Halifax startup innovates in bio-garmentry niche in wake of COVID-19

Posted: July 20, 2020
In Halifax, our people, companies, and organizations are resilient. We have overcome crises and adversity before, and we are once again. When COVID-19 began, companies quickly adapted to do business differently and to create new products to respond to the crisis.
At Halifax Partnership, we're speaking with companies every day, including those we work with through our SmartBusiness Program. Join us in celebrating their innovation and adaptability in this 10-part series, where we share the stories we're hearing during a global pandemic.

For a company dedicated to the research and development of sustainable water treatment systems, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new opportunities for growth despite a few logistical challenges.

Usually, Halifax-based Clean Valley Bio-Filtration Technologies CIC is working with industry partners on an innovative bio-filter that will remove microplastics from water sources. Their water treatment solution for aquaculture facilities will be cost-effective, nature-inspired, and non-toxic, making them sustainable and efficient.

After an initial meeting at Dalhousie’s Emera ideaHub with Minder Singh, an account executive with Halifax Partnership’s SmartBusiness Program, the Clean Valley team made successful business connections with six local organizations. These new relationships led to partnership opportunities within Halifax’s innovation ecosystem that would propel their business in new directions.

This winter the entrepreneurs, engineers and environmental scientists at Clean Valley faced a challenge; their co-founder Zhen Xiong was in Wuhan, China at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic there, and he had a preview of the disruption that would come to North America. In trying to protect himself and his family, he knew first-hand how difficult and expensive it was to find personal protective equipment (PPE) when there was a sudden exponential demand.

“We started having conversations about what we could do, what could we make here in Canada,” said Clean Valley founder Nicholas LaValle. “What can we offer, as a small Nova Scotia company that takes pride in its disruptive ability?”

When their research at Dalhousie was shut down due to the campus-wide closure, they quickly shifted focus to a way to use a compound found in algae called carrageenan, which has a proven ability to block viruses. “We thought there was some real potential there, and so we started talking to the experts, from microbiologists, virologists, and chemical engineers, and we discovered a niche intersection between biology and fabric manufacturing called bio-garmentry,” said LaValle.

“Our goal would be to create an antivirus solution, a liquid biofilm that could be applied to any form of PPE here,” said LaValle. “That would be our end goal because it would be very versatile, it'd be easy to apply, be easy to transport.”

He explained that the N95 mask, which has been in production for 30 years, requires expensive machinery to produce, but they’re in talks with a lab that is doing some exciting research on novel fabric creation. “This antiviral solution could be in the fabric itself, and it would be biodegradable, eliminating the production of plastic waste,” said LaValle.

While the immediate goal is to help find a solution to help first responders and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, this work could also be beneficial in the fight against Influenza-A, Herpes, HIV/AIDS, and Dengue viruses, and researchers have shifted the focus of their work quickly to meet this urgent need.

The Clean Valley team worked with researchers and partners at Acadian Seaplants, Savaen Gear, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Dalhousie University to create the solution and test its anti-viral properties. They are in the testing phase now.

“The pandemic shone a spotlight on where we had put pride or ego over realistic ways of getting the job done,” said LaValle. “Without [Minder], our newest product in development - the bio-mask - could not have been possible. We are incredibly grateful for the services he and Halifax Partnership provide.”

Get in Touch With Minder Singh For Help With Commercialization and R&D

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