Second Time Lucky for Gemini Surfactant
When Dr. Gerrard Marangoni and Dr. Bruce Grindley finally announced an exclusive licensing deal for their Gemini surfactant in November 2012, it was difficult to believe the development of their product had hit a wall just three years before.
Luckily, they were working with Andrew Kendall, Manager of the Industry Liaison Office at St. Francis Xavier University, who helped them resurrect the project and find a new route to commercialization.
The project began in the late 1990s when Marangoni of StFX and Grindley of Dalhousie University began to examine Gemini surfactants. (Surfactants are substances that reduce a liquid’s surface tension, and a Gemini surfactant consists of two surfactant molecules.)
With the help of the StFX liaison office, they received Atlantic Innovation Fund financing in 2003, and the two chemistry professors – who have worked with about eight to 10 students in their research – began developing the high-performance Gemini surfactant. The compound can dissolve or emulsify insoluble substances and coat surfaces and have various industrial and consumer applications. What was especially interesting about Marangoni and Grindley’s Gemini surfactant was that it required a far smaller amount to do the same job compared to existing products and would therefore save the end user money.
As their research progressed, they received money from Springboard for “getting a host of industrial type properties of the Gemini surfactants,” says Marangoni, adding that this really helped to get data that they and their partners used in the development of the surfactants.
They also began to collaborate with a western Canadian petroleum company with the goal of becoming an early adopter of the product. However, the oil patch was hit hard by the financial crash of 2008, and the oil company decided to pull out of the project a year later.
“The company walked away and we were sitting around with 2009 with a really great surfactant … and absolutely no way we could see to get it to a state where we could bring it to market,” says Marangoni.
But luckily, Kendall of the Industrial Liaison Office had an idea. He had recently been in touch with GreenCentre Canada, a Kingston, Ont.-based group that helps to commercialize advances in chemistry that improve the environment. He contacted the group, and they took an interest in the work Marangoni and Grindley were carrying out. The two professors traveled to Kingston to meet with GreenCentre, which was soon helping to economically produce the product in quantities that met industry demands. GreenCentre licensed the product in September 2010.
“That was the beginning of moving this to a commercializable technology,” says Marangoni. “They did a lot of work in getting this technology to a point where a large amount of the Gemini surfactant could be produced fairly cheaply.”
Then the big break came in November 2012 when GreenCentre sold the rights to the product to RAN Chemical, which allowed the Indian chemical company to license it to other corporations and develop it into a range of industrial products.
Marangoni says the development of these products will be a spoke and hub model, where the developers of the end-products will pay RAN, which will then pay the original developers, including StFX and Dalhousie.
The further development of the Gemini surfactants is now being carried on with these other partners, so Marangoni is now focusing more on his next project, a for-profit company called GMS Surface Tech, which is developing green industrial cleaning products.
“It’s reaching a point where it’s taken on a life of its own,” says Marangoni, “so it’s time to be moving on to other stuff.”