April 28, 2020

Team gives a helping hand by cleaning hands

UCalgary spinoff makes hand sanitizer to donate to community groups; additional supplies needed
Hand sanitizer ready for distribution.

As the founders of UCalgary spinoff EnviCore scanned the list of needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were looking for a way to help that would have an immediate impact on the community. When they spotted hand sanitizer on the list, the team of chemical engineers knew it was the right fit.

“You look at your skills and what resources you have, and decide what you can do right away that is really tangible,” says Dr. Milana Trifkovic, PhD, scientific director of EnviCore and associate professor in the Schulich School of Engineering. “Hand sanitizer is chemically engineered, and it was fairly easy to make in a short period of time.”

EnviCore, a sustainable wastewater treatment solution company, was founded through provincial public funding in 2019. The team saw this as a way to give back to the community. “We have funds to reroute to the sanitizer project, and are prepared to produce up to 500 litres,” says Shahrukh Shamim, CEO of EnviCore and a UCalgary alumnus (photo above).

There is a sense of urgency to the project — hand sanitizer is in high demand, and panic buying has made it hard to find on store shelves. “Our main motivation is to distribute it to people who can’t buy up a lot of sanitizer, but are at risk,” says Aseem Pandey, CIO of EnviCore. The group will be donating their first batch of sanitizer to the Parents of Alberta Children’s Hospital, a group of families who have recently left the hospital with kids who have recently been sick or are still recovering.

EnviCore, UCalgary spinoff, produces hand sanitizer

EnviCore, a UCalgary spinoff, produces hand sanitizer. They are currently looking for alcohol and packaging supplies.

Courtesy EnviCore

Collaboration with other faculties key to success

The team rallied behind the idea and immediately got to work, but not without encountering challenges locating supplies. Fortunately, the pandemic has created an environment where all hands are on deck to help innovators make essential products and get them to the people that need them as quickly as is safely possible.

The team is part of a COVID-19 research collaboration group led by the Biomedical Engineering team who are collaborating on all kinds of COVID-19 projects, including quick wins producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies.

“It has been great to have so much support from the university community,” says Aleksandra Govedarica, CTO of Envicore and UCalgary PhD candidate. “It was a great initiative that we joined. People were organizing into groups thematically to maximize everyone’s efforts.” The group connected EnviCore with the Faculty of Science for a missing key ingredient.

The group used the approved hand sanitizer formulation from the World Health Organization, a mix of alcohol (isopropyl or ethanol), hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, and distilled water. However, there is a local shortage of the alcohol ingredient, and chemical producers are struggling to meet demand. Luckily, the Department of Chemistry was able to supply enough to produce the first batch of sanitizer.

Pandey took the lead on mixing up the first batch. “It was easiest to make it in one big 50-litre batch, and then transfer it into 15-litre buckets,” says Pandey. “I’ve been looking for people to help us with packaging for distribution.” Right now, the group plans to deliver the sanitizer in 10-litre buckets for communities to divide up and distribute as needed.

Additional supplies needed: alcohol, packaging

The team is hoping to connect with local breweries, distilleries and companies who may be able to help with their two key limiting factors: alcohol to make the sanitizer, and consumer-sized packaging that can be sterilized and used to distribute the sanitizer in smaller portions.

“Hopefully this is one of many projects that will come out of this,” says Trifkovic. “It is a great initiative that we’re a part of, and it has connected us all a little bit more, even though we are disconnected more than ever.”

If you are a local brewer, distillery, or industry group who would like to partner with EnviCore on this project, please visit the EnviCore website for contact information.