SR&ED Case Study: Technological uncertainty

Introduction

Technological uncertainty may arise from limitations of the current technology that prevents you from developing a new or improved capability. Technological uncertainty exists when you don’t know whether you can achieve a certain result or objective or how to achieve it based on generally available scientific or technological knowledge or experience.

We cannot determine eligibility without understanding the work performed and evaluating it using the five questions. In this example, there are indicators that suggest there is uncertainty but they do not point to any specific uncertainty.

Example

You use the current technology to extract oil from oilseeds, which involves batch processing. In batch processing, the seeds are crushed, conditioned, and flaked at high temperature (80–100°C). The residue after removing the oil is made up mostly of protein-rich flour and seed coats with some trapped oil. This residue (also called meal) is then ground and the trapped oil is extracted with the solvent. The solvent is recovered from both the meal and the extracted oil by toasting and distillation. You generally sell the meal as an animal feed product. However, it would be better if you could sell the meal as nutrition rich flour.

The meal product you get with this process is a mixture of protein-rich flour, which you want, and seed coats, which you don’t want. Seed coats have no nutritional value, and they make the flour visually unappealing as a potential ingredient in food for humans to consume. Also, the high temperature used in the conditioning and flaking harm the nutritional value of the oil and the flour.

With the current technology, your ability to separate the protein-rich flour from the seed coats without affecting the nutritional value of the oil and flour is limited. You want to develop a low-temperature oil extraction process that would let you separate the protein-rich flour from the seed coats for a particular type of oilseed, so you can produce a protein-rich product suitable for humans to consume.

In particular, you want to be able to separate the seed coats from the protein-rich flour at a low temperature. This is difficult because the seed coats and the flour have similar physical properties and because the two are bonded together.

Although there are many different methods to separate solid particles with different physical properties, there is no effective low-temperature method to separate solid particles with very similar physical properties when the particles themselves are bonded together.

After literature review and discussing it with academic and industrial experts, you found out that one technology that had reportedly been tried to separate seed coats from flour on a small scale was ultrasonic maceration (without extraction) in a batch process. But, you could not find any information on using ultrasonic maceration with solvent extraction for your particular oilseed. On top of that, you believed that you needed to develop a continuous process for a large-scale operation (as opposed to a small-scale batch process) that involved ultrasonic maceration and simultaneous solvent extraction.

There was no information that showed whether large-scale ultrasonic maceration and solvent extraction had been used for any type of oilseed. There was technological uncertainty associated with developing a large-scale continuous method using ultrasonic maceration and simultaneous solvent extraction to process a particular type of oilseed at low temperatures to produce a protein-rich product suitable for humans to consume. You did not know whether you could achieve that or how to achieve it based on generally available technological knowledge or experience.

 

Conclusion

Technological uncertainty arose because of the limitations of current technology. You could not use the current technology to develop a large-scale, continuous process to separate the seed coats from the protein-rich flour at a low temperature. There was technological uncertainty because you did not know whether you could achieve a specific result or objective or how to achieve it based on generally available scientific or technological knowledge or experience.

Source: CRA (Canada Revenue Agency)

 

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