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Guelph-based start-up Envision SQ will road test an innovative, pollution-reducing roadway barrier this fall – a key milestone in the company’s quest to help people around the world breathe easier.
With a unique aerodynamic design and sunlight-activated technology, Envision SQ’s SmogStop Barrier promises to be the “first product of its kind in the world” to dramatically reduce air pollution and traffic noise for people who live and work near roadways and railways, says Scott Shayko, Envision SQ President and CEO.
Envision SQ’s barrier is a solution to a growing problem: city dwellers around the world are affected by smog and its health consequences. The World Health Organization blames air pollution for 3.7 million deaths each year and the Canadian Medical Association estimates the annual economic cost of air pollution in Canada will exceed $13.7 billion by 2031.
“It is one of those innovations that’s a great leap forward, it’s a truly disruptive technology,” says Mark Goldberg, the Innovation Guelph mentor who has worked with Envision SQ since the company’s incorporation in 2014.
The Canadian Medical Association estimates the annual economic cost of air pollution in Canada will exceed $13.7 billion by 2031
The SmogStop Barrier is made of transparent acrylic with a patented photocatalytic coating that reactswith sunlight to capture smog-producing nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and reduce them to harmless gases such as nitrogen and oxygen – dramatically cutting ground-level pollution. Its patented aerodynamic design also funnels dirty air upwards where it mixes with cleaner air, diluting pollution and directing it away from nearby neighbourhoods.
Funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) through Innovation Guelph, and the Industrial Research Assistance Program have helped support research and development, as have partnerships with the University of Toronto, where the proprietary coating technology was created, and the University of Guelph’s School of Engineering, where the barrier structure was designed.
Envision SQ recently received funding from Innovation Guelph’s Fuel Injection program to test a full-scale model of the barrier in a wind tunnel at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).
The work, conducted in collaboration with the University of Guelph and UOIT, showed that the SmogStop Barrier removes up to 37 per cent of NOx. Another study, with Western University and U of G, showed the barrier reduces pollution levels in downwind neighbourhoods by more than half compared to a conventional noise barrier.
A single kilometre of SmogStop Barrier is expected to reduce the economic costs of pollution related to illness, emergency room visits, and lost wages by $10.4 million a year
The company estimates that over the course of a year, one kilometre of the SmogStop Barrier will remove 16 tonnes of NOx from nearby roadways, the amount of pollution produced by 200,000 vehicles on that stretch of roadway – helping to save lives, and money. New research shows that a single kilometre of SmogStop Barrier is expected to reduce the economic costs of pollution related to illness, emergency room visits, lost wages and so on by $10.4 million a year.
Shayko and business partner Dr. Xin Qiu, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, started developing the SmogStop Barrier six years ago, beginning through their work as principals with Novus Environmental.
Shayko, an air quality and environmental noise expert, has a background assessing the impact of motor vehicle emissions on people living near transportation corridors, while Xin is one of the top air quality modellers in Canada.
Previously there was “no mitigation, nothing you could do” to reduce the pollution emanating from vehicles on our roads, says Shayko. “I realized that when mitigation is required for noise, it’s also required for air pollution, resulting in the concept of a noise barrier that would reduce air pollution.”
The patented barrier coating that Envision SQ developed with researchers at the University of Toronto improves upon other catalysts for pollution reduction, such as titanium dioxide.
“The beauty of our solution is that the byproducts are gases, not liquids and solids that form scale on the surfaces. Light comes through the barrier and activates the catalysts to break down the gases. The reaction is almost instantaneous,” says Shayko.
Partners include Evonik Industries, which produces the acrylic panels used in the barriers, and Armtec LP, which specializes in noise barriers, and has a licensing agreement to sell the SmogStop barriers in North America.
The company also has a business partner and investor in China, who is looking to bring the technology to that country.
“Envision SQ has been incredibly smart about thinking out of the gate about being a global company and serving a global market,” said Goldberg, noting that while Envision SQ has been focused on developing and testing their product in Ontario, they also have their sights firmly set on the Chinese market where the pollution levels are many times worse.
Shayko says that Envision SQ is taking business development one step at a time in North America and elsewhere. “We’ve had lots of money thrown at us from individuals and VCs. It has to be the right fit; it has to make solid business sense.”
He says that field testing a full scale prototype of the SmogStop Barrier, which is expected to take place in October, is the final step in the drive to market entry, providing important validation for prospective customers – the key to sales and to fresher air for urban dwellers around the world. Construction of the full scale prototype is joint effort between Armtec LP, Evonik Industries, Powell Contracting Ltd. and Brennan Paving and Construction Ltd.
About Innovation Guelph’s Fuel Injection Program
Fuel Injection is Innovation Guelph’s first seed funding program: it provides grants for start-ups and small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in southern Ontario. Fuel Injection is delivered in partnership with Bioenterprise Corporation, with financial support provided by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
Fuel Injection provides grants of up to $30,000, to be matched in cash by companies working in manufacturing, sustainable technologies, social innovation, and other eligible sectors.
As an important addition to Innovation Guelph’s signature business acceleration program Speedway, the Fuel Injection program will help companies innovate and become more competitive, resulting in job creation, revenue growth, additional investment, the launch of new products and services, and the implementation of waste, water, and energy improvements.