The acquisition of the UBC spin-off is part of a $20 million strategic investment in Allonnia by Evok Innovations, a leading cleantech fund of which Metabolik is a portfolio company.
Metabolik was co-founded by Vikramaditya Yadav, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at UBC.
Metabolik targets wastewater generated by oil sands operations, which produce large quantities of toxic slurry when extracting oil from the ground. Notoriously difficult to treat at scale, this slurry has been deposited for decades into so-called “tailings ponds” that now contain over one trillion litres of heavily contaminated water spanning more than 200 square kilometres in Alberta alone.
The solution, Metabolik has found, may lie within the ponds themselves, where native bacteria slowly consume the most toxic part of the wastewater — a family of chemicals known as naphthenic acids. Using genetic engineering and other approaches, the team is boosting the feeding power of these bacteria to levels suitable for industrial use.
“We’re excited to join Allonnia in its mission of building a cleaner world,” says Dr. Yadav, who formed Metabolik with private partners in 2016. “Like them, we believe that the key to managing industrial waste can be found in nature — specifically, the microscopic organisms that are essential to just about every aspect of life on Earth.”
“The oil sands sector has been looking for a low-energy, cost-effective way to detoxify tailings ponds, and microbes may very well be the answer,” says Dr. Yadav. “By finding and optimizing the right bacterial strains, we could not just remove nearly every one of the hundreds of toxins that contaminate such ponds, but do so in an efficient and eco-friendly manner.”
Estimates of the cleaning costs associated with Alberta’s oil sands mining operations have ranged from approximately $30 billion to over $100 billion. With the help of technology developed by Metabolik, these costs could be reduced dramatically.
Metabolik’s acquisition by Allonnia further solidifies Canada’s position as a leading innovator in science and engineering, particularly in the environmental space.
Photo: Alex MacLean