Three projects tapped for NSERC Strategic Project Grants

Projects led by Western professors Oleg Semenikhin, Abdallah Shami and Jun Yang are among 77 scientific teams receiving more than $43 million in Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) programs. The projects are funded through two NSERC-administered grants, the Strategic Network Grants and Strategic Project Grants. All three Western projects are funded through the Strategic Project Grant.

“Our government understands that for an economy to grow and prosper and for the quality of life of Canadians to improve, we must support innovation,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of State (Science and Technology), who announced the grants at an event in Ottawa last week. “The strategic investments we’re announcing will allow companies to increase their R&D activities in Canada by accessing the expertise and knowledge of scientific teams at universities.

“Furthermore, by supporting partnerships such as these, we are addressing the long-term needs of our industries and helping them turn ideas into real benefits for Canadians.”

The Western projects include:

Oleg Semenikhin, Chemistry professor

Advanced fibers and textiles for energy conversion and storage

$393,000 over three years

Solar photovoltaics are of great importance to the Canadian economy as one of possible means to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate the negative environmental impact of existing energy generation technologies. While it is likely that silicon-based technologies will dominate large-scale photovoltaic installations in the near future, there are numerous applications that can – and should – be explored in order to boost the amount of energy produced in Canada from clean sources. Semenikhin’s team is targeting one such underused area – solar light harvesting using advanced textiles.

Windows are essential part of any house; however, they are also a prime channel for energy losses in winter or unwanted heat in summer. Therefore, sun and heat-blocking window coverings are increasingly popular with consumers. Light-reflective coverings, such as blinds or curtains, reflect sunlight back outside and thus are capable to significantly reduce the inside temperature decreasing the need in air conditioning and the associated energy demand.

However, all the currently available products and solutions do not make any use of the light and just reflect or dissipate it, while it would be very advantageous to harvest this light and convert it into electricity. This would further reduce the amount of unwanted heat, at the same time providing additional electricity for the needs of the household and at the time when it is most needed (the time of use tariffs as well as electricity demand are at their highest during summer afternoons).

This project aims to develop photovoltaic fibres and fabrics as a non-traditional approach to harvesting solar energy. A further line of research is aimed at development of fibre-based batteries for electrical energy storage and their integration into the photovoltaic fabrics to create new line of innovative green consumer products for Canadian manufacturers.

Abdallah A. Shami, Electrical and Computer Engineering professor

Energy-efficient resource provisioning for network-based cloud computing environments

$409,140 over three years

Cloud computing is an increasingly popular computing paradigm, now proving a necessity for utility computing services. Several providers have cloud computing solutions available, where a pool of virtualized, dynamically scalable, computing power, storage, platforms and, most recently, network services are delivered on-demand to clients over the Internet. This is implemented using large data centers where thousands of servers reside.

Shami’s project will develop a comprehensive resource allocation and scheduling framework for cloud computing systems that considers geographical constraints, energy, regulations and locations of data sources, and network connections provisioning. This framework will handle all the system resources in the data centre networks, and manage client requests, dictate resource allocation, ensure network quality of service conditions, and reduce or eliminate performance hiccups. This framework would also execute the mentioned tasks while minimizing the service provider cost and controlling the level of consumed energy.

Research outcomes will benefit industrial partners, as well as the wider technical and industrial communities and establish critical technology leadership in the rapidly expanding cloud computing field. In addition, the project will train talented and highly capable personnel in Canada with expertise in cutting-edge IT technology fields and state-of-the-art research analysis tools. Therefore, many Canadian high-tech firms will benefit from hiring graduate students with expertise developed in this research.

Jun J. Yang, Mechanical and Materials Engineering professor

Developing robust, high-resolution, high-performance and low-cost printing technologies for making flexible and stretchable electronics and devices

 $400,800 over three years

Electronics or devices, which are flexible, wearable, rollable and/or foldable, will bring us completely different user experience and even change our way of life. Making flexible and stretchable electronics and devices has become an important direction of advanced manufacturing. Recent advances in materials and manufacturing processes have enabled many new applications of flexible electronics/devices, for example, electronic paper, curved screens, foldable or rollable displays, flexible solar cells, tunable lens, artificial muscles, skin sensors and wearable biomedical devices for health monitoring.

The market demand for flexible, printed and organic electronics has dramatically increased. Currently, the global market is more than $1 billion, and will grow to $45 billion by 2016.  

Recently, material or inkjet printing has emerged as a very promising technique for mass production of large-area flexible and stretchable electronics at relatively low cost. Inkjet printing is a versatile technique that places conductive inorganic or organic materials in a direct-writing manner to designated locations on elastomeric substrates. In spite of its many advantages, current inkjet printing technology still faces a number of technical challenges such as low conductivity of printed metallic circuits, weak adhesion between conductive materials and the substrate, low resolution compared to the conventional IC processes, and limited choices of conductive materials and substrate materials.