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Marciel Gaier is on a mission to transform the global shipping industry. Even the challenges of a worldwide pandemic haven’t stopped the up-and-coming entrepreneur from advancing his first-of-its-kind smart coating for ship hulls that is enabling him to do just that.

The disruptive paint, which is the first patented technology to use nanoparticles of graphite — called graphene — to achieve a high-performance, sustainable marine coating, has earned Gaier, 29, a prestigious award from Mitacs, a national innovation organization that fosters growth by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

In recognition of his efforts to advance the paint through his startup, Halifax-based Graphite Innovation  and Technologies (GIT), Gaier — a former Mitacs PhD researcher in Advanced Materials Science at Dalhousie University, and GIT Co-founder and CTO — was presented the Mitacs Environmental Entrepreneur Award on June 10 at a virtual awards ceremony.

The innovative coating system, developed by Gaier and GIT Co-founder Mo AlGermozi, provides a low-VOC, non-toxic alternative that reduces the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per journey. The company is also working on two innovative paints: XGIT-Fuel, which reduces fuel consumption and mitigates the damaging build-up of barnacles and algae on ship hulls, and XGIT-URN, which minimises underwater radiated noise pollution, a very real threat to whales and other marine species. What sets both products apart in the industry is the use of nanoparticles, which have a larger surface area and yet a fraction of the weight of traditional versions of raw materials, meaning it takes a very small amount to achieve an effective coating, Gaier explained.

“Our goal is to solve the environmental issues facing the shipping industry, but we’re also helping to reduce overall costs at the same time,” said Gaier, noting that a ship with a heavy coating of slime can require up to 38% more energy to maintain the same speed as a vessel with a clean hull. GIT’s coating creates a slippery surface so that any build-up is washed away as a ship moves through water, leading to less drag. If the vessels are not moving, the surface can be easily cleaned by modern techniques such as water pressure or mechanical brushes.

Last year, GIT was awarded a $2.4-million Transport Canada contract to pilot its prototype smart coating system on fishing boats, with a focus on reducing underwater noise and greenhouse gas emissions. The company is also leading Canada’s $4.6-million Ocean Supercluster project aimed at further developing its smart protective coatings, and recently launched a pilot program to engage 10 boat owners who will experience the benefits of the technology first-hand.

Despite the challenges of finding and recruiting top talent during COVID-19, GIT has grown from two to nine employees since launching in 2017 and aims to hire an additional five employees by the end of 2021 as it works to scale its product line. “We’re growing our production capacity, but for now, we continue to work on a contract by contract basis,” Gaier said. “The more paint we produce, the more competitive our pricing and the closer we are to moving the needle and making a lasting change in the fight against climate change.”

Gaier is one of five winners of the Mitacs Entrepreneur Award who are being recognised for their efforts to turn their research into an innovative business that impacts the lives of Canadians. The Environmental Entrepreneur category recognizes the importance of investing in innovation in clean technology to build a greener and more sustainable future, which is a priority for Mitacs.

“Supporting innovation is essential to help Canada rebound from the repercussions of the global pandemic, and Mitacs is extremely proud of the remarkable accomplishments achieved by our network of talented entrepreneurs,” said Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director John Hepburn. “We are thrilled that our continued investment in talent, research and development is translating into more and more Mitacs interns successfully turning their groundbreaking research into dynamic startups, helping to boost both Canada’s economy and our country’s position on the global innovation stage.”