Centre For Natural Products And Medical Cannabis

Thinking green brings together industry, biotechnology and students in a dynamic environment at Loyalist College.

For a school that celebrates being small, Loyalist College’s Centre for Natural Products and Medical Cannabis in Belleville is doing remarkably big things. Boasting a healthy sum in research industry income and 16 research partnerships, the college has claimed its place on the national stage as a leader in natural products, applied biotechnology and genomics.

Hemp germination in space. Plant cloning. Green extraction techniques. The Centre’s A-list of innovative projects shows its commitment to bringing new sustainable products and processes to market through collaboration with industries, incubators, organizations, consortiums and subject experts, while providing work-integrated learning opportunities for students. Oh, and it’s also committed to driving the growth of Ontario’s bioeconomy.

Its most recently announced partnership with Indigenous-owned and founded Cheekbone Beauty Inc. is focused on repurposing waste from winemaking (grape pomace) into high-value-added ingredients for cosmetics. It’s just the latest in Loyalist’s commitment to helping small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) succeed in their sustainability initiatives by providing access to technology and industry expertise.

The Cheekbone Beauty project highlights the importance of helping companies utilize their waste stream to get value from it – either upcycling it, or using it to be part of the circular economy. Research Coordinator Cher Powers says, “Not just because it’s economical, but because it relates to the very pertinent issue of climate change… [as] biomass and food waste are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.”

“The bioeconomy is very interdisciplinary and inter-sector, and that aligns with the direction we’re going with the college.” CHER POWERS

This partnership is just the latest of a series announced over the last few years between Loyalist, other academic institutions such as Olds College and Cannadore College, and non-profits such as Bioenterprise, GreenCentre Canada and Ontario Genomics that help SMEs access the Centre’s facilities and expertise, broaching the divide between academia and industry. The focus is on collaboration, not competition.

“There’s an ecosystem of state-of-the-art expert-level research centres that are industry-focused to help startups and SMEs with whatever challenges their company may face,” says Carly Kelly, manager of the Centre.

Adds Powers: “We’re always leveraging that network and making referrals.”

According to BioTalent Canada, the bioeconomy is defined as “the economic activity associated with the invention, development, production and use of primarily bio-based products… It includes the use of resources from agriculture, forestry, fisheries/ aquaculture, organic waste and aquatic biomass.”

It’s massive and multidisciplinary, and covers several sub-sectors, including health, energy, agriculture/ forestry and industrial, and incorporating sustainability and the circular economy. Think nutraceuticals (such as Omega-3 fatty acids to decrease inflammation), biodiesel, plant genetics and bio-plastics.

The importance of Canada’s bioeconomy cannot be underestimated: in 2019 the federal government invested in Canada’s first National Bioeconomy Strategy to help meet the goal of reducing CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases, and attract additional markets in the biomass and bioproduct sector.

“The bioeconomy directly relates to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, get value from waste, reduce waste, and create new technologies to displace the traditional ones,” says Powers. She also notes that businesses are now prioritizing the bioeconomy in their strategic plans and focusing on the development of green products and processes.

Since its establishment in 2004, the Centre has built a reputation for its green extraction methods, used to separate various components from their source, including supercritical CO2 extraction to support industry’s transition away from the use of petrochemical solvents. In 2017 Loyalist was the first college in Canada to have a laboratory licensed by Health Canada to conduct cannabis research and analytical testing, and in 2018 it launched an eight-month Cannabis Applied Science certificate program.

“We did a lot of work with hops at the University of Guelph in the early years, and there’s a natural transition into cannabis,” says Kelly. “There wasn’t a lot of increased instrumentation or expertise needed to work with cannabis.”

She adds: “We’ve always responded to the needs of industry, found the experts, purchased the equipment and advanced our practices within those areas to provide services to industry partners and sectors.”

In June 2019, Loyalist announced they had received a $1.75 million Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) grant to launch Canada’s first Technology Access Centre for natural products and cannabis, as well as a $1 million grant through the Canada Foundation for Innovation to add specialized equipment to the facility.

Today, the laboratory space has grown to 5,100 square feet and the college recently finished installing $1.5 million of new equipment. Moving forward, the Centre will expand its research capacity in other areas of the college: “The bioeconomy is very interdisciplinary and inter-sector, and that aligns with the direction we’re going with the college to promote a lot more cross-disciplinary research between the Centre and our culinary, aesthetics or advanced manufacturing programs,” says Powers.

The Centre’s experiential learning opportunities and training with cutting-edge instrumentation prepares students for jobs of the future, driving a new generation of social and economic development in the Quinte Region and beyond.

“The more research we do, the more industry partnerships we have, and we increase the capacity that enhances the student experience at all levels,” says Powers.

Both industry and students are flourishing at Loyalist, a small college that is becoming known for its ground-breaking plans for the future.

“We are small,” says Powers, “but we are doing very, very big things.”

Learn more at loyalistappliedresearch.com

Story by:
Fiona Campbell

[Fall 2022 departments]