Sask. researchers team up with local companies to make hand sanitizer

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have teamed up with local businesses to address the shortage of hand sanitizer due to COVID-19 in the province.

Martin Reaney, a researcher and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said the idea came to him when a nurse friend said there was a shortage and she asked if he could make her hand sanitizer.

“With my background, I could.” Reaney said, “I thought maybe there was a need, and [I should] start acting on it.”

Reaney said he had to get together three separate companies to help make the idea a reality. One that could make the alcohol, another that could bottle the product and a third that could get through all of the regulations.

“Making the ethanol was a huge challenge,” Reaney said. “It’s a tightly regulated substance.”

He said another hurdle was securing the licenses from Health Canada and the Canadian Revenue Agency.

Reaney said the conversation that started the idea happened a little over a month ago, and the entire process has been accomplished at “lightning speed”.

University advantage

The commercial venture, Bioriginal, secured a license to set up its own manufacturing facility so they could produce hand sanitizer in larger quantities. They are selling the sanitizer to the Saskatchewan Health Authority at a discounted rate.

“The University connections are really important because we needed to work through all the analytical and the other early production to get it going.” Reaney said. “The company itself is producing thousands of litres a day.”

Reaney said the initial goal was to address the shortage in Saskatchewan, but now that the company can make more sanitizer they’re looking at other avenues.

“I’ve been approached by a number of groups that are looking for it related to trying to keep workspaces, especially keeping food production work spaces going,” Reaney said.

Many people across the University of Saskatchewan campus have contributed to Bioriginal, from facilities being kept open to chemicals to equipment being made available to the team.

“It has been a tremendous effort and a lot of online conferences through different media,” Reaney said. “It’s been very rewarding in a lot of ways.”

“The ethanol production is sufficient to produce tens of thousands of litres a day — it would essentially put a big dent in the needs of Canada.”

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