Building research park momentum in Sarnia

By Adela Talbot, BA'08, MA'11

Research Park Tn

After Katherine Albion became Director of Commercialization at Western’s Sarnia-Lambton Research Park in 2012, tenancy ballooned to include more than 30 companies working in advanced manufacturing, water treatment, ethanol production and other clean-tech initiatives. The centre’s graduation rate grew, with about a dozen companies advancing over the past couple of years.

Named to head the park earlier this month, Albion, PhD’08 (Engineering), hopes she can build on that momentum and expand the park’s academic and industry partnerships in the region, as well as its collaboration with Western.

“So far, we have been very successful in developing the bio-hybrid chemical sector in Sarnia-Lambton. Most of the companies situated in Sarnia have been supported by the research park in one form or another and I’d like to create some additional diversification for the region and look into some new sectors to attract and grow, to create new businesses which would fit with our traditional industrial base,” she said.

“I’m also looking forward to working with Western on potential collaboration, projects and opportunities, on growing the relationship there and looking for opportunities to help Western researchers and staff be successful in their endeavours.”

The 32-hectare Western-Sarnia-Lambton Research Park campus was established in 2003 as a joint initiative of the County of Lambton, the City of Sarnia and Western. Home to the Bowman Centre for Technology Commercialization – Canada’s largest clean-tech incubator, focused on large scale industrial biotechnology ­– the park’s tenants range from large multi-national companies and non-profit organizations to small start-up companies and commercialization projects.

One of its recent tenant additions is Origin Materials, a California-based company that selected the park for its research and industrial expertise, Albion noted. The company is setting up a pilot plant on site and a full-scale plant in Sarnia, using bio-based materials such as wood chips and cardboard to produce building-block chemicals to make plastics and other products. Its aim is to make biodegradable water bottles.

One of the park’s recent graduates is Nova Chemicals, which recently announced $2 billion to build a new plant in St. Clair Township.

“There’s a lot of opportunities right now for the Sarnia-Lambton region, new initiatives we’re developing with our partners locally. One of them is Intelligence Sarnia-Lambton, which is looking to create a smarter and more connected community to benefit the residents and businesses of the region by increasing the knowledge workforce, broadband and innovation, digital equality, sustainability and advocacy,” Albion said.

The region is thriving and she credits it with supporting her success. The community has been instrumental in supporting women in professional and industrial settings, she noted.

“There’s a large number of women in executive roles in the region and we have a significant number of board members who are women; it’s a very supportive environment here,” Albion said.

She has always felt supported as a woman in Engineering, starting with her time at Western, and she feels she has a role in giving back.

“When I was at Western, I had a number of classmates who were female. In graduate school, our research group was probably 50 per cent female, 50 per cent male. I’ve been participating with Western Engineering where I can to help support and attract female students and provide mentorship where possible,” Albion added.

In addition to her PhD in Engineering, Albion also received her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical & Biochemical Engineering from Western. She has worked at Western’s Sarnia-Lambton Research Park since completing her PhD and received numerous awards during her career, including the Award of Excellence from The Canadian Academy of Engineering Energy Pathways Task Force in 2010 and the Western Engineering Award of Recognition from the Faculty of Engineering in 2015. Albion also sits on the Advisory Council for Western Engineering.