Oct. 29, 2021

From waste to treasure, UCalgary GreenSTEM’s first cohort of startups is changing the sustainability game

Fellowship program supports technology company creation and high-tech entrepreneurial development
EnviCore team

Three companies have graduated from the first cohort of UCalgary’s GreenSTEM two-year fellowship with much progress, promise and drive to continue to grow. The GreenSTEM program is a pan-Alberta pilot to provide funding and support for technology company creation and high-tech entrepreneurial development.

  • Photo above, the EnviCore leadership team, from left: Aseem Pandey, chief technology officer; Shahrukh Shamim, CEO and co-founder; Ian Piwek, executive adviser; Aleksandra Govedarica, technical director and co-founder; Milana Trifkovic, scientific director and co-founder.

A new approach to sustainability in oil tailings

Having seen the devastating environmental impact of several untreated tailings dam failures around the world, GreenSTEM co-founder Shahrukh Shamim met his supervisor, now co-founder Milana Trifkovic, to create EnviCore Inc, a graduate GreenSTEM company. Both were motivated to use their research and talents to make positive change.

EnviCore’s mission is to take waste and create treasure by providing a new way of treating oilsands tailings that will reduce waste and add valuable minerals to other sectors. Tailings are waste byproducts created during oil, sand, and clay extraction and separation. The valuable minerals that EnviCore’s solution extracts can then be used in other sectors, for example, strengthening concrete for construction. This circular economy creates a more sustainable future and may help address climate change.

“I am inspired by my work because of my daughter. I want to leave a better planet for her and future generations to enjoy. Resolving issues around our carbon intensity and reducing our footprint is a priority for myself and for EnviCore,” says Milana Trifkovic, associate professor, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and scientific director and co-rounder, EnviCore Inc.

As academics and engineers, we have a duty to find new and creative ways to transition to a lower-carbon economy.

To date, EnviCore has seen tremendous success, having raised over $1.2 million for continued research and development (R&D) and bringing their technology to market. They have also been awarded the Sustainable Development Technology Canada seed fund, patented their technology in the United States, hired additional staff and obtained a new lab space for their expanding R&D activities. To add to their accolades, they were recently announced as Astech Award finalists and accepted into the coveted TechStars accelerator program in partnership with The Heritage Group.

Shamim and Trifkovic have teamed up with Aseem Pandey, previously Trifkovic’s graduate student and Shamim’s lab mate. GreenSTEM Fellows Shahrukh Shamim and Aseem Pandey take the lead on business development while satisfying their interest in science and making the world a better place. To this end, they are grateful for the support received from Innovate Calgary and the GreenSTEM fellowship.

“The mission of the program strongly aligned with my long-term personal goal — to follow through on my master’s research project to clean up the mine tailings ponds. Our admission in the GreenSTEM program has paved the way to develop our company, expand the market and find highly qualified personnel,” says Shamim.

“I am happy to be in Calgary, Alberta where there is a lot of support for startups. Coming from an academic background, the details matter a lot but industry cares about the problems we can solve for them rather than the specific science,” says Pandey. “Being a part of the fellowship has helped us as a team learn the industry’s language and be able to contribute to our community in a meaningful way.”

“We are happy to support growing Alberta’s entreprenuerial talent and work with industry and government partners to strengthen the province’s innovation ecosystem," says Pej Ghanipour, senior innovation manager at Innovate Calgary. 

"It is amazing to see the success of recent graduates of our GreenSTEM program and how they are making a meaningful impact in attracting private investment to Alberta’s growing cleantech industry, while creating jobs by commercializing technologies developed right here in Calgary. We hope their continued success will continue to diversify our economy while furthering worldwide climate change efforts.”

Congratulations to the other graduating companies from UCalgary’s GreenSTEM program


GreenSTEM Fellow Mina Zarabian, PhD, and her team are building Carbonova, a technology company that produces carbon nanofibres (carbonova fibre) from carbon dioxide and methane. Carbonova technology uses greenhouse gas feedstocks and turns them into a sustainable and valuable in-demand solid commodity. The feedstocks have low cost and may reduce the impacts of global warming. The commodity can be used in various industries, including vehicles, concrete, electronic devices, textiles, ink, coatings, lubricants, tires, and agriculture.

SeeO2 Energy

Beatriz Molero Sanchez, PhD, and Paul Addo, PhD, are working together on SeeO2 Energy Inc.

Using reversible fuel-cell technology, the company efficiently converts carbon dioxide (CO2) and/or water into marketable and clean value-added products in a net negative carbon process.

SeeO2 Energy has developed a high temperature electrolyzer that uses CO2 from an industrial company’s waste stream and converts it into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, oxygen or syngas, all of which can be used downstream or sold for profit, closing the carbon loop.

Innovate Calgary is the innovation transfer and business incubator centre for the University of Calgary. As part of the Office of the Vice-President (Research) portfolio, and as a member of the UCalgary innovation ecosystem, we work closely with researchers, faculty, and students to help bridge the gap between discovery and creating economic and societal impact. We do this by going beyond traditional technology transfer services to include focused startup support programs and services for research-intensive companies.