New Research Theme: CleanTech for Climate Action

The MSSI has funded three new projects under its fifth research theme – CleanTech for Climate Action – that are developing innovative new technologies to help us transition to a cleaner future.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activity are driving global climate change. By now, we are well aware of the challenges this presents for society and that urgent action is needed.

While climate mitigation – the efforts to reduce current levels of atmospheric GHGs – certainly involves changes in our collective behaviour, it also requires replacement of existing GHG-emitting processes with innovative and radical new technologies that emit no or very low concentrations of GHGs, make better use of renewable resources and even act as GHG sinks. As a broad group, these technologies are often referred to as CleanTech.

The MSSI CleanTech research theme focuses on developing new technologies while also building a community of researchers working in the field. In line with the MSSI’s emphasis on a systems-level approach to sustainability research, these projects will also consider societal, environmental and economic aspects of new technologies across their lifecycles.

The three projects listed below will form the basis of the CleanTech for Climate Action research theme and bring an exciting new component to the MSSI.

Headshots of the four research theme co-leads: Prof. Salmaan Craig, Prof. Jeff Bergthorson, Prof. Hong Guo & Prof. CJ Li.
The new research theme co-leads (L-R): Prof. Salmaan Craig, Prof. Jeff Bergthorson, Prof. Hong Guo & Prof. CJ Li.

Developing zero-carbon energy technologies

Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is critical for climate mitigation, but it requires development of safe, efficient and accessible replacements. Professor Jeff Bergthorson (Department of Mechanical Engineering) is leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers whose work advances the use of metal fuels as revolutionary, low-carbon energy systems. In addition to reducing fossil fuels use, these new technologies will enable the efficient energy storage, making them more accessible for use in remote communities or in heavy-duty transportation systems.

Taking a true systems-level approach to novel technologies, the team – consisting of researchers from the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Economics and the Desautels Faculty of Management – will assess the life-cycle environmental impacts, economic viability and societal acceptance of this new technology. This project builds off the ongoing work of McGill’s Alternative Fuels Laboratory.

Buildings as a Global Carbon Sink

Buildings contribute to global GHG emissions not only though direct energy use, but also through emissions embodied in the energy intensive processes used to produce construction materials such as steel, cement and glass.

A team led by Professor Salmaan Craig (Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture) is exploring the role of wood for climate mitigation on two fronts: using mass timber technology for construction to replace heavy GHG emitting materials and increase building efficiency, and using wood as a carbon sink - storing carbon in our buildings and properly managed forests.

This project is a collaboration between the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture and the Department of Natural Resource Sciences.

Producing energy through artificial photosynthesis

What about processes that can convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into useful products, simultaneously reducing CO2 and producing usable materials?

Hong Guo (Department of Physics) and collaborator CJ Li (Department of Chemistry) will explore solar-powered artificial photosynthesis as a process to convert CO2 into commercially valuable chemicals and fuels such as hydrogen, syngas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) and methane. This process draws inspiration from the natural photosynthesis process through which plants – and a few other organisms – convert light and CO2 into chemical energy and oxygen.

As well as producing energy, the revenue generated could reduce or even offset the cost associated with this CO2 capture technology.

About the MSSI

The McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative brings together experts from across McGill to build a robust and vibrant community of committed sustainability researchers. This is the fifth MSSI-funded research theme. The four existing themes are led by teams of researchers from across five McGill Faculties: Sustaining landscapes; Creating sustainable materials for the future; Adapting urban environments for the future and Sustainability transitions. You can learn more about our research programs, funding opportunities and events on the MSSI website.

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