Climate Positive Energy is supporting research that assists the University, Canada and the world in reaching their Net-Zero 2050 emissions goals, funding 8 new projects under the Empower and Envision themes with a total of $400,000 in grants over 2 years. The projects represent 18 interdisciplinary PIs in 8 departments across the tri-campus network, and an opportunity to innovate and advance science, technology, policy, and frameworks to achieve a just and equitable energy transition and a decarbonized economy. We are very excited to announce the following CPE-funded projects under the Empower (green chemistry, renewable energy, hydrogen, and fertilizers) and Envision (buildings and infrastructure, a just transition, and sustainable transit) themes. Explore the funded projects below.

Project: Smart De-icing Coatings Enabling Efficient, Year-Round Wind Turbine Energy Production

Theme: Renewable Energy: Wind Turbine Coating

Team: Kevin Golovin (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering)

Canada has the available land and climate to become 100% reliant on wind for our electricity needs — however, our winters prevent year-round usage of wind due to icing on the turbines. Dr. Kevin Golovin and his research team are working on a smart, next-generation de-icing technology that combines ice sensors, heaters, and a novel de-icing coating into a system that can keep turbine blades ice-free using less than 1% of the power that current solutions use. This project has potential to improves the lives of all Canadians though the environmental and health benefits that occur from the transition away from coal electricity generation and towards wind-powered electricity. The project could also have potential beyond Canada and in international usage that supports other countries hitting their 2050 greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Project: Manufacturing Unnatural and D-Amino Acids using Green and Recyclable Chemistry

Theme: Green Chemistry

Team: Jik Chin (Chemistry)

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins — they are the molecules that all living things need to make protein. One of the leading applications of unnatural amino acids is in the pharmaceutical industry, where they are common building blocks for many blockbuster drugs, including ~60% of antibiotics currently in the market. However, the pharmaceutical industry is a significant contributor to worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and its waste stream of toxic chemicals commonly pollute soil sediments and groundwater. Dr. Jik Chin and his research team are developing a general and modular method for the synthesis of unnatural and D-amino acids which, when compared to existing methods, allows the generation of a greater diversity of unnatural amino acids at a low cost using recyclable chemicals that minimize pollution. CPE funding will support Dr. Chin’s research team in the development of highly efficient and clean methods for making not only existing unnatural and D-amino acids, but also for making a wide variety of novel unnatural amino acids for the development of future drugs — all using green chemistry.

Project: Developing a Carbon Capturing Combustor-reactor Powered by Hydrogen Generated in-situ from Thermally Coupled Pyrolysis of Natural Gas

Theme: Hydrogen

Team: Swetaprovo Chaudhuri (Aerospace Science and Engineering)

Dr. Swetaprovo Chaudhuri and his research team are developing a new hydrogen pyrolysis based system with a dual combustor-pyrolytic reactor. The system is based on a new concept combustor (to eventually be used in natural gas power plants or for heating) that is fuelled by the existing natural gas network, but captures the carbon from the natural gas prior to combustion in a self-sustained manner with very little or no additional energy input, by effectively burning hydrogen produced from the natural. Their research is motivated by the transition to hydrogen, which while fast emerging as an attractive avenue to impede emissions, it is fraught with techno-economic challenges like transportation and storage. Meanwhile, transportation and storage network of natural gas is very well developed, especially in Canada. The growing need and impetus for utilizing natural gas resources to realize a carbon neutral Hydrogen economy has been pushing the industry to adopt techniques that align with the capabilities of Dr. Chaudhuri’s proposed project, which will support decarbonization.

Project: Fertilizer and Plastics Precursor, Greenhouse Gas-Free, using Air and Sunlight

Theme: Carbon Neutral Fertilizer

Team: Ulrich Fekl (Chemical and Physical Sciences)

50% of the current world food production would be impossible without synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. However, the process to make this fertilizer is unsustainable: roughly ten tons of CO2 (including CO2 form heat required) are released for each ton of nitrogen turned into fertilizer. Dr. Ulrich Fekl is working on research to develop an effective, greenhouse gas-neutral process for ammonia production. CPE funding will support the development of a catalytic system for the direct conversion of nitrogen into ammonia using a CO2-neutral process. The process will convert alkanes from fossil resources (natural gas or petroleum) not into CO2, but rather into valuable precursors for plastics. The reaction requires only a small energy input, which can conveniently come from sunlight.

Project: Building More with Less: Pathways to build the infrastructure of the future within allowable embodied GHG budgets

Theme: Buildings and Infrastructure

Team: Shoshanna Saxe, Daniel Posen, Heather MacLean, Evan Bentz, Daman Panesar (Civil and Mineral Engineering), Elias Khalil (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering), Chris Essert (Law)

Establishing how to provide more buildings and infrastructure services (e.g. housing, transport), while lowering construction resource use and embodied GHG emissions, is foundational to a liveable future. This project’s objective is to ensure that the construction associated with much-needed new buildings and infrastructure consumes resources within the carrying capacity of the planet, which requires dramatic change from current paradigms. The project will mobilize knowledge critical to helping the building and infrastructure sector move from unsustainable current practices (a major barrier to net-zero), to a new system of building more using less GHG. This project will develop large quantities of new data by taking qualitative and quantitative approaches, and will also advance the creation of world’s largest database on construction materials in buildings currently in development. Growing from this, the project will also develop data on how to build lower GHG buildings and infrastructure, and will disseminate the findings across the built environment ecosystem from policy makers, to planners, engineers, contractors, and owners.

Project: Just Mitigation?: Applying a climate justice approach to the implementation of mitigation policies in growing cities in Southeast Asia

Theme: Just Transition of Climate Action

Team: Amrita Daniere, Joanna Kocsis (Geography and Planning), Try Thuon (Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Climate change mitigation solutions that are transplanted from highly industrialized countries to less industrialized states can have unintended impacts on the lives of certain urban residents, particularly low-income and marginalized groups, such as women and migrants. Dr. Amrita Daniere’s research project compares two different models of GHG emissions reduction, as implemented by municipal governments in Southeast Asian secondary cities, to better understand how they impact marginalized communities. Building on the research team’s ongoing work with a network of policymakers, researchers, and civil society actors, this project aims to contribute to the development of equitable and just climate change mitigation policy, in pursuit of transformative climate justice in this rapidly urbanizing and industrializing region. By documenting the experiences of households whose livelihoods are connected to informal waste processing, and bringing clarity to the complex negotiations involved in the implementation of such initiatives by municipal authorities, this project will contribute valuable knowledge to help ensure the global reach of climate mitigation solutions that are both effective and equitable.

Project: How to Decarbonize Automobile Transit: Lessons from Norway

Theme: Sustainable Transit

Team: Robert McMillan (Economics)

A swift and large-scale shift to EVs faces significant practical challenges: the necessary infrastructure to support electric charging is currently very limited, and electric vehicles remain very expensive, beyond the reach of many. However, one advanced economy, Norway, has already made a massive transition to EVs in recent years as a result of conscious government effort. Dr. Robert McMillan’s project will further examine how the raft of policies that Norway implemented can provide unique insight into the levers that could be used in Canada. His research seeks to understand what factors affected individual decisions to purchase electric cars, and measure the benefits to the environment of doing so.

Project: Grounding Models: Co-creating agent-based models to understand TransformTO goals

Theme: Just Transition: Urban Living

Team: John Robinson (Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy), Heather Dorries, Majd Al-Shihabi (Geography and Planning)

The TransformTO Modelling Advisory Group recommended in its 2017 final report that the plan, which includes a set of long-term, low-carbon goals and strategies for the City of Toronto, must adapt to the evolving context of the coming years and decades, and explore methods for continuously improving modelling inputs and analysis. Dr. Robinson and his team will address this recommendation through participatory modelling, where stakeholders from across affected communities work together to understand and evaluate the impact of the policies by designing and running experiments in “virtual worlds” using a simulation technique. The input of the participants in these words directly affects the formation of the models, and thus their outcomes. This Input contributes to the process of consent building, which is crucial for climate solutions that respect Indigenous sovereignty and nation-to-nation relationships. The outputs of the project will be open source, including the model, which will then become a tool for public engagement that can be used by anyone working towards the common goals of TransformTO.