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Determined to make a difference

Newsroom authorby Jill ScarrowApr 29, 2022
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Faraz Alderson (International Business'12) was 17 years old when he packed all his belongings and his life savings into a duffel bag, and told his family he was leaving their home in Iran for a new life in Canada - alone. It was a big risk, but one the promise of living in a country he had long admired drove him to take. As a child, his family had spent a short time in the country before his family returned to Iran when he was 13.

"I knew what it is like to have a life in Canada and what people are like, what the values are. I really loved it, essentially," he recalls. "I thought, this is where I'm going to live one day."

Faraz AldersonBack in Iran, the calendar tracked toward his 18th birthday and the reality set in that he’d have to take his mandatory turn of two years of military service. By the time that was over, his Canadian documents would have expired. It was time to make the move to Canada.

It wasn’t easy. Alderson rented a small house in Fort Erie, Ontario, found work in a restaurant, and enrolled in high school while working to perfect his English. But despite the hardships he faced, he’s never regretted the decision to leave Iran. The lessons he learned through the experience have served him well his entire life: don’t be afraid to make change and create new approaches to challenges if they’ll pay off in the long run – whether that’s in life or business. It’s a philosophy that led Alderson to his work today at Virox Technologies Inc. where he is the Chief Science Officer.

Alderson had doggedly pursued his original goal of becoming a surgeon during his university studies, but then realized he didn’t want to spend another 10 years in medical school and training. What he really wanted to do was commercialize innovation and ensure science had a broad impact on lives. So, instead of medical school, he came to study international business at Sheridan.

Sheridan opens doors to a new future

During his final semester, faculty members nominated Alderson to attend the Virox Future Forum, a program set up by Virox founder Randy Pilon, for whom the Pilon School of Business is named, to provide mentorship and career development to student leaders. Alderson’s background in science and business piqued Pilon’s interest and he hired Alderson right after graduation. Over the next decade, Alderson worked his way up to become Chief Science Officer, a role that gives him plenty of opportunities to realize his goal of using science to enrich lives and business.

Virox manufactures environmentally safe disinfectants that are used in a range of markets including animal care, health care and aviation. Its products are based on Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP®), a unique blend of ingredients that are combined with low levels of hydrogen peroxide to provide a highly effective germicide that breaks down into water and oxygen and is not toxic to people or animals.

As Chief Science Officer, Alderson oversees research and innovation, product management, quality assurance, and regulatory affairs. He is also in charge of managing Virox’s entire platform of patents and technologic strategies. The process to take a product from inspiration to market takes years, but he finds it intensely rewarding, and he’s always seeking new ways Virox can innovate .

“The pandemic threw a big wrench into a lot of things, because we had to come up with ideas to meet the needs of society. No one could have planned for such a challenge.”

A hobby astronomer, when Alderson learned that NASA was providing astronauts on the International Space Station with an older and less safe disinfectant technology, he immediately reached out to the space agency’s procurement office to explain the value of Virox’s AHP® technology. They loved the idea, and for four years, Alderson worked with NASA to ensure AHP® could be approved for use by astronauts. Today, Virox’s non-toxic disinfectants are used daily on the space station.

“When you’re in this position, your mind is always thinking,” Alderson says. “I say it’s kind of like being a farmer. They’re always thinking about their farm. Do I have pests right now? Is there a deer out there eating my corn? How can I irrigate better? You don’t look at a clock and say ‘ok, it’s five o’clock and now I’m done working.’”

Responding to the pandemic

The need to continually adapt to new challenges was never more apparent than during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. To boost production, Virox needed to operate around the clock. More than ever, Alderson found his philosophy of knowing when to adapt to stay focused on the most important matters shone through.

“The pandemic threw a big wrench into a lot of planned things, because we had to struggle and catch up and come up with ideas to meet the needs of society,” he recalls. “Production ramped up. Whenever you ramp up, you find things that need to be fine-tuned. You need to think about what ongoing projects can be paused or put on hold to free up time for other new initiatives. So that was a big juggle in 2020.No one could have planned for such a challenge.”

That demand for Virox’s products, plus adapting to lengthy wait times for approvals from regulatory bodies, which were suddenly flooded with applications for new hand sanitizers and other disinfectants, posed plenty of challenges. But Alderson remained focused on working with his team to develop an innovative platform of antimicrobials: a new disinfectant technology that would allow for the use of fully biodegradable wipes that would be gentle on surface materials.

Although the pandemic delayed the product’s development path, it also showed him it’s more needed than ever. Alderson says almost all disinfectant wipes sold by any manufacturer today are made of synthetic wipe materials, since most disinfectant active ingredients can’t be used with fully biodegradable wipes.

AHP®, for instance, is safe for the environment and consumers, but Alderson explains it can’t be used on fully biodegradable and renewable materials like cotton because the peroxide would degrade and become less effective. That has a big environmental impact. Alderson estimates that Virox alone sold enough wipes in 2020 to cover 250 sq.km.

“There can always be something better. It’s about how I can expand the influence of good things that may come out of the work I’m involved in to benefit people and the Canadian economy.”

That’s why Virox has introduced Citr-IQ™: a new technology platform using low levels of citric acid as the active ingredient, which is more compatible with surfaces and with biodegradable wipe materials. Alderson says that citric acid is one of nature’s primary antimicrobial active ingredients found in fruits such as oranges and lemons, and this technology platform allows it to be highly effective against hardy microbes.

“We can actually make very powerful hospital-grade disinfectants using this new multi-patented technology. The wipes will no longer go to landfills and stay there for hundreds of years. They can degrade within weeks,” he says.

Alderson says Citr-IQ™ is the first step for Virox to go from being a peroxide-only company to becoming a novel disinfectant technology engineering company. This inspires him to find new ways to use science to improve lives, so much so that he began his part-time PhD studies in Chemical and Mechanical Engineering in 2017.

“In research and development, we have a mindset of knowing how there can always be something better that can do more,” he says. “For me, it’s about how I can expand the influence of good things that may come out of the work I’m involved in to benefit people and the Canadian economy.”

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