Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop visited the University of Guelph this week to learn how the University is helping develop commercial solutions to challenges in sectors across Ontario’s economy through technology research and innovation. 

The pair toured the Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre (BDDC) and had a chance to interact with GIGAS, the Guelph Intelligent Greenhouse Automation System.  

“We were delighted to welcome Premier Ford and Minister Dunlop to our campus, and it was a pleasure to demonstrate how our University’s innovations help serve the needs of both urban and rural Ontarians,” said Dr. Charlotte Yates, U of G president and vice-chancellor.  

“The researchers and students behind the development of these made-in-Guelph innovations showcased how research at our University is leading to commercialized products that directly solve challenges in sectors across Ontario’s economy – from agriculture to automotive and more.” 

Guelph Intelligent Greenhouse Automation System on display

U of G president Charlotte Yates and Premier Doug Ford and Minister Jill Dunlop learned about the GIGAS robotics system.

The premier and minister were given a demonstration of GIGAS, a “smart” robot under development by an interdisciplinary team at U of G to help automate tasks in Ontario’s greenhouse sector. 

Researchers in U of G’s School of Engineering explained how GIGAS is being trained to monitor greenhouse vegetable growth, detect disease outbreaks, prune leaves and harvest produce.  

Dr. Medhat Moussa, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, has been developing the project to help alleviate some of the labour challenges in the agri-food sector and has applied this technology to robots used in auto manufacturing. The development of GIGAS offers U of G students unique applied and hands-on experience to prepare them for employment. 

Plant-based materials used to create eco-friendly biomaterials

“We were thrilled to share with the premier and the minister two outstanding examples of agriculture and food research and innovation at the University of Guelph,” said Dr. Rene Van Acker, interim vice-president (research).  

Two people in lab coats watch as a third person in a lab coat pours out a beaker of pellets while standing neat processing machinery
BDCC director Dr. Amar Mohanty displays biocomposite pellets to Dr. Charlotte Yates, U of G president, and Premier Doug Ford

“Our researchers develop technologies that are commercialized here in Ontario to solve real-world global problems, while embedding student training in all of our research efforts. Our collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, underpins our capacity to be world leaders in this regard.” 

At the BDDC, researchers demonstrated how agricultural waste products are made into biomaterial pellets, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support a circular economy.

Since 2008, researchers in the centre have engineered sustainable materials using waste agricultural products into commercialized biopolymers to be used in everything from compostable cutlery to lightweight auto parts. 

The premier and minister toured the BDCC with co-director Dr. Amar Mohanty and Dr. Manjusri Misra.

Mohanty is the OAC Distinguished Chair in Sustainable Biomaterials and a professor cross-appointed to the Department of Plant Agriculture within the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) and the School of Engineering in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.  Misra is the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Biocomposites and also a professor in the School of Engineering and jointly appointed to the Department of Plant Agriculture.

Developing commercial solutions to challenges

Premier Doug Ford and Dr. Charlotte Yates wear labs coats and laugh while meeting students inside the BDDC facility
Premier Doug Ford and Dr. Charlotte Yates, U of G President and vice-chancellor, toured the BDDC facility and met with students.

Mohanty and the BDDC team work closely with local industry to engineer innovative sustainable materials using waste agricultural products.

This U of G research led to the world’s first compostable coffee pods, currently widely available in Canadian grocery outlets, and lightweight headlight housings and other automotive parts now being used by Ford Motor Co.  

The BDDC team has also worked to create a certified industrially compostable biocomposite used in eco-friendly cutlery and coffee stir sticks to help reduce plastic waste. 

BDDC research is supported by the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation; U of G alumni; private partners including BMO Financial Group; and the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the University of Guelph. Development of GIGAS was also funded in part by the Alliance.