GreeNovel Inc. (Quebec)

Recent graduate works on prototype to convert electronic waste into valuable bioproducts at Quebec start-up

Yulin in front of snow-covered mountains.

Science Horizons intern, Yulin Hu, in front of snow-covered mountains. Photo credit: Yulin Hu.

Yulin Hu says her internship at GreeNovel Inc., a technology company based in St. Constant, Québec, was a stepping stone to her appointment as assistant professor at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI).

GreeNovel Inc. is a start-up company that designs and develops advanced recycling and extraction and purification processes for value-added waste disposal as well as other industrial processes. Hu’s internship there as a research engineer from 2020 to 2021 was supported by an ECO Canada Science Horizons Youth Internship funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

When interviewed in April 2021 for a tenure-track position in UPEI’s School of Sustainable Design Engineering, she was asked about industrial partnerships with different levels of government.

“If I hadn’t worked the year at GreeNovel, I would not have known the answers to those questions,” says Hu, who has a Doctorate in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering from the University of Western Ontario, a Masters in Bioresource Engineering from McGill and a degree in engineering from Jilin Business and Technology College in China.

Yulin in front of the University of Prince Edward Island.

Science Horizons intern, Yulin Hu, at the University of Western Ontario. Photo credit: Yulin Hu.

Her doctorate concentrated on the production of biofuels and bioproducts and her research work at UPEI will focus on the use of hydrogen as a fuel in a closed-loop waste disposal system. She says the work is timely because the government of Prince Edward Island has ambitious plans to reduce emissions.

At GreeNovel, Hu was interned in the development of a prototype of a machine to convert electronic waste into valuable bioproducts such as rare earth elements and metals. It will also extract non-biodegradable flame-retardant chemicals. Unlike conventional handling of waste by incineration, the process uses microwave energy and does not create gas emissions.

“The process we designed reduces the waste and converts it into valuable products but also avoids gas emissions, so there are multiple benefits,” she says. “Converting something like waste into something you can use can feel like magic.”

GreeNovel was founded in 2019 by Mai Attia and Sherif Farag, a married couple who have Doctorates in Chemical Engineering from Polytechnique Montréal. Attia, the company’s CEO, has invented 12 processes for plastics recycling, electronic-waste valorization, chemical extractions and other industrial applications, several of which were developed while studying for her doctorate. Farag, who serves as Vice-President, has years of experience developing industrial processes in renewable energy and other forms of energy.

Yulin in front of the University of Prince Edward Island next to a sculpture.

Science Horizons intern, Yulin Hu, at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). Photo credit: Yulin Hu.

The company has many projects on the go. Their partners include the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), Innovation Solutions Canada, Investissement Québec, and Recyc-Québec. But GreeNovel’s first government financial support came through the Science Horizons internships and Hu was the first of several interns hired through the program.

Wage subsidies are vital for start-ups, says Farag. “For companies like us, the first year is the worst year because resources are limited and 100% of the money is coming from our personal savings,” he says. The funding allowed GreeNovel to hire more researchers, invest more in other aspects of the business, and grow more quickly than expected.

GreeNovel is one of five Canadian companies contracted by the federal government to find solutions for recycling its electronic waste. It’s a looming issue because the government must dispose of outdated computers, printers and other equipment. In 2021, the UK-based ICIS Innovation Awards picked the company’s e-waste solution as one of the five best innovations worldwide by a small or medium-sized enterprise.

The company is developing technology with the Quebec government to convert waste tires into an environmentally friendly fuel. It is also developing a plastic extruder for recycling plastics with the support of NRC. When built, the new extruder will be smaller and considerably more cost-effective and energy-efficient than those built overseas, says Farag, whose family in Egypt has worked in the field of plastic recycling for decades.

The company is open to employing recent graduates with little or no work experience. “We are doing things that are not traditional so we seek people who are curious,” says Farag. “I tell my co-workers that we cannot limit our dreams. I’m very proud that one of them has become a professor.”

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