Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Growing trial of greenhouse waste could help open new markets


Student researchers from Niagara College’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre are playing an important role investigating uses for a waste product from the greenhouse industry. 

The research team with students from the Greenhouse Technician program are working on a course-based project with Walker Environmental Group (WEG) to explore recycling possibilities and beneficiary secondary uses of rockwool, a non-biodegradable mineral wool product.

An inorganic insulator, rockwool is also manufactured as a soilless growing medium and typically used for hydroponic fruits and vegetables.

“This type of media, which comes wrapped in plastic bags, allows growers to precisely dose fertilizers, water and other components necessary for the most optimal growth of the plants,” says Marin Dujmovic, Process Specialist at WEG. “Once crops are harvested, this media is not re-usable for growing and needs to be disposed of.”

Walker’s machinery shreds the material, separating plastic bags from the re-usable rockwool. “Once separated, plastic is disposed at the landfill (even though we are looking into re-using this plastic in manufacture of low-carbon fuels etc.) and shredded rockwool material is used as a bulking agent in compost production,” adds Dujmovic.

With its history of offering environmental waste solutions, WEG partnered with the College’s Research & Innovation division to investigate the possible benefits of using rockwool as more than just a bulking agent. 

“In theory, this bulking agent will increase compost’s moisture content (since we receive rockwool at high moisture levels, with some nutrient leftovers as well), water holding capacity, porosity and nutrients, which all have a beneficial effect on the growth of the plants,” explains Dujmovic.

Led by NC Faculty Research Lead Derek Schulze, the growing trial with a basil crop uses varying percentages of the rockwool/compost blends, compared with a control, to quantify how the plants grow. Results of this phase will determine if it’s possible and/or beneficial to use the rockwool in compost, not only as a bulking agent, but also as a compost quality enhancer.

“If there’s no impact with the highest percentage, that means they can get rid of tons of rockwool, and the plants grow just fine,” says Schulze, who’s also the coordinator for the Greenhouse Technician program. 

It’s a project that proves popular with students in Schulze’s class. “It’s interesting, and the students like it because they are very conscious about being environmentally responsible.”

The team has been trialling basil because it’s a quick crop; however, growing research will be repeated this winter using different crops, says Schulze. 

If the used rockwool media is successfully incorporated into compost production, it may mean new markets for WEG as they will be “able to recycle new material (used rockwool media) on an ongoing basis with good use of the end product,” adds Dujmovic, who visits the NC greenhouse weekly to meet with the student researchers.

The growing trial received funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence through their College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program.

For more information on the resources and capabilities of the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, visit the website.

Are you an advanced manufacturing company?


If your company would like to develop new products or services by accessing state-of-the-art equipment, tools, services and expertise, then the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) is here to help.

SONAMI is a network of seven post-secondary institutions that pools the resources and expertise of its members and matches them to the needs of smaller manufacturers in all sort of industries, including agri-food, aerospace, health, environmental, and traditional manufacturers.

Thanks to a $14 million investment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), SONAMI 2.0 is expanding and accepting applications.

Learn more about SONAMI here.

Solutions for Industry 2018-19

Another amazing year of innovation!

As we start the celebrations for our 20th year, we look back on the highlights of the past year, for our Research & Innovation division and for each of our Centres in our 2018-19 Annual Report. We invite you to take a look at the people, projects and partners that all contribute to the applied research success at Niagara College.

Click here to take a look at our 2018-19 Annual Report!

Inaugural bingo event raises more than $2,000 for United Way Niagara campaign


More than 150 people, bingo blotters in hand, came together on Nov. 5th for the Research & Innovation’s APB (Awesome Prizes Bingo) event – all in support of Niagara College’s United Way Niagara campaign.

And as a result of the generosity of this group – including people from Niagara College and the broader Niagara community – a total of $2,050 was raised to help the citizens of Niagara.

True to its name, some $3,000 worth of awesome prizes were handed out, including designer purses, a barbecue, a spa package and an Apple TV.

This was R&I’s first annual bingo event, although it has a long involvement with raising funds for the Niagara-based charity. For five years, the research team held a trivia night that pitted college-wide departments in a friendly competition, all vying for the coveted WTF (World Trivia Federation) belt.

“The Research & Innovation team is proud of our history supporting the United Way, which plays such an essential role in aiding the residents of Niagara,” said Marc Nantel, Vice-President, Research, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives.

The United Way Committee received generous prize donations from Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute; the NC Marketing department and the NC Teaching Spa.

Where Are They Now?: Alex Davis

Alex Davis is a 2017 graduate of Niagara College’s Computer Programmer Analyst program. With the Research & Innovation division, he served as Research Assistant from 2016 to 2017 and then Research Associate until July 2019. Alex is now employed as a Software Developer at Landlord Web Solutions in Thorold.

Tell us about where you work:

Landlord Web Solutions (LWS) offers online marketing and data services for the rental housing community. The company builds rental housing websites in Canada and manages advertising syndication for many of the country’s largest property management firms. LWS is also host to one of the largest rental housing conferences (WEBCON) in North America.

Describe your role within the company:

As a Software Developer I develop new web-based products and provide support for LWS’s innovative content management system platform. There are many opportunities to learn as LWS actively seeks to explore new technologies to benefit their clients.

How has your Research & Innovation experience helped you prepare for your current role?

My experience at R&I has given me the ability to research and understand emerging technologies, work in a heavily team-based environment, learn from peers, and be more independently motivated.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

The sensor blanket project with Studio 1 Labs. [Studio 1 developed an “intelligent” bedsheet that automates routine respiratory patient monitoring for healthcare workers, without the use of cumbersome wires. Niagara College’s Digital Media & Web Solutions team developed an intuitive, aesthetically pleasing user interface for the fabric-sensing technology.]

In my role, I researched new technologies and various solutions to process and present high volumes of data through a web interface; and fostered client relationships through ongoing communication. I was able to present and see our work in action at the 2017 IBM Disruption conference and at Parliament Hill.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I wanted to develop a skillset to begin and grow a career. Niagara College was the way to go.

Most memorable experience at NC?

Working with R&I, of course!

A faculty member who influenced you?

Everyone – Marsha Baddeley, Dave Kendall, Dave Stovell, Melissa Vanderlely, Peter Vanscoy, Cliff Patrick, James Marks. All of the CPA faculty have contributed to my growth as a young professional.

“My experience there has given me the ability to research and understand emerging technologies, work in a heavily team-based environment, learn from peers, and be more independently motivated.”

A mentor at R&I?

Neil Wilkinson, Gregor MacLean, Mike Duncan, Kimberley Cathline, Carolyn Mullin, Tanya Hvilivitzky, Gord Maretzki, Christine Raymond, Al Spence, and all the staff at Research. You all are what made R&I so special.

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?

Take the time to learn and absorb all the knowledge and technical skills you can. Take initiative and don’t be afraid of failing.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Every office needs a good coffee maker.

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Getting a salary gig! 

What are your interests outside of work?

Spending time with my wife and our dogs.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

“No matter what you do, you will always be better than Game of Thrones Season 8.”

Anything else you want to say?

Tell everyone I say Hi!

Niagara College ranks No. 1 in Top 50 Research Colleges report

Niagara College announces its number one ranking in Research Infosource Inc.’s Top 50 Research Colleges report. President Dan Patterson (front right) and VP Research, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives Marc Nantel (front left) hold up a banner announcing the good news on November 12 with the Research & Innovation team.

Niagara College will mark its 20th year of applied research activity with the honour of earning the number one spot in all of Canada for research.

In its annual report “Top 50 Research Colleges,” Research Infosource Inc. has announced that Niagara College has secured the top place in the country, based on total research funding numbers for 2018. The listing also demonstrates NC’s steady standing as a leader in research in Canada, as this represents the fifth year in a row of being in the Top 10.

“A great year for Niagara College research,” said Ron Freedman, CEO, Research Infosource Inc. “Not only in terms of research income – number one in the country – but research partnerships, where Niagara ranks number three among large colleges.”

“We’re grateful for the recognition as Canada’s number one college for research funding, which is good news for us, and for business and industry in Niagara,” said Niagara College president Dan Patterson, PhD. “The research dollars that we bring to our region funds our work to provide solutions to help local companies innovate and develop new products and processes, and in turn support economic growth in our community and beyond.”

Looking at colleges with applied research funding in Canada, Niagara ranks first by having attracted $11.185 million in funding to conduct innovative projects involving industry partners in the food and beverage, advanced manufacturing, precision agriculture, and related environmental technologies sectors.

Niagara College also ranked first in the category of Research Intensity $ per Faculty which includes faculty and research leads with the division. The dollar value was $329,000 per researcher.

Looking closely at the number of interactions with industry – small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) who turn to colleges because they do not have the time or resources to innovate – Niagara College ranked third in Canada for colleges in the number of research partnerships, at 216.

Marc Nantel, PhD, vice-president of the Research, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives at the College noted that the number one ranking is a tremendous honour.

“We have been able to lead by being partners and collaborators within the College and the surrounding community,” said Nantel “We deliver value to the community, to industry, to students and faculty, and our funders have seen that commitment, so they continue to invest in us.”

Research funding allows the College to partner with SMEs in the region to conduct projects and services, which provide innovative solutions for industry. These include producing and testing prototypes, evaluating new technologies, and developing new or improved products and processes. NC Research & Innovation conducts research projects with industry partners through its Agriculture & Environment Innovation Centre, Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, and Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre. The division also offers support in the areas of digital media and web solutions, and business and commercialization solutions.

One example is Keyframe Studios – a St. Catharines-based award-winning animation and VFX film company – who turned to NC’s Research & Innovation Division for assistance with taking their concept prototype to reduce green-screen post-production compositing time to the next level and hit the commercial market. The research team at NC’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre is working on the second phase of prototype development. Since no such product currently exists, the success of this device opens the door for Keyframe to significantly increase their productivity and create a market with other production companies worldwide.

“The team has been great. I am surprised each time I visit how talented and professional the students and staff are,” said Clint Green, co-founder of Krow VFX, a division of Keyframe Studios. “From day one we felt as if we had engineering partners and that was important to us … our success had to be the College’s success.”

NC’s award-winning Research & Innovation division administers research funding support from various regional, provincial and federal agencies. Students and graduates are hired to work alongside faculty researchers and assist industry partners with leaping forward in the marketplace. Students come from a variety of the College’s programs, such as Mechanical Engineering Technology, Culinary Innovation and Food Technology, Business Administration – Marketing, and Computer Programmer.

Research Infosource annually compiles listings of the Top 50 research universities, corporate R&D spenders, and research hospitals. This year marks the sixth year a list has been released for the Top 50 research colleges in Canada. A special report on all 2019 categories, including comprehensive listings, analysis and insight, will be published Nov. 21, 2019. For more information on the Top 50 list, visit