The University of Calgary established the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE) in October 2003.
ISEEE is a unique model, created through the U of C’s academic plan, which makes "Leading Innovation in Energy and Environment" a strategic priority. The institute is the vehicle to deliver on the university’s commitment to be recognized as a global leader in energy and environment- related research, education and innovation.
ISEEE integrates multidisciplinary, mission-focused research, education and innovation to ensure Albertans and all Canadians continue to have competitive energy supplies, a clean environment and a strong economy. The institute’s programs are aligned with Alberta’s long-range energy research strategy, being led by the Alberta Energy Research Institute, and it is responsive to the needs of its partners, including industry, governments and other research organizations. The U of C and its partners have to date committed more than $51 million to ISEEE and related initiatives through private fund development, 26 allocated research chairs (with another 10 to come), and the reallocation of operating funds.
ISEEE is currently focused on four core areas or initiatives of strategic importance to Alberta and Canada (Figure 1). Sustainable Development Technologies/Alternative Energy is one of these key areas. The others are Advanced Recovery and Upgrading, Carbon Management, and Water Management.
The Sustainable Development Technologies/Alternative Energy initiative is part of a Pan-Alberta Memorandum of Understanding, signed by the University of Calgary, University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge, to promote coordination and collaboration in research and education related to the implementation of Alberta’s energy and environmental strategies. ISEEE is geared to developing affordable and practical sustainable energy technologies that can make contributions to the energy, agriculture and forest industries over the next decade and beyond. These technologies include solid oxide fuel cells, lower-cost hydrogen production and biomass-fuelled co-generation.
The Sustainable Development Technologies/Alternative Energy initiative also includes integrated energy and environmental systems, policy, modelling and assessment to identify innovation design improvements to increase energy production and efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. This work will create value-added products and markets, and facilitate the necessary technology transfer, ‘smart’ regulation, private sector investment and infrastructure development.
Alternative Energy R&D
Specifically in the area of alternative energy, the U of C’s Fuel Cell Research Group, led by Dr. Viola Birss, a chemistry professor and Canada Research Chair in Electrochemistry of Materials for Fuel Cells and Related Energy Applications, is developing electrochemical processes and materials for high-temperature solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC). The goal is to convert polluting hydrocarbons to clean energy – making the SOFC an ideal fuel cell for Alberta. The U of C group is a member of the Western Canada Fuel Cell Initiative, a coalition of universities and the Alberta Research Council. The coalition is focused on collaborative fuel cell research using fuels of relevance to the prairie provinces, including syngas (synthesis gas) from coal, as well as ethanol and methanol from biomass.
Other U of C ISEEE-affiliated researchers, such as chemist and Alberta Ingenuity Scholar Dr. Pedro Pereira-Almao, of the Schulich School of Engineering and Co-Director of the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for In Situ Energy, are developing catalysts to produce hydrogen at lower cost than that achieved by current technologies (typically by "reforming" natural gas). The hydrogen can be used initially to upgrade oil sands bitumen and, over the longer term, as clean fuel for the envisioned "hydrogen economy."
Hydrogen is of particular interest to Alberta because it is used to upgrade heavy oils and bitumen and to produce petrochemical feedstocks from heavy oils, bitumen and coal. Technology that produces hydrogen from lower-grade and lower-cost hydrocarbon feedstocks – though not "alternative energy" in the strictest sense – would nevertheless contribute enormously to our economy and environment. For example, combined upgrading and gasification processes that optimize the generation of desired petrochemical feedstocks and hydrogen, and also facilitate the separation and geological sequestration of produced carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), would be of tremendous strategic value to Alberta.
In the area of biofuels and bio-products, ISEEE is focused on developing novel processes to produce a range of energy- related products, including electricity, liquid, solid and gaseous fuels, heat, chemicals and other materials. This work includes integrating conventional energy and bioenergy systems (to produce cleaner-burning hybrid fuel blends, for example) and capturing and utilizing carbon dioxide from industrial gas streams.
New technologies to improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gases and increase alternative energy development will only succeed if they are cost effective, adopted by the private sector and accepted by the public. ISEEE-affiliated researchers also conduct energy, environment and economic systems modelling and analysis, to assist policy makers at federal, provincial and municipal levels to facilitate development of advanced energy and environmental policies and regulations.
In May, for example, Dr. David Keith, a U of C professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and economics, and Canada Research Chair in Energy and the Environment, was one of nine leading energy science and technology experts in Canada – and the only full time academic – named to a new federal national advisory panel on the government’s Sustainable Energy Science and Technology Strategy. The panel will provide advice on Canada’s energy science and technology priorities that will help the country develop sustainable energy solutions for the future. Keith, recruited last year through ISEEE from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is chair of one of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) three crosscutting groups and lead author of the IPCC’s much-anticipated Special Report on Carbon Storage, due this September.
Renewable energy sources have increased 600 per cent in Alberta during the last five years, according to Climate Change Central. ISEEE has formed links with the Calgary-based NewERA decentralized energy industry alliance, and the city is a growing hub for Canada’s alternative energy sector.
The Alberta government has set a goal in its climate change plan of increasing the renewable and alternative energy portion of total provincial energy supplies by 3.5 per cent, or 560 megawatts of new capacity, by 2008. ISEEE’s Sustainable Development Technologies/ Alternative Energy initiative can help Alberta diversify its energy industry portfolio, preserve the province’s international leadership role in energy expertise, and make a smooth and profitable transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy systems.
About the Author(s)
Mark Lowey lives in Calgary, where he has worked as a professional journalist for more than 25 years. He is the publisher and editor of EnviroLine, a business publication for western Canada’s environmental industry. He is also a freelance writer and editor, a contributor to Business Edge in Calgary, and a communications advisor to the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary.
His work has garnered numerous awards, including two Canadian Science Writers’ Association national awards, a Governor General’s Michener citation, the first Alberta Science Technology Foundation award for science journalism, and the first Canadian Petroleum Association/ Banff Centre national award for environmental reporting.
Mark worked at the Calgary Herald for 20 years, where he became a senior reporter. He is a former president of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association.