Professor Charles Xu is one satisfied customer.
Nearly five years after leasing space at the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park so his team could work on turning forestry waste into adhesives and insulation, the product is out of the lab and ready for a testing plant in Thunder Bay.
But before Xu relocated his staff of 10 Master’s and PhD students, the project spent about $500,000 in Sarnia and attracted a handful of new residents.
And while that initiative has moved on, Xu was so pleased with the park’s facilities and personnel he’s applying for a grant to work on another one to convert corn stalks or wheat straw.
“If we are successful in getting the funding we may be back to Sarnia this year,” he said.
Xu’s research is just one example of how the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park on Modeland Road has really its stride after 13 years.
The park, which provides space for research into bio-based products and helps clients get those products to market, is now 95% full.
Twenty-four organizations employing about 100 people are currently working on projects, according to Katherine Albion, director of the park’s commercialization centre.
Ideally, the companies that pay for space to develop new products also decide to build manufacturing facilities here.
Albion said eight or nine “graduates” of the Sarnia park have established pilot plants locally.
“The majority have stayed in Sarnia,” she said, pointing to the $186-million BioAmber plant built in 2015, and Comet Biorefining, a company that converts corn stalks and leaves into sugars used in plastics, paint and other products.
Comet Biorefining intends to build a $70-million plant at the Trans Alta Energy Park on Vidal Street this year.
“I think we’re seeing a shift in the local economy,” said Albion. “The park is meeting the needs of our tenants and they are finding a lot of the expertise they require in Sarnia.”
The forestry biomass research is being tested in Thunder Bay because Sarnia doesn’t have close proximity to the pulp and paper industry. And the company involved has a testing plant in Thunder Bay already.
The space it vacated is now occupied by Lambton College’s Centre for Industrial Material Development.
“Some of our tenants stay and expand. Some go elsewhere,” said Albion. “It really varies depending on what their needs are.”
Companies like Woodland Biofuels and GreenCore Composites have located their pilot plants at the research park, and a third is anticipated this year, Albion said.
In 2003, Lambton County, Sarnia and Western University pooled their resources to establish the park as a way to diversity the local economy from petrochemical production.
Today, the research park is recognized as Canada’s largest clean tech incubator and attracting international attention for its focus on environmentally sustainable technology.