trials with NOVA Chemicals: the first in September 2006 and two more in 2008.

ACCN How economical is your product? SP In the past, there were some solutions that merely made

the alloy surface inert to filamentous coke formation and they were brought to market at up to three times the base cost of the tubes, which is mind-boggling. We developed a brandnew coating technology that layers the gasification capability on top of inertness to filamentous coke. At our current pricing model, payback is within six months on a lifetime of more than five years. So the business case for installation is pretty solid. We charge between $3 and $10 per square inch for the coating. That range includes other products that we’ve introduced for wear and corrosion applications, not just the catalyst coatings for olefins. The global market for olefins is about $150 billion — again, one of the reasons we chose this space was potential return on investment. ACCN What is the potential market for your technology? SP There are approximately 1,500

furnaces globally. About 20 per cent, or 300 furnaces, are replaced every year. Our current launch capacity here is three million internal square inches — that’s our unit of sale — which works out to about six or seven furnaces. If you convert it over in terms of global olefins-producing capacity globally, that’s 0.8 per cent. On our current footprint, and with adding some additional equipment and staffing, we could double that to 1.6 per cent. Conceivably, on the current footprint of the site, we could double yet again, so we could at most serve 3.2 per cent of global olefins manufacturing capacity. ACCN How are you funded? SP The National Research Council’s Industrial Research

Assistance Program has always been with us at the front end. They can get a project started, but they can’t get you into the seven-figure range of research and development expenditures. Of the $18 million we needed to develop the technology,

we received $3.5 million from Industry Canada through the Technology Partnerships Canada program, which no longer exists. We received $1.5 million from Sustainable Development Technology Canada. The other $13 million was shared between NOVA and Quantiam, so it’s very much a private sector-funded project. That took us to the end of R&D. After that, we raised $6 million from a private equity group in Toronto, Ursataur Capital Management, and BASF Venture Capital in Germany — half each. Another $2 million followed from that from our internal investors for a total of $8 million, which allowed us to build this first commercial facility. ACCN What’s next for Quantiam? SP You can’t be a one-trick pony. BASF owns what used to be

Englehard Corporation, which is the world leader in catalysis. With that partnership we’ve greatly increased the effort to bring more catalysis into this thermal process. Because we now know how to make sure that it stays fouling-free, that opens up tremendous opportunity to redefine the entire space. Quantiam on its own has a very strong pipeline of new products. We have wear and corrosion coatings also based on nanotechnology that have highly unique properties and are probably about two years from market. But the Holy Grail of the entire petrochemical industry is direct conversion of methane to a light olefin, so that you don’t have to use ethane, propane, or naphtha feedstocks. From the massive catalyst database and experience we’ve developed, we’re moving forward with catalysts that would be able to convert a single carbon molecule (methane) to C2, perhaps even C3, all of them very robust with high stability to sulphur and other process challenges. ACCN After all these years, what still excites you about surface chemistry? SP I can still refer to the experiment where, one Sunday

afternoon after three years of work, it finally clicked. The discovery was that the surface composition generated on an alloy had little or nothing to do with the bulk. Yet we could measure it, probe it and exploit it. That simple observation, and the opportunity to define a surface with properties so unique and with so much commercial potential, is what drives me.

may 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   27

Nominations are now open for the Chemical­Institute of Canada­and Canadian­Society for Chemistry


Do you know an outstanding person who deserves to be recognized? Act Now!

Chemical Institute of Canada | AWARDS CIC Award for Chemical Education • Chemical Institute of Canada­Medal • Environment Division Research and Development Award • Macromolecular Science and ­Engineering Award • Montréal­Medal

Canadian Society for Chemistry | AWARDS Alfred Bader Award • Award for Materials Chemistry Research • Bernard Belleau Award • Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Doctoral Research Award Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Research Excellence Award • Clara Benson­Award • E.W.R. Steacie Award • Fred Beamish Award • John C. Polanyi Award • Keith Laidler Award • Maxxam­Award • Rio Tinto Alcan Award • R. U. Lemieux Award • Strem Chemicals Award for Pure or Applied Inorganic­Chemistry • W. A. E. McBryde Medal

Deadline July 3, 2012 for the 2013 selection. Nomination Procedure Submit your nominations to Nomination forms and the full terms of reference for these awards are available at:

Society news



Supporting chemical education

Inorganic chemistry graduate winners

The Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC) Chemical Education Fund (CEF) is supported by individual member donations and earnings on trust fund balances accumulated from the generous contributions of the chemical industry over many years. The fund’s objective is to advance education in science and technology, particularly in the areas of chemical sciences, chemical engineering, chemical technology and related disciplines. This year, 2012 grants were awarded to: • Attraction chimique at Université Laval; • University of Ottawa’s French nomenclature tool project; • Year 2 of the CIC’s YouTube Contest: It’s Chemisty Eh?!; • Four Canadian Society for Chemistry regional undergraduate student conferences; • Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (CSChE) student program at the Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference; • Canadian Society for Chemical Technology student symposia; • E. Gordon Young Lectureship hosted by the Toronto CIC local section. RECOGNITION

CNC-IUPAC travel award winners announced This year’s winners of the Canadian National Committee for the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry (CNC/IUPAC) annual travel awards are: • Fraser Hof, MCIC, University of Victoria; • Eric Rivard, MCIC, University of Alberta; • Robert Scott, MCIC, University of Saskatchewan; • Mark Taylor, MCIC, University of Toronto. The awards are financed by the Canadian Society for Chemistry’s Gendron Fund and CNC/IUPAC’s company associates. They assist Canadian scientists and engineers who are within 10 years of attaining their PhD present a paper at an IUPAC-sponsored ­conference outside Canada and the United States.

CIC and CSC award winners The 2012 Fred Beamish Award winner is Alan Doucette, MCIC, of Dalhousie University. The award, sponsored by the Chemical Institute of Canada’s Analytical Chemistry Division, was given to Doucette for his research in analytical mass spectrometry (MS), specifically the development of new technologies and methodologies based on MS detection for the characterization of biological macromolecules. This year’s Canadian Society for Chemistry Ichikizaki Fund for Young Chemists
awards go to: Patrick T. Gunning, MCIC, University of Toronto Mississauga; James J. Mousseau, MCIC, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Mukund Jha, MCIC, Nipissing University. The fund provides financial assistance to chemists under 34 years of age who are showing outstanding achievements in basic synthetic organic ­chemistry research. The funding facilitates their participation in international conferences or symposia.

The Chemical Institute of Canada Inorganic Division is pleased to announce two outstanding recipients of the 2012 Award for Graduate Work in Inorganic Chemistry. This award is presented to a graduate student registered in a PhD program at a Canadian ­university for exceptional research in the field of inorganic chemistry. This year’s winners are Kevin Shopsowitz of the University of British Columbia and Zachary Hudson of Queen’s University. They will present their award lectures at the Canadian Society for Chemistry conference in Calgary this month, in the General Inorganic and Molecular Design of Optical, Photonic and Electronic Materials symposia, respectively.

Inorganic chemists gather in Atlantic Canada More than 50 delegates attended this year’s Atlantic Inorganic Discussion Weekend, held March 23-25 in Charlottetown. It attracted inorganic chemists from Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The studentfocused chemistry conference provided a forum for undergraduate and graduate researchers from Atlantic-region universities to give oral and poster presentations on their research. The 37 presentations were complemented by plenary lectures from Bobby Ellis, MCIC, of Acadia University and Vy Dong of the University of Toronto. Prizes were awarded. The best graduate student talk was given to Edward Cross, University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI), best undergraduate student talk to Alanna Durand, of Saint Mary’s University (SMU), best graduate student poster to Mitch Perry, MCIC, UPEI, while top undergraduate student poster went to Lauren Keyes of SMU. UPCOMING EVENTS

June 5‒8, 2012 24th Canadian Materials Science Conference Western University London, Ont. June 21, 2012 2nd International Lignin Biochemicals Conference Toronto, Ont. August 28‒30, 2012 Oilsands 2012 Conference Edmonton, Alta.

October 14‒17, 2012 62nd Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference Vancouver, B.C. November 12‒14, 2012 XXVI Interamerican Congress of Chemical Engineering Montevideo, Uruguay May 27‒29, 2013 3rd Climate Change Technology Conference Montreal, Quebec

may 2012 CAnadian Chemical News   29


Wash your chemical blues away with Calgon


n 1933, Calgon Inc. of Pittsburgh introduced its flagship product, Calgon. The name was derived from the phrase “calcium gone,” a description of what the product was designed to do, which was soften water. Hard water has a high content of dissolved minerals, mostly salts of calcium and magnesium and problems ensue when the concentration is greater than about 120 milligrams per litre. Unlike the sodium salts of fatty acids that are the basis of soaps, hard water’s calcium and magnesium salts are insoluble, resulting in the classic bathtub ring. Although detergents do not form precipitates with hard water minerals, they do form soluble complexes that reduce cleaning efficacy. Another problem is the conversion of dissolved calcium and magnesium bicarbonate to insoluble calcium and magnesium carbonate when the water is heated. These insoluble salts form a scale that can clog pipes, deposit on clothes and, in theory, break down washing machines. Softeners added to water either cause the calcium and magnesium to precipitate as salts that are easily rinsed away or sequester the calcium and magnesium ions as soluble complexes preventing them from reacting with soap or forming deposits. The original version of Calgon consisted of sodium hexametaphosphate, a chemical that would sequester calcium — it appeared to be gone! Advertising emphasized the ability of Calgon water softener to improve the appearance of laundry. When television invaded America, Calgon was ready with clever ads. In a classic, a lady asks an Asian laundry shop owner how he gets the shirts so clean. “Ancient

30  L’Actualité chimique canadienne

Chinese secret,” he responds. The ‘secret’ is exposed when the owner’s wife shouts, “We need more Calgon!” By this time the water softener had been joined by a line of Calgon bath salts and bath oils. These also contained sodium hexametaphosphate to soften the water and incorporated magnesium sulphate, or Epsom salts. This combo gives the water a more slippery feel and softens calloused skin. Calgon bath oils were popular, consisting of coconut oil that would leave a silky deposit on the skin. Ingenious advertising slogans promoted these products, including: “Love the skin you’re in” and “Lose yourself in luxury.” In 1968, Calgon was acquired by Merck. Eventually, it was broken up and sold to a number of companies along with the right to use the name Calgon. Today, there are various bath products, body mists, creams and beauty bars that feature the Calgon brand. Water softeners are also still with us, although the original formulation has been altered because of the environmental consequences of phosphate. Since phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient, an abundance of phosphates in natural waters can lead to excessive growth of plants and algae, which decompose and use up some of the water’s dissolved oxygen. This can have dramatic effects on aquatic life. Several versions of Calgon water softeners are now available, conforming to local laws about how much phosphate content is allowed. In most cases the active ingredients are sodium sesquicarbonate and various polymers that fall under the umbrella of “­polycarboxylates.” These are either polymers of acrylic acid or copolymers of acrylic and maleic

Mai 2012

By Joe Schwarcz

acids. They do the same job as the phosphates, namely bind minerals in solution but without the environmental consequences of the phosphates. The Canadian version still contains a small amount of pentasodium triphosphate, while the American product uses a mix of sodium sesquicarbonate and sodium citrate — yet another polycarboxylate — to soften water. Advertising emphasizes that less detergent is needed if the water is softened because the complexed dissolved minerals do not interfere with the detergent. In Europe, Calgon’s emphasis is not on softening water but the product’s role as a saviour for washing machines. The claim is that scale buildup inside machines shortens lifespan, and the addition of a water softener to each load of laundry can keep the machines from a premature death. The British consumer group Which? addressed this claim by simulating three years worth of washing. It found that there was a decrease in the build-up of scum but there was no difference in the way the machine performed — with or without Calgon. Which? researchers calculated that the amount of money spent by adding a water softener to every load was enough to buy a new machine when needed, even if the scale deposits shortened the life of a machine. Many consumers were irritated, thinking that they may have been throwing their money down the drain. Calgon could have advised them to take a comforting bath using Calgon bath salts and bath beads. Joe Schwarcz is the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. Read his blog at

Chemical Institute of Canada

The 2013 Canadian Green Chemistry and Engineering Network (CGCEN) Award

Canadian Green Chemistry and Engineering Network Award (Individual) Sponsored by GreenCentre Canada

Ontario Green Chemistry and Engineering Network Award (Individual) Sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment

Ontario Green Chemistry and Engineering Network Award (Organizational) Sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment

The awards will be presented at the 62nd Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference in Vancouver, BC on October 14–17, 2012 and will showcase top performers in green chemistry and engineering.

Deadline: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 for the 2013 selection. For details visit: Nominations for these awards are being accepted now. For more details contact The Canadian Green Chemistry and Engineering Network is a forum of the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC).

 Canadian Society for Chemistry

96th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition May 26–30, 2013 Chemistry without borders


Québec, Canada

ACCN, the Canadian Chemical News: May 2012  

Canada’s leading magazine for the chemical sciences and engineering.

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