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Canadian students develop special ink against fake pesticides

A team of University of Waterloo students has developed a type of ink that can tag and authenticate merchandise with a smart phone.

This could benefit various sectors where counterfeit products are a significant problem – including agriculture, where global trade in fake pesticides is on the rise, endangering food, farming, human health, and the environment.

“Our ink changes colour under certain light conditions and you capture that change of light on your smart phone camera,” explains Perry Everett, who hails from Carp near Ottawa and is one of the three inventors of the technology. “The image file is converted into an identifier code through an algorithm we’ve developed and it cross references with a database of our inks to authenticate products.”

Perry Everett, Ben Rasera, and Graham Thomas in their lab at the University of Waterloo

The ink is a mixture of fillers and a proprietary material that nanotechnology engineers Everett, Graham Thomas from Waterloo, Ontario and Ben Rasera from Surrey, BC have invented.

They’re now in the process of forming their own company, Arylla Inc, to focus on moving their work closer to commercialization.

“We’re able to make a variety of different inks for customers and when you scan something with our inks in it, it will say that the product is authentic, and identify the company and the product,” adds Everett.

Although they were originally thinking about pharmaceutical uses for their anti-counterfeiting technology, they’ve started focusing on agricultural applications since discovering that fake pesticides, which are untested and don’t meet established safety and quality standards, are a growing problem in some parts of the world.

Although not yet a concern in Canada, the European Crop Protection Association estimates that up to 10 per cent of pesticides used in the European Union could be counterfeit.

The annual market of illegal and counterfeit crop protection products is estimated at €1 billion (about $1.5 billion CDN) in Europe and € 4.4 billion (approximately $6.75 billion CDN) worldwide.

Arylla Inc’s product is biocompatible, non-toxic, and eco-friendly. The next step is printing the ink – Everett and his colleagues are hoping to have a working inkjet printer prototype with an application by the end of this fall and begin work on beta testing this coming winter.

All three students are in their final year of undergraduate engineering at Waterloo and in addition to focusing on this work for their fourth year design project – similar to the way other students would write a thesis – they’ve all also agreed to commit some full-time months to it post-graduation.

“We want to give this the best chance we can,” says Everett, adding that they’ve been lucky to receive support from the University of Waterloo by winning the Spring Velocity Fund Final competition, as well as from the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology and the Department of Engineering.

He also credits UW’s Velocity Science Program with being one of their biggest supporters.

“This could be a quick and easy counterfeit solution – its cost will be lower, and it will be faster than existing anti-counterfeiting technologies,” Everett says. “The ink is the first go-to material our technology is based on but maybe we could possibly also extrude into plastics, for example.”

Everett and his colleagues are now looking for a partner company in a sector like agriculture, finance or even electronics to help them validate their technology and process.

Source: Ag Innovation Ontario
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