uOttawa researchers tackle GHG challenges
OTTAWA, ON — University of Ottawa (uOttawa) researchers are leading two major, multi-institutional projects funded by Carbon Management Canada (CMC), a Network of Centres of Excellence that supports game-changing research to eliminate carbon emissions from the fossil energy industry.
In the 2011 round of CMC funding, $10 million will be awarded to Canadian researchers working on 18 projects, all selected on the basis of a rigorous, international peer-review process.
Daniel Krewski, Director of uOttawa’s R. Samuel McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment, will lead a collaboration supported by a $930,000 CMC grant to develop a tailored-for-Canada framework for risk assessment and management of carbon capture and storage (CCS). Another $635,000 will go to research led by uOttawa chemistry professor Abdelhamid Sayari, Founding Director of the Centre for Catalysis Research and Innovation, to integrate fuel-cell use with carbon capture.
Krewski and his colleagues represent a belief integral to Carbon Management Canada’s approach – that the large-scale carbon problem will not be solved by contributions from one person or one discipline. Instead, workable solutions will be found by orchestras of tightly focused experts. Krewski’s team, for example, involves eight research groups working at uOttawa, the University of Waterloo and the University of Calgary who will contribute expertise in engineering, social sciences, economics, policy analyses and communications.
“You really can’t do justice to a major risk issue which has multiple complex characteristics unless you have a diverse, transdisciplinary team,” noted Krewski.
The researchers’ first goal will be to understand the technical and scientific aspects of putting CO2 deep in Earth’s crust. Along with examining the impacts of carbon storage on underground geological formations, the team will investigate concerns over leakage and possible effects on human health.
In the second phase of the four-year project, the researchers will apply strategies and models developed for other technologies, as well as more recent findings, to the specific case of CCS. One product of the work will be a Website to help stakeholders and the general public to better understand the technology.
Public concerns, whether or not they agree with current scientific understanding, will also be addressed. “We think that all stakeholders need to be involved,” said Krewski, listing the public, government agencies, regulators, the private sector and NGOs. “We really need to make sure that everybody’s opinion is heard as we’re developing the risk management framework,” he said.
In a second CMC-funded project, uOtttawa’s Abdelhamid Sayari is teaming up with researchers from the University of Calgary to develop what could become the world’s first zero-emissions solid oxide fuel cell.
Most Canadians rely on electricity generated at large scale power plants and transported long distances along high-voltage power lines. In contrast, solid oxide fuel cells, or SOFCs, are small units that could be used to provide electricity—up to one megawatt—to a single home or neighbourhood.
While fuel cells are very efficient and produce far less CO2 than the burning of coal or natural gas, Sayari plans to make them even better.
The technology he is working on would provide a home or community with “a self-sufficient device that produces electricity without producing any CO2 —and produces electricity very efficiently,” said Sayari.
Typically, it takes temperatures of over 500°C and a hydrocarbon fuel source, such as natural gas, to operate an SOFC. First, natural gas is reacted with steam in order to produce synthesis gas, or syngas. Inside the fuel cell, the syngas is used to generate electricity. The process is only about 50 percent efficient, and so, along with electricity, some heat is given off. The process also releases unspent syngas and CO2.
For the CMC-funded project, Sayari proposes to trap any CO2 with a patented material developed by his lab at uOttawa. Pure CO2 could then be removed from the powdery material and stored elsewhere. Or, during off-peak hours, some electricity that might otherwise be wasted could be used to convert the pure CO2 back into syngas, which would be reused in the fuel cell at another time.
“Electricity is very difficult to store, so we have to use it as (we) produce it,” explained Sayari, adding that no other group that he knows of is trying to combine fuel cells with 100 percent CO2 capture and use, for an overall system with zero carbon emissions.
Collaborating with Sayari will be University of Calgary researchers Viola Birss, a fuel-cell expert, and Venkataraman Thangadurai, who will develop sensors for contaminating gases that could interfere with the CO2 -trapping material.
“(The project) is really a unique opportunity,” noted Sayari. “The CMC is really filling that gap between knowledge accumulation and ultimate commercialization,” he said. “(The CMC funding) provides a means to link between fundamental research and taking that research out of our lab.”
Printable version: uOttawa researchers receive CMC funding
Summaries of 18 funded projects: Round 2 Research Projects
About the University of Ottawa
The University of Ottawa, one of Canada’s top research-intensive universities, contributes significantly to the development of clean technologies. We are committed to research excellence and encourage an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge creation, which attracts the best academic talent from across Canada and around the world.