Though the problem may seem a minor visual blight, the impact is great: heavy trucks barreling down unpaved roads are at greater risk of rollover from unstable ground. The potential impact from such an accident can be enormous: nearby lakes and streams can suffer nutrient depletion, killing the natural wildlife. Now, with support from Mitacs, Cypher Environmental’s innovative solution could save companies and municipalities millions of dollars in maintenance and environmental clean-up every year — while making roads safer and protecting nearby ecosystems.

Winnipeg-based Cypher Environmental is determined to put an end to the choking dust clouds on unpaved roads seen every day across rural and Northern Manitoba. 

Though the problem may seem a minor visual blight, the impact is great: heavy trucks barreling down unpaved roads are at greater risk of rollover from the unstable ground; and nearby lakes and streams can suffer nutrient depletion, killing the natural wildlife. 

Now, with support from Mitacs, Cypher Environmental’s innovative solution could save companies and municipalities millions of dollars in maintenance and environmental clean-up every year — while making roads safer and protecting nearby ecosystems. 

“We’re tackling the problem of unpaved roads across the province and country,” says Hamid Mumin, professor of resource geology at Brandon University, who supervised the collaboration with Cypher. “They create a lot of dust problems and unsafe driving conditions, especially for heavy-haul vehicles like you see in mines, quarries and major construction projects.” 

Cypher’s solution, called EarthZyme, leverages the unique properties of clay in environments with a high natural clay content in order to “glue” the loose gravel so it behaves more like a cement road. However, before marketing EarthZyme, Cypher needed to test its durability and quantify exactly how well it works. 

Brandon University graduate student and Mitacs intern Riley Cram tested a new method of constructing stabilized roads that can be applied to gravel roads in Canada using EarthZyme polymers. The technique is proving to be revolutionary in the field of road stabilization. His summer internships during his graduate studies provided Cypher with access to key resources and research for product development; resources that would have otherwise been inaccessible. 

Cypher’s Director of Research and Development, Teaghan Wellman, explains, “With this particular project, we were able to specifically quantify how strong the roads become after we’ve treated them with our product. It gives us a certain scientific backing so that we now have hard data as well as a finished product that our customers can see for themselves. Furthermore, through our association with Brandon University, we are able to carry out long-term monitoring of the performance of our stabilized roads.” 

Teaghan continues, “Mitacs was a great way to help us do this. I really like the way they partner academia with industry — I value the network they bring and the quality of the partnerships they can foster. So now we’re looking at strengthening these collaborations across the province and to support our other product lines.” 

Professor Mumin is keen to build on the collaboration. He says, “The research we’ve been doing is quite unique…we’re just scratching the surface of the potential of this technology and research. I’ve already been talking to our local Mitacs representative about how we can build on this fabulous partnership.” 

For Riley, the collaboration also led to a job offer with Cypher after graduation. 

“These partnerships really benefit both sides,” concludes Teaghan. “For the student, they get exposure to our challenges in industry and build on their classroom learning. In turn, we get to see what students are learning in the university and the opportunity to meet new talent who may become the future of our organization.”