Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (Ontario)

“The Boots on the Ground”: Internship supports a start-up to reduce fresh water use and produce clean discharge

Founded in 2008, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) is a not-for-profit business accelerator that supports and promotes the development and commercialization of green and sustainable technologies. Based in Sarnia, Ontario, one of its mandates is to develop highly qualified personnel to take this vision forward.

Photo of Sajib in front of white background.

Science Horizons intern Sajib Barua. Photo credit: Sajib Barua

The federal government’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program “really aligns with what we’re trying to do in this space,” says BIC’s Project Manager Michael Faba. His organization has secured several wage subsidies from BioTalent Canada and ECO Canada, delivery agents for the internship program offered by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Faba calls interns hired through these programs “the boots on the ground,” adding that “it’s important that they hit the ground running.”

In December 2019, BIC hired environmental engineer Sajib Barua for an internship. Most of his work supported Forward Water Technologies Inc., a small company that has developed a new water-treatment technology. The start-up had recently moved from Kingston, Ont., to the Sarnia Research Park, a business incubation centre for developing technologies. Forward Water’s technology is a solution for industries trying to reduce fresh water use or to produce clean discharge sustainably.

Sajib at a local water treatment plant.

Science Horizons intern, Sajib Barua, at a local water treatment plant, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo credit: Sajib Barua

Forward Water needed lab space for quality analyses and a pilot plant to demonstrate its forward osmosis-based water and wastewater treatment technology. Barua was a good fit. He had a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and a Master of Science degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Alberta.

Much of his graduate work concerned water, especially wastewater. Also, he had developed an advanced anaerobic digester to improve biomethane production from waste biomass, such as food waste. Barua is the lead author of several peer-reviewed scientific articles published when he was an undergraduate and graduate student.

With a father who is a civil engineer with the Bangladeshi government and a mother who is a senior staff nurse, young Barua loved physics and mathematics since his early days at school. Although he had options to pursue graduate work in the U.S., he chose the University of Alberta because he heard that Canadians would welcome him warmly. However, the minus 25° Celsius temperature at the Edmonton airport when he arrived in January 2017, was chillier than he expected.

Photo of Sajib.

Science Horizons intern Sajib Barua. Photo credit: Sajib Barua

Barua’s work in Sarnia was his first full-time job in his field of study. He worked on setting up the Forward Water’s lab and a retrofit of its demonstration unit. The experience was invaluable, he says. “I gained technical knowledge and communication skills that were important when giving presentations to potential clients or engaging with vendors,” he says. “I had learned technical skills at university but they needed some tuning up, like how to communicate with vendors or clients in real life. It was exciting to do it.”

Faba says much was demanded of Barua: “We expect a lot, including design work, vendor engagement, equipment procurement, feasibility testing and analytical feedback.” The COVID-19 pandemic struck just months after Barua was hired which meant he needed to work independently. “He proved very resilient, very adaptable and continued to get his work done correctly and safely,” says Faba. “Despite the challenges, it was a positive outcome.”

Faba enjoys the opportunity of coaching and mentoring recent graduates. “You know a lot coming out of school but you learn a lot more on the job,” he says. “We look for employees who are interested in providing value and benefit to Canada and the bio-economy as a whole. And we want people with self-initiative and the drive to tackle problems head-on.”

He says Science Horizons internships are a great boon for non-profit organizations because “programs like these allow us to take a larger role and consider multiple positions we might not be able to otherwise afford.”

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