As the Paris talks on Climate Change highlight, as well as all the accompanying marches and community meetings, fossil fuels are a burning issue (weyy). Finding more sustainable fuels is pressing, and it is in this light that a Trent professor’s award is so timely, and important.

For his ongoing research into biomaterials, Suresh Narine, professor of Physics & Astronomy and Chemistry, and director of the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research (TCBR), has been awarded Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada Industrial Research Chair (IRC).Having received $500,000 in NSERC funding, matches by industrial partners will see “a $2.25 million funding infusion for his biomaterials research program over the next five years.”

The NSERC funds and invests in research, with the aim to stimulate scientific and technological innovation. As its website notes, over the last ten years the council has invested “more than $7 billion in basic research.” The council estimates that each year, around 12,000 professors are supported in their work by NSERC

Professor Narine’s work concerns biomaterials, heading up a centre which examines the creation and use of biomaterials. Biomaterials are materials, synthetic and natural, that are engineered to interact with living, biological systems, or are derived from natural crops.

Biomaterials have many uses, such as with polymers, in toxicology, immunology and drug and gene vector design. Often, biomaterials are incorporated into medical devices such as hip joints and heart valves. Trent’s research centre stands out, as it has a “focus on development, agricultural utilization and geographical, environmental and commercial impacts”.

The professor’s research is focussed on finding new ways of producing things that are derived from petrochemicals, things like “car bumpers, colostomy bags, packaging and lubricants.” Rather than using finite fossil fuel sources, his work seeks to derive solutions from “oilseed crops such as soy beans and canola.” The program focuses on converting vegetable oils into high value materials.

The research centre’s work extends further. In agriculture, it investigates seed modification and developing ‘sound practices’ for these crops. Through geographical analysis, the centre looks at possibilities for sustainably maximising land productivity, to reduce the carbon that is released in land use, and it monitors landscape changes overtime- changes to biomass and productivity, for example.

At a time when we need to greatly reduce our fossil fuel use, the significance of this research should not be underestimated. Indeed, their research also deals with the less tangible side of things, like ethics and policy tools for integrating biomaterials into common use.

Here the centre extends the work into developing effective business strategies for biomaterial use, and outlining why biomaterial research is important and what the best way to go about it is. Alongside this, it promotes understanding of the risks involved.

TCBR is looking to shape a more sustainable, ethical future and Dr Narine’s work lies at the forefront of this. This award is a recognition of the importance of the work that is going on.