January 30, 2006

NSERC to fund sustainable energy, ecosystem research

Healthy environment and ecosystems and sustainable energy systems are two of the seven new research areas to which NSERC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, will direct approximately $15 million in funding each year from 2006 to 2010. Research and training projects related to communications and information, biomedical technologies, manufacturing, foods and bioproducts, and safety and security will also receive support through NSERC's Strategy Project Grants (SPG) program.

Both the new target areas and the individual research topics within each area were determined through extensive consultations between NSERC and Canada's research community. The Council will be looking to support research with the greatest potential for positive impacts on Canada's economy and quality of life.

Within the healthy environment and ecosystems area, research is needed to address the increasing environmental stresses caused by human activities and the impacts of climate change. In particular, studies are required to:

*determine whether specific interventions can help ecosystems adapt to atmospheric and climate changes;

*better understand the interrelationships between land use, aquatic ecosystems, and ecological processes;

*manage water resources more effectively; and

*manage waste and remediate contaminated sites more effectively.

NSERC has designated four specific research subjects in this area:

(a) Biosphere adaptation to climate change, focusing on the impact of climate change on forest and freshwater aquatic ecosystems, impacts on biogeochemical cycles, and adaptation strategies.

(b) Management and modeling of strategies for management of ecosystems, to ensure that they remain sustainable despite human demands. These should focus on industrial or boreal ecosystems of 100,000 km2; rural ecosystems of 500 km2; urban ecosystems of 100 km2; and watersheds smaller than 1,000 km2. Of interest as well are projects involving the modeling of ecosystems to illustrate responses to climate change and/or anthropogenic disturbance and to indicate what measures (e.g. mitigation or adaptation) would be advisable.

(c) Water resources, with prospective research projects concentrating on water supply protection and management and water treatment, re-use and remediation (i.e. innovative new technologies, methods and analytical tools for treating water and wastewater and for remediating contaminated water sources). The SPG program will support new technological studies, not research targeting incremental improvements to existing technologies.

(d) Waste management: This funding area offers researchers a strategic opportunity to transform the waste management industry and support environmental remediation through studies aimed at developing:

*less intrusive, and less costly approaches to the remediation of brownfields, mine sites and government-owned contaminated properties;

*new analytical tools for site characterization that will more accurately define the extent and nature of the contamination;

*systems engineering approaches to managing municipal, industrial and construction waste in a way that will protect the ecosystem;

*air treatment technologies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from small-scale facilities; and

*new technologies designed to ensure that toxic materials of emerging concern, e.g., nanotechnology wastes, catalytic wastes (flue gas desulfurization) and novel organic materials do not enter ecosystems in significant quantities.

Four specific research subjects have also been selected in the area of sustainable energy systems. In addition to an integrated systems approach to electrical power grids, they include:

*Energy storage, focusing on approaches that draw on Canadian expertise in fuel cells as well as novel energy storage systems for specific energy forms, such as electricity and hydrogen;

*Biomass conversion and co-product optimization, aimed at improving the core processes of converting biomass to energy (e.g., fermentation, anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis, gasification). NSERC notes that Canada would derive economic and environmental benefits if more and different types of feedstocks could be used in biomass conversion (e.g. biodiesel, bio-oil), if conversion processes could be optimized, and if the co-products of biofuel production could also be applied to energy production.

*Systems engineering approach to fossil fuel extraction, addressing the challenge of reducing the amount of energy consumed in extracting the fossil fuels on which much of Canada's infrastructure depends. By incorporating alternative energy sources (including the waste products of processing) into the extraction and refining of hydrocarbons, NSERC says the oil and gas industry could conserve energy, reduce waste and save money.

Of particular interest are studies on optimization of hydrogen supply and utilization in bitumen recovery and processing, and clean combustion of bitumen and oil sands processing waste products. The goal is to use waste products (e.g., hydrocarbons in sludge) as fuel in processing oil sands and in heavy oil in-situ production, cogeneration and upgrading.

Researchers seeking SPG program funding must outline in their proposals why their research is strategic and how it addresses a given target area. More information is available on the NSERC Web site, www.nserc.gc.ca.

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