Research partnership cuts dust on gravel roads and helps create new jobs

The next time you’re driving down a gravel road, John Roung wants you to think about the amount of dust that’s flying around.

If there’s not that much of it, there’s a good chance the road may have been sprayed with a new dust control product that was developed for his company in collaboration with a UWindsor chemist.

Roung, general manager for the Harrow-based Trillium Distribution Inc., was on campus Tuesday for a special event to celebrate the successes of the FedDev’s Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative, a program which encourages industries to work with academic researchers on turning ideas into commercially viable goods and services.

Chemistry professor Keith Taylor and graduate student Wei Feng worked with Roung’s company on studying the behavioural properties of a mixture of calcium and magnesium chlorides under varying humidity and temperature conditions to better understand if it would work as a method to prevent dust from flying around on gravel roads.

“No one had ever done the research before on that solution,” said Roung, who added that a new plant has already been constructed in Courtright, Ontario, a small village on the St. Clair River between Wallaceburg and Sarnia, to produce the product. He said that facility will create about seven direct manufacturing new jobs and spare about 30 or more related jobs that would have been lost when General Chemical closed its facility in Amherstburg six years ago.

Roung’s company will be selling the product to municipalities and industries such as logging companies that want to reduce dust on their roads. The absence of dust indicates the stone is remaining on the road, keeping maintenance costs low and minimizing safety issues and air pollution from airborne particles, he said. Trillium is now the only Ontario producer of a refined, concentrated chloride solution.

“We have sales lined up well into Quebec,” he said. “We’d probably have more, but right now we have a limit to what we can produce.”

Dr. Taylor – who worked with Wei and post-doctoral fellow Aaron Steevensz on two other FedDev-funded projects that used an enzyme from the seed coats of beans to remove toxic aromatic compounds from industrial waste-water – said the work was “straightforward problem-solving and providing clear data that’s workable for a company.”

In all, 10 different projects were funded through the program last year to the tune of about $484,000. A total of seven researchers worked on a variety of projects ranging from verifying the strength of a mounting system used by a local designer of roof-mounted solar panel systems to developing a face recognition system to be used in vehicles to help prevent impaired driving.

UWindsor president Alan Wildeman said the program helps close the innovation gap between those in the private sector who sometimes accuse universities of not doing anything relevant, and academic researchers doing important work.

“We’re pleased that so many industries have come forward to work with us,” said Dr. Wildeman. “This program has enabled more dialogue between researchers and industries, and that all starts with trust.”