Tucked away in a fifth floor laboratory, in Memorial University’s chemistry building, Courtney Laprise works on experiments she hopes might reduce our dependence on oil.
“I believe that for every chemical that is out there that is derived from petroleum, there’s a way to make it green and maybe from biomass,” said Laprise.
The 23-year-old masters student is currently focused on developing a plastic alternative made from a good ol’ Newfoundland ingredient — fish guts. Laprise works with oil extracted from fish heads and intestines.
She performs several reactions on the oil using chemicals and then casts the substance onto a pertri dish. Then, she puts the dish into an oven and waits. She admits, for a few months the results had been disappointing.
“I had only gotten like, liquid stuff. Nothing was solid,” said Laprise.
And then, one day, her efforts paid off.
“I scraped if off my petri dish and it was solid … it was a little bit stretchy, I could pull it a little bit but it was solid,” explained Laprise.
“I was so excited, I actually ran out into the hallway and started screaming, like, ‘Oh my god, I made it, I made it!”‘
Now that Laprise has the recipe for a fish-based plastic alternative, she’ll perform tests to understand its mechanical properties, the strength of the substance.
On top of that, she’ll conduct biodegradation studies to see how the plastic-like material will break down in both freshwater and seawater.
Laprise says she’s focused on finishing her thesis at the moment, but has had some queries from companies who are interested in what she’s doing. New product development excites her and so does the possibility of economic growth in small towns with fish plants.
“There’s a large amount of waste and a lot of these companies, they have to pay to get rid of this waste and it would be awesome if they could use this for another purpose,” said Laprise.
“You could have a plant right next to it making these materials so … you know, more jobs in these communities.”
Laprise sees ocean-friendly products and initiatives as a natural fit for Newfoundland and Labrador. She’d like to see more people focus on the environment at their doorstep.
“I mean as someone from Newfoundland you have a connection to the ocean, you know, you want to protect it and it’s very much a part of everyday life here. It’s very promising, I think, and it’s very exciting.”