A new beginning for innovative chemistry

- Ottawa, Ontario

Dr. Benoit Simard

Thanks to the New Beginnings Initiative, NRC researcher Dr. Benoit Simard and his team were able to explore a new and better way to chemically modify boron nitride nanotubes (BNNT). BNNTs are used to reinforce and add functionalities to materials to make them less likely to break or be damaged. One example of the application of BNNTs is in structural composites—they are integrated with other materials to ensure the final structures are stronger and better protected against heat, flame and radiation.

Dr. Simard's idea for a project proposal for New Beginnings was to conduct chemistry on these nanotubes, without the use of solvents, which end up as chemical waste. Such waste materials are detrimental to the environment and significantly increase the cost of manufacturing.

Dr. Simard teamed up with Professor Sylvain Coulombe and his then master's student, Robyn Iannitto from McGill University, to develop a plasma reactor capable of keeping the BNNT airborne within the confinement of plasma, enabling it to effectively carry out surface chemical functionalization. The proof of principle was made with ammonia-derived functional groups. The findings were published recently in the prestigious ACS Applied Nano-Materials Journal.

When asked why he chose to participate in New Beginnings, Dr. Simard said "This initiative gives researchers the chance to test ideas, no matter how big or small they are. Sometimes the greatest discoveries come from a simple idea.  In particular, it provides an opportunity to test potential synergy with collaborators."

His project was one of 52 selected out of 311 projects submitted for the first round of the initiative. Not only was it successful, but this project has solidified Dr. Simard's position and that of the NRC's in the field of BNNTs. This project has also enabled him to expand his network of collaborators. In particular, building on success from the New Beginnings Initiative, the NRC–McGill team expanded to include researchers from the NRC's Nanotechnology Research Centre and Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre. It also successfully leveraged funding from the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program to pursue research in plasma and BNNT-assisted generation of ammonia, a fuel of the future that can be generated and deployed anywhere, including in small and remote communities.

New Beginnings is 1 of 2 initiatives funded by the Ideation Fund, which supports NRC researchers and their external collaborators in testing and validating transformative research ideas.

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