Partnerships: Innovation

The primary purpose of BC’s colleges applied research and innovation activities is to match the needs of businesses and community organizations with the outstanding student and faculty research talents at colleges.

As the global economy changes so does British Columbia’s response, and BC’s colleges are integral to growing new technology and innovation centers in key areas of the economy. For over a decade Colleges have built capacity to support innovation at local small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We have done so to:

  • Enrich student learning through experiential / applied learning
  • Expose students to real world, hands-on problem solving, thus expanding their job applicable skills and education
  • Share faculty expertise and access to unique technology that supports local SME applied research and intellectual property development, leading to new, better performing commercial products and services
  • Partner with businesses to grow employment opportunities for students while strengthening industry relationships and investments in colleges
  • Helping businesses access government funding support for applied research projects
  • Complement the leading “discovery research” focus of universities

Colleges are members of the BC Applied Research and Innovation Network (BCARIN), and access Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) applied research funding exclusively for Colleges. Nationally we collaborate with 110 NSERC-eligible colleges, while working closely with Universities on competitive projects and applied research initiatives.

College applied research significantly benefits students, contributes to economic productivity, and helps our partners achieve their innovation potential and competitive advantage going forward.

Some examples of innovation at BC colleges:

Increasing winter food yields in Northern B.C. through LED technology

Due to a short growing season and geographic dispersion, many Northern B.C. communities have limited access to fresh vegetables in winter. An innovative collaboration between industry and the College of New Caledonia (CNC) is hoping to address this issue by developing innovative solutions to optimize winter vegetable production. QuantoTech Solutions Ltd., a Vancouver based engineering company, initiated this applied research project by approaching the College in the fall of 2013. Their objective was to create a cost-effective LED lighting system that would allow plant producers to customize light intensity and spectrum in their greenhouse. The hope is that this project would change the way that food is grown in the North. 

In the initial six-month period, CNC electronics faculty and students designed, fabricated and tested several LED light systems prototypes, making multiple refinements until they reached the final prototype. Students, faculty, and QuantoTech then tested the final prototype in the greenhouse at Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community and Farm. The students conducted research to determine the best plants for this system by studying winter germination and growth of carrots, turnips, spinach and Swiss chard. In addition, CNC marketing students, with CNC Faculty Dr. Rosalie Hilde, conducted market research into QuantoTech’s technology and potential in northern communities.

This project has already generated several important impacts:

  • CNC students involved in this applied research project have developed important skills around LED technology, technology development and commercialization, entrepreneurship and the horticulture industry. By combining innovation with business mentorship, this project has helped new College graduates become the next generation of Canada’s technology entrepreneurs. QuantoTech Solutions hired one of the students involved with the project.
  • College of New Caledonia has forged a long-term relationship with QuantoTech Solutions, as a result of this project. They are continuing to work together on further refinements and commercialization of the LED technology.
  • QuantoTech has commercialized the technology and is selling their LED systems to growers in British Columbia. This is an example of a British Columbia company having successfully commercialized BC-made technology.
  • Northern communities will benefit from year round food production. The LED technology supports winter greenhouse growing, which helps address technology issues facing northern communities interested in increasing food security and local food supply. The hope is to roll out the technology across northern British Columbia.

Colleges Support Workforce Innovation in B.C.’s Interior

Rural communities are having to adapt to changing economic realities as B.C.’s economy diversifies and as traditional natural resource sector jobs change to reflect innovation and emerging technologies. The Regional Workforce Development in Rural B.C. project is identifying promising opportunities for communities in the B.C. Interior to successfully prepare for change. The aims of this project were recently validated as the project received Federal funding through the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Community & College Social Innovation Fund, ranking in the top 10 nationally. 

Led by the 4 colleges in the B.C. Interior (Selkirk College, College of the Rockies, Okanagan College and College of New Caledonia) and supported by the Kootenay Workforce Development steering committee, this initiative brings together industry leaders, educators, elected officials, policy makers, economic development practitioners, students, and leading scholars to collectively assess comparative workforce development strategies in ways that inform future policy, planning, and action. Regional Cluster Advisory Teams are now forming around technology and advanced manufacturing, mining and metallurgical, tourism, and forestry. These advisory teams will focus on clusters of economic activity surrounding each of these sectors, shaping the research agenda for over 30 student researchers who will work under the support of university and college faculty advisors.

Cluster focused research teams comprised of graduate and college students, university and college faculty, and the B.C. Regional Innovation Chair (RIC) in Rural Economic Development will work together during the summers to advance the research agenda and to build applied research capacity of highly qualified personnel. The overarching partnership model is designed to work with universities and other partners in ways that build the capacity of the region in order to become competitive in the global economy.

This initiative is helping to advance the applied research and innovation ecosystem in the B.C. Interior with education-academic-industry-provincial government partnerships that run wide and deep. An international group of leading scholars from Vancouver Island University, Simon Fraser University, University of B.C.- Okanagan, University of Northern B.C., University of Alberta, University of Guelph, University of Waterloo, Memorial University, and the University of Highlands and Islands have signed on to help shape and refine the research program which will include adapting and implementing best practice workforce strategies in the case study region’s rural context.

Camosun College’s Technology Access Centre (CTAC): a catalyst for B.C. Businesses

Camosun College’s Technology Access Centre (CTAC) is one of 30 Technology Access Centres (TAC) located across Canada, but the only one in B.C. Each TAC is affiliated with a Canadian college, and serves the research and innovation needs of a specific regional economic cluster. The complementary capabilities of Canada’s TACs enhance those of universities, private laboratories, government institutes, and other colleges. 

A TAC helps Canadian businesses advance their products, processes and services by:

  • conducting research and development projects focused on company problems
  • offering specialized technical services
  • providing companies with training related to new types of equipment and processes, and
  • connecting companies to additional sources of advice, service, expertise and funding

A TAC gives students opportunities to interact with industries on real projects which make a difference:

  • students work with TAC’s on projects in fields related to the TAC’s expertise,
  • students get to work with state of the art technology that typically is not available to them in their regular curriculum, and
  • students are inherently creative and are a force of innovation yet to be realized to its fullest extent

In the last fiscal year, CTAC supported 220 applied research projects with 51 different SME’s (Small Medium sized Enterprises), in addition to working with four different UVIC/UBC groups.

Mitigating environmental contamination with BIOCHAR

One of Langara College’s most successful and long-standing applied research projects is the Biochar project. The project explores the science behind the production and use of the Biochar, a form of charcoal produced from locally sourced biological material such as wood chips or marijuana stalks. Biochar has been shown to have soil benefits and may be a valuable amendment for agriculture or forestry applications. It can be used as a renewable solid fuel and is being explored for wastewater remediation applications. 

Initiated in September 2011 at Langara College by chemistry instructor Kelly Sveinson, the biochar applied research program used the College’s experimental biochar reactor to convert a variety of biomass wastes into biochar in a low oxygen atmosphere. The project was driven by industry need, ensuring the work had direct relevance to industrial applications. Students had the opportunity to work with different companies to explore different biochar sources and investigate their capacity in several different research applications.

One industrial collaboration involved McCue Engineering Contractors, a Vancouver-based environmental remediation company that was interested in exploring the capacity of biochar to remove metals from industrial wastewater.

Students tested the process using different materials, different process conditions and different wastewater contaminants and demonstrated that in some instances, the modified biochar has the capacity to absorb 90% of metal ions from the water. They found that marijuana stalks, which do not have any efficacious pharmaceutical properties but are a significant byproduct of the medicinal marijuana industry, have a greater ability to remove metal from wastewater than woody fibre.

*original content from BCARIN Applied Research Success Stories