Energy innovation research includes oil sands recovery processes
The Canada Foundation for Innovation has provided $2.3 million for Calgary energy innovation research projects, several of them scientific studies connected to the oil and gas industry.
“When the country’s researchers have access to state-of-the-art tools and facilities, they can ask bold questions, find remarkable answers and apply them in new and often unexpected ways. Their discoveries and innovations further Canada’s reputation as a nation known for its research excellence,” says CFI President and CEO, Gilles Patry.
For the University of Calgary’s Jeffrey Priest, a Canada Research Chair in Geomechanics of Gas Hydrates, this means funding to buy a unique piece of equipment called the PCATS: Triaxial apparatus that will further his study of methane gas hydrates locked in the ice in the Canadian Arctic – a potential clean source of energy that countries such as China, Japan, Korea and India are actively developing.
“This incredible support from CFI will allow us to continue to attract, support and retain the brightest minds, like Jeffrey and his colleagues, to the University of Calgary,” says Ed McCauley, vice-president (research). “Our research, enabled by state-of-the-art infrastructure, will allow us to continue to address critical societal issues to benefit Canadians.”
Priest notes that in his case, “the CFI’s support will put us right at the top of the game in terms of being able to understand what’s going on.”
Priest, 49, an associate professor in the Schulich School of Engineering came to Calgary from Britain just over a year and a half ago to pursue his ground-breaking research.
Originally from Southampton, U.K., Priest helped develop the PCATS: Triaxial with a private company while in England. Now he wants to buy it for the University of Calgary to analyze sediment samples from the Arctic while preserving the natural, pressurized state they’re found in deep-water sediments and under the permafrost. The $224,676 he’s been awarded by the CFI will make purchasing this innovative equipment possible. Priest will also purchase a second piece of equipment that will replicate the pressurized samples for lab work.
Priest’s main area of interest in the research is in determining the risk involved in removing the gas hydrates from sediment through mining. Methane locked in the ice is a potential clean source of energy that Asia and the subcontinent are actively developing. But mining it poses potential dangers as the structure of the remaining sediment may be weakened to the point of causing significant landslides. Due to climate change, it’s a danger the planet could face even if the hydrates are never mined for commercial purposes.
“For me there’s an important geo-hazard prospect,” says Priest. “The Arctic is warming, we know it’s warming. There are vast stores of these hydrates in the Arctic – there’s lots of it up there. If you start melting that ice, it may have a major impact.”
To illustrate the importance of this, Priest points to examples in ancient history where an expansion of methane hydrates in sediment due to warmer temperatures is believed to have caused massive landslides with devastating consequences.
While in England, Priest studied the possibility that warming methane hydrates helped create the conditions for the last of the historic Storegga slides that occurred along the coast of Norway and caused a 30-metre high Tsunami that swept through Norway and Scotland more than 8,000 years ago.
“That whole geotechnical risk is there and we are only just starting to look at it in detail,” said Priest.
A former construction worker who had a wife, two kids and house by the time he took his first university course at 30, Priest grew up in a working class area of Southampton. His initial desire was to take some courses that would allow him to move into a management position at his construction job. Curiosity led his career ambitions elsewhere as he completed all of his education at the University of Southampton including his Ph.D. and a Bachelor Degree in English with honours.
Priest is part of the Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow research team who are developing the next generation of energy innovations the world so urgently needs.
In total, the CFI is contributing $27 million for tools and infrastructure through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund to 37 universities across Canada. An additional $8.1 million will support a portion of the operational costs of CFI-funded infrastructure on these campuses.
Other University of Calgary recipients of CFI funding:
Faculty of Science:
Constance Finney, Analysis platform for pathogen-induced cellular responses, $254,373
Casey Hubert, Endospores, Microbial Ecology and Bioengineering, $250,000
Schulich School of Engineering:
Hossein Hejazi and Ian Gates, Understanding Oil Sands Recovery Processes by using Lab-on-a-Chip Methods, $190,000
Seonghwan Kim, A multi-functional scanning probe microscope for high-resolution physical and chemical characterization of materials, $131,973
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