uOttawa’s Centre for Catalysis Research and Innovation creates intersections with industry


published: Nov 2

The CCRI’s robotic catalyst synthesis tools (pictured behind Professor Baker) allow the researcher to run a large number of reactions at once on a very small scale in a fully-automated fashion, minimizing cost, time, waste generation and experimental error.

The Scientist
Tom Baker has done a lot of chemistry. In fact, he was recently awarded the Canadian Green Chemistry and Engineering Award from the Chemical Institute of Canada for his contributions to catalysis science geared towards energy applications for sustainable and green chemistry.

Before arriving at uOttawa, Tom spent fifteen years at DuPont CR&D developing applications for homogeneous catalysis involving fluorochemicals, titanium dioxide, and nylon intermediates. In 1996 he joined the Chemistry division at Los Alamos National Laboratory where he led projects in bi-functional and multiphasic catalysis approaches for alkane functionalization and chemical hydrogen storage. In 2008 Baker joined the Chemistry Department at uOttawa as Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Catalysis Science for Energy Applications and became the Director of the Centre for Catalysis Research and Innovation.

The Science Centre
The Centre for Catalysis Research and Innovation (CCRI) is a huge (18,000 sq. ft.) state-of-the art facility housed in the Biosciences Complex, andfeatures robotic chemistry tools for rapid discovery as well as microscopes that can ‘see’ the elements in very small catalyst particles. The CCRI comprises thirty university researchers who each study catalytic chemistry but come from all across campus, making the centre both multidisciplinary and yet highly focused. Baker sees the CCRI as an ideal hub for collaboration: through the centre the University of Ottawa can offer its catalysis research scientists  equipment that would otherwise be unaffordable.

One of the Baker’s projects is to use the CCRI to study is how certain metal catalysts (catalysts are guest chemicals that speed up the rate of a chemical reaction) could be used to selectively break carbon-carbon bonds in wood-derived lignin and so convert biomass into usable energy.

The Solution
Not only does the centre attract world-class researchers (six are Canada Research Chairs) and outstanding students, but it also partners the University of Ottawa with industry.

In many ways, these partnerships lie at the heart of how Baker runs the CCRI. He pushes researchers to move beyond the one-researcher-with-one-company-for-one-project-type of collaboration into collaborations between two or three companies and a half dozen university researchers at one time. Baker and the CCRI are building bridges to help move scientific discoveries from the ivory tower into the Canadian economy with greater fluency.

Baker says, “It’s an exciting time. We’re starting to see our centre become a resource across the country and we expect to see that more and more.”