Scientist Sylvie Fradette tackles global warming with a cool new invention
Occasionally there is a tiny glimmer of hope that our planet might not turn to trash. During next week’s Kyoto Protocol conference, which runs parallel to the UN Climate Change Conference, a Quebec City researcher’s project on the isolation and transformation of industrial CO2 emissions is being presented as one of the few applicable technological solutions to the world’s looming global-warming crisis. After 10 years of applied research, 11 patents and millions of dollars’ worth of technological innovation, Dr. Sylvie Fradette’s research has finally placed Quebec on the cutting edge of the planet’s eco-savvy frontier.
"I couldn’t see myself working in a normal industrial environment," she said. "Research is always about what’s new… and that’s a hard habit to break."
Fradette’s research was cultivated at Laval University, where she started to consider the simple biochemistry of life itself.
"Anhydrous carbonic enzymes keep everyone and everything alive," she said. "Everybody has them… because without them, you’re dead."
Once the CO2 from our bloodstream is exposed to the enzymes in our lungs, it becomes a gas that’s expelled once we breathe it out. The whole system starts up once you take your first breath, and it only shuts down once you take your last.
Using that idea, Fradette reasoned that if CO2 could be isolated and expelled from our own bloodstream, someone could just as easily isolate and transform CO2 emissions from other sources. Initial experiments, while expensive, were a success. Quebec engineer Réjean Blais was so impressed with Fradette’s research that he personally financed it for another two years, and when money problems threatened to put a stop to Fradette’s research, Blais wasn’t discouraged. Along with some friends, he formed CO2 Solutions Inc. and began to set up the company that would put Fradette’s research to the test.
Their first priority was to develop a synthetic enzyme that would reduce the astronomic costs of the anhydrous carbonic enzyme. Within 18 months they had their enzyme, and the company was on its way.
"A single gram of anhydrous carbonic made out of bull’s blood used to cost us almost $100,000 [U.S.]," said Fradette. "Now it only costs us $20 per gram."
Technically speaking, Fradette’s biochemical reactor system can be an applicable solution to any industrial situation. Initial experiments at a Quebec City incinerator were successful, and now the company is looking for more industrial partners in the nation’s energy and heavy industry sectors.
A contract with the Canadian Navy proved a huge success after one of Fradette’s bioreactors was placed in one of the navy’s new submarines. Under usual circumstances, a diesel-powered submarine must surface for air every 48 hours or the crew will suffocate. Using Fradette’s bioreactor, the subs remained submerged for a week, and further tests demonstrated that they could have remained underwater for almost a month. Over the past two years, CO2 Solutions has won many scientific prizes in both Canada and Europe. As of last month, the Wall Street Journal described the company as being one of the world’s best in the field of environmental research.
While pleased with her results, Fradette is unaffected by all the fuss being made over her success.
"It’s nice because it gives me the opportunity to continue my work," she said. "There’s always a lot that’s left to be done."
CO2 Solutions stack emission and reduction technology will be among the technological developments discussed and presented to delegates at next week’s Kyoto Protocol conference being held in Montreal.