NSERC funding supports cannabis, craft beer and advanced manufacturing sectors
Niagara College researchers welcome the news of a $4.43-million investment from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
On April 5, NSERC’s College and Community Innovation (CCI) program announced three new Applied Research and Technology Partnership (ARTP) funding grants for NC. Funds included an ARTP grant to support a NC project in sustainable cannabis and hemp production research, as well as two multi-institutional ARTP grants for NC-led projects: to support craft breweries in Canada, and to expand the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).
“We are thankful for NSERC’s significant investment in research and innovation at Niagara College, and for their outstanding support of NC-led applied research projects with our valued institutional partners – including SONAMI – that will benefit SMEs in vital and emerging sectors across Ontario and Canada,” said Marc Nantel, Vice President of Research and External Relations at Niagara College. “Innovation is a key priority at NC, and these projects will not only advance the applied research needs of industry, but will expand opportunities for students as they work with SMEs to provide innovative solutions.”
Supporting sustainable cannabis and hemp production research
The newly announced funds earmark $641,800 (over a two-year period) for research and development at NC to address challenges and continue advancement in the cannabis industry. This will provide research support in cultivation, as well as business and marketing, and will provide new applied research experiences for students within the College’s schools of Environment and Horticulture, and Business and Management.
“The ARTP funding for sustainable cannabis and hemp production will be instrumental in allowing our Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) and Business and Commercialization Services (BCS) teams to fully operationalize and support industry needs through the increased ability to execute more research projects,” said Kimberley Cathline, Research Program Manager of the College’s AETIC.
Thanks to the new ARTP funding, NC will be able to operationalize its dedicated cannabis space and begin assisting companies with cultivation-related challenges. It will support research in sustainable cannabis production, cannabis variety and growth trials, integrated pest management, and business and commercialization solutions. Cathline noted that the ARTP grant will allow NC to invest in these strategic areas while deepening AETIC and BCS’s role in contributing to the innovation ecosystem to support the sector.
By providing access to expert faculty, students, equipment and facilities, the College’s AETIC and BCS teams are ideally positioned to lead applied research projects that assist cannabis producers with meeting growth and competitiveness challenges.
In 2018, NC made headlines around the world when it launched the first Commercial Cannabis Production program in Canada. Over the last three years, the College has also been helping industry partners and associations address challenges and continue advancement in cannabis through course-based research projects.
In March 2021, the College expanded its on-campus cannabis education capabilities to include a Health-Canada-approved CannaResearch Bunker, funded through NSERC’s applied Research Tools and Instruments Grants program. This dedicated research space provides specialized equipment to grow crops, complete trials and conduct research in partnership with industry. It offers a controlled, sterile, and isolated growing space to perform safe, secure, and dependable research projects.
NC also has an Industrial Hemp licence, which is significant for research and academic endeavours, providing hands-on learning and research opportunities that enable students to advance Canada’s hemp and cannabis industries. Students learn to grow cannabis/hemp in a controlled environment, in a greenhouse and outdoors.
Improving Canadian craft beer competitiveness
An ARTP grant for $1,789,330 million (over a two-year period) has been awarded to NC to lead a project to support the Canadian craft brewing industry by improving quality assurance and control measures in small- and medium-sized breweries. Its goal is to create a Craft Brewer Quality program, which will be piloted across the country to train brewers and students.
The project will be led by Niagara College (through its Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre) – home to Canada’s first Teaching Brewery and renowned Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program –-and will involve Durham College, Collège Communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick’s CCNB-INNOV (New Brunswick), and Olds College (Alberta).
“We are absolutely thrilled for the support from NSERC. It really shows that the federal government is committed to supporting the craft beer industry in its ongoing growth and development,” said Lyndon Ashton, Centre Manager, CFWI Innovation Centre. “Since the 1980s, the craft brewing industry has grown to 24% of all beer made in Canada. Of key importance now for the growing industry is developing a systematic way to increase quality assurance and consistency in the products sold to the public.”
Ashton noted that the funds will be used to collaboratively develop a framework of industry standards and guidelines with college and industry experts. They will be operationalized into customized written quality programs and the concepts will be proven in partnership with 16 breweries across New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta. Analytical testing at key points during the project will gauge the effectiveness of the standards.
At every step, students will be trained alongside industry partners, exemplifying work-integrated learning and capacity building for the businesses. Ultimately, the intellectual property will be assigned to industry association partners for potential adoption upon project completion.
Expanding SONAMI into four strategic sectors
SONAMI – a Niagara College-led network of nine postsecondary institutions designed to support SMEs in the manufacturing sector across Southern Ontario – will receive $2-million in funding (over a two-year period) to expand into four strategic sectors for targeted growth. The areas of expansion include transportation (auto parts and aerospace manufacturing supply chains); energy systems (energy storage, renewable energy production); food processing; and medical devices (to support access to medical device research and expertise for SMEs). The funds will support eligible SONAMI academic members including NC, Centennial, Conestoga, Fanshawe, Lambton, Mohawk, Sheridan and George Brown.
“SONAMI is a prime example of how, when industry and applied research come together to innovate and grow, it can drive the development of national and regional economies and communities,” said SONAMI Network Manager Kithio Mwanzia. “In transportation, energy systems, medical devices, and food processing, given that they are fiercely competitive but highly rewarding global industries, innovation is a necessity.”
Mwanzia noted that the new ARTP grant will help SMEs in these industry areas leverage the growing SONAMI network to master multiple practices to commercialize products and processes that will catalyze their growth and success.
“These industry areas attract talent and investment from around the world,” said Mwanzia. “Industry leading companies in each of these industry areas choose Canada as the place in which to design and manufacture new products and from which to sell them to the world.”
Through the ARTP grant, SONAMI will conduct at least 42 applied research projects with industry partners in the four targeted sectors. These 42 projects will be assessed through a triple lens of sustainability, growth, and profitability, to best support the economic recovery for SMEs.
NC will be contributing to at least four of the projects and will have access to financial support for new equipment investments.
In addition to supporting applied research and SMEs, SONAMI projects support student success. Students gain access to industry experience, hands-on learning and exposure to working with industry partners – potential employers.
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.
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit niagaracollege.ca.