“The network brings me together with people in my field from across the country.” | Jeffrey Bergthorson
Don Smith says that six years ago, Jeffrey Bergthorson was “simply someone I would not have collaborated with.” Now they’re working together on an aggressively forward-thinking research project: to reimagine the future of Canada’s engines.
Based at McGill’s Macdonald campus on Montreal’s West Island, Smith is a plant science professor and past director of the Green Crop Network. A lot of his research focuses on creating crops that emit less, and trap more, greenhouse gases. Bergthorson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering on the downtown campus. Bergthorson did post-doc work on high-speed supersonic combustion, but by the time he joined McGill in 2006 he was thinking more and more about alternative fuels. His dean thought it might be a good idea to talk to Smith.
Today Smith is the Scientific Director and CEO of the new McGill-hosted BioFuelNet Canada network. As the recipient of almost $25-million from the federal government, BioFuelNet is a cross-Canada super-team of academics and industrial partners that’s working fast to wean Canada off oil. They’re breeding inedible, low-impact crops, figuring out how to convert those crops (and even waste products from agriculture, forestry and your dinner plate) into fuels, and designing efficient engines to burn them. It all adds up to a lofty goal: To make biofuel as much as a quarter of the transportation fuel used in Canadian engines by 2032.
“The network brings me together with people in my field from across the country,” says Bergthorson, who is leading the BioFuelNet Utilization Theme, “and those links between researchers will increase how fast we can prove these technologies are technically and scientifically possible–and to see them come online.”
But there’s another advantage to wide-ranging collaboration. “Knowing people like Don gives me a perspective on the important broader issues we need to take into account. When I talk to people in the aviation community, certainly my expertise in combustion is important. But I’m also expected to be well-informed about the socio-economic issues around biofuels, and you just can’t build that kind of expert perspective without interacting with a wide range of people.”
Innovation rarely happens in isolation. Collaboration, whether between two researchers or on the large scale of BioFuelNet, is the key to answering big questions. McGill’s work to build and support such collaboration during the past year included:
McGill and Freie Universität Berlin signed an agreement to enhance their research collaborations through the exchange of faculty, staff and students, as well as joint research activities and publications. Rose Goldstein, McGill’s Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), signed the agreement while part of a delegation marking the 40th anniversary of the Germany Canada Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology.
The Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture), announced that the federal Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program will give nearly $2-million to McGill researchers for the development of ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with irrigation and drainage systems.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) CREATE program helps science and engineering graduate students add job skills to their academic achievements. CREATE recently awarded funding for six years to McGill projects in two fields: green chemistry, led by chemistry Professor Chao-Jun Li, and medical image analysis, led by Professor Kaleem Siddiqi, School of Computer Science.