Calgary company lands $1M grant for technology to reduce plastic waste



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It was the fear of losing everything that inspired construction worker Todd McKay to think differently.

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In just half an hour, his home was engulfed in flames in 2010. Had it been hours later, he feared his entire family would have died.

That day, he promised to find a better way to build.

McKay’s Calgary-based company, MgO Systems, is one step closer to fulfilling that promise.

It has been given a $1-million federal grant for its innovative plan to reduce plastic waste by using plastic fibres in fire-resistant magnesium oxide cement boards and insulation foam to build safer homes.

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Jim Pendergast, vice-president of MgO Systems, said the grant was a massive win for their company.

“We’re not a huge company and we have this vision of what we’d like to do, but without the federal government funding the implementation of that vision, it could take years of bootstrapping,” said Pendergast.

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“We strongly believe that magnesium oxide boards and insulation will lead to much safer homes, much healthier homes and they will be much more resilient and sustainable because they are built to last forever.” 

The local company was one of three beneficiaries of the plastics innovation challenge sponsored by Environment and Climate Change Canada encouraging businesses to develop technologies to address plastic waste from food packaging and construction.

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Magnesium oxide is a mineral that can be used as part of a cement mixture and cast into panels to be used in residential and commercial construction, to replace common materials like traditional drywall.

MgO Systems had been using magnesium oxide boards ordered from China but is now creating made-in-Alberta boards. Its boards use ground recycled hard plastics, from items like window frames, PVC pipes or single-use containers, to give strength to the cement mixture.

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Doug Brown, vice president of research and product development, and Jim Pendergast, vice president of Canadian operations.
Doug Brown, vice president of research and product development, and Jim Pendergast, vice president of Canadian operations. Photo by Dean Pilling/Postmedia

“The vision is to have a made-in-Canada magnesium oxide board that is a very widely accepted and common building material,” said Pendergast. The materials could be sold commercially once they are certified.

While the magnesium oxide boards come at a higher price than traditional building materials, Pendergast said they’re worth the cost. In addition to being fire-resistant, they are mould-resistant, durable and don’t produce off-gas.

Plastic pollution poses a threat to the environment and economy, with plastic ending up in landfills, parks and beaches. It also pollutes rivers, lakes and oceans while negatively impacting wildlife.

Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of environment and climate change, said in a press release clean technology must be part of the solution to address plastic pollution

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“Boosting clean technology development to address plastic pollution is part of our comprehensive approach to achieve a zero plastic waste future,” he said. “The Government of Canada has committed nearly $19 million to fund Canadian innovators through the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge initiative, which results in real, Canadian-made solutions.”

Other winners were AxiPolymer Inc. of Montreal, which is creating a recyclable multi-layer film that can be used for food packaging, and GreenMantra Technologies, a Brantford, Ont., company looking to transform polystyrene insulation waste into new insulation.

[email protected]

Twitter: @alanna_smithh

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