Niagara College signs MOU with International Zeolite
A new agreement between Niagara College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC) and International Zeolite Corp. (IZ) aims to introduce a revolutionary new growing system to assist growers, boost foodproduction, and create opportunities for students.
For NC’s Research & Innovation division, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with IZ is the first of its kind and builds on several years of its work with one of its industry partners. HESIC has worked on 10 projects for IZ since May 2021.
“HESIC prides itself on creating strong, impactful research relationships like the one we have with International Zeolite Corp. At NC, we provide organizations with research solutions that help to evaluate innovations and move their products toward commercialization,” said Kimberley Cathline, HESIC Research Program Manager. “We’re excited to continue our partnership with IZ, and this new agreement will enable even more innovative research.”
NC has agreed to provide priority and support for research projects to IZ, through the new MOU. The projects are in relationship to IZ’s proprietary grow system NEREA® and will be conducted by HESIC, which will provide IZ with ongoing access to resources, staff, and space to support its research projects.
The College will work with IZ to explore prospective advanced manufacturing, business and commercialization projects and alignments, as opportunities may arise. NC also supported IZ in establishing a production facility in Niagara which is now operational.
IZ first turned to NC’s Research & Innovation division for research to support the use of zeolite, which is a mineral that’s mined for its water and nutrient holding capabilities, to help with growing when used as a soil amendment.
The proprietary way to embed all the nutrients necessary for plant growth right into the zeolite, a grow system branded as NEREA®, was developed by researchers in Cuba. While the Cuban studies demonstrated several benefits to the use of NEREA® including an increased crop – which means the time to harvest was significantly reduced compared to conventional methods and made for a better quality, larger plant that required significantly less fertilizer than conventional methods – the company turned to NC to help validate the Cuban findings.
“Niagara College is recognized as one of Canada’s top research college institutions. They are evaluating our NEREA® grow system, as well as providing us with recommended solutions supporting rapid adoption of our products and solutions by growers in the horticultural segment,” said Mark Pearlman, IZ President and Chief Operating Officer. “We have gained incredible competitive advantage through our partnership with HESIC. This group takes research and development and makes it practical, and we wouldn’t be where we are without the magic of this unique partnership.”
Pearlman believes that the new growing system can help growers increase yields and reduce their costs, as well as help reduce greenhouse gases.
“It’s been an absolutely incredible partnership with the College because we are able to collaborate with the College to validate our NEREA® grow system, learn from the College about growers and their approach to agriculture, and have a legitimate agricultural research and development group as a ‘branch’ of our team,” said Pearlman.
The partnership is a win for IZ as it hopes to validate a product to help growers produce more fruits and vegetables – and feed more people around the world.
With the MOU in place, IZ is ramping up and has just recently opened a pilot plant manufacturing facility in Niagara, with plans to commercialize and begin product development and production.
The project is also a win for NC as it opens doors to conduct important research and create new opportunities for students to gain experience on projects with real clients.
IZ is supporting the cost of employing a HESIC research associate and will have a stream of projects that open up opportunities for student involvement, as well as access to IZ’s pilot plant in Jordan where students will be able to learn more about production processes and engage closely with industry.
Alberto G. Hardt, who recently completed the Horticultural Technician (Co-op) program, has been working with HESIC since January 2022 and was recently hired as a Greenhouse Research Associate to work on IZ projects. Working on campus has allowed him to fill in gaps in his timetable by working when he wasn’t in class and gave him a chance to apply knowledge he learned in the classroom to real-world projects – and vice versa.
What stands out to him is not only the work opportunity itself and the experience he is gaining but how his work is valued.
“Student opinions and suggestions are really taken into account when we have a challenging situation that needs a solution. The research leaders are really open to our ideas,” he said. “At first, I imagined that our work as part-time students would only be operational, following guidelines from research leaders on how to proceed with the experiments, but actually what happens is much more interesting, because we students participate in some of the meetings with IZ and feel that our opinions and suggestions are really heard and taken into account. I did not expect this level of appreciation for our work as student research assistants.”
Hardt, who graduated from university in Brazil before attending NC, chose his program with a focus on gaining employment in this in-demand field. The opportunity to work for HESIC was beyond his expectations.
“I didn’t imagine that my first job right after graduation would be so fulfilling,” he said. “I like the work environment, my co-workers, the facilities and especially the dynamic model we work in, where decisions are constantly being made, and we always need to stay in touch with the team to make sure we’re on the same page.”
He also sees it as a sign that his work has been well received.
“I was lucky, but I also believe I showed I was capable. I was invited to continue working on the team even before I graduated,” said Hardt, who will graduate at NC’s Spring Convocation ceremonies in mid-June. “I am very proud to state on my resume that I work on the Research & Innovation team at the number one research college in Ontario.”
Niagara College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre specializes in performing growth trials with horticultural crops that evaluate innovations and improvements. We have extensive experience in innovations that are close to commercialization. Our expertise includes assessing technologies, production practices, packaging, media and pots, pest, and disease control approaches and more.
Located at both the Niagara-on-the-Lake and Welland campuses, the Centre works with faculty experts and students from several programs, including several programs, including Greenhouse Technician (Co-op), Horticultural Technician (Co-op), Commercial Cannabis Production, Commercial Beekeeping and Environmental Technician, to provide a wealth of knowledge to industry partners, giving them a competitive advance in researching solutions to provide a wealth of knowledge to industry partners, giving them a competitive advantage in researching solutions.
The Centre leverages the resources of the colleges 16,000 square-foot greenhouse, implementing IPM infrastructure; controlled-environment agriculture facility and specialized equipment dedicated to cannabis research; and licensed cannabis and hemp research growing facilities, including greenhouse, outdoor and controlled-environment.
NC’s award-winning Research & Innovation division administers research funding support from various regional, provincial, and federal agencies. Students and graduates are hired to work alongside faculty researchers and assist industry partners with leaping forward in the marketplace. Students come from a variety of the College’s programs, such as the Commercial Cannabis Production Program, Mechanical Engineering Technology, Culinary Innovation and Food Technology, Business Administration – Marketing, and Computer Programmer.
Niagara College has a full-time enrolment of more than 10,000 students from over 95 countries, who study in 130 diploma, certificate and bachelor degree programs at specialized campuses in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Niagara College is also involved in educational projects and partnerships around the world and is consistently ranked among Canada’s top 10 colleges for research funding. Learn more at niagaracollege.ca.