Turning forest waste into jet fuel. Designing 3-D building models with “digital twins” fed by real-time data and machine learning.
As part of the $2-million Carbon Solutions initiative, Western researchers are championing innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions everywhere from the office to the skies, partnering with industry leaders to create game-changing advances.
Exploring the potential of that collaboration between academics and entrepreneurs will be a focus at Western’s CleanTech Conference on Nov. 22, where Carbon Solutions projects will also be on display.
“This is the essence of innovation – to take an idea and address a real need, such as climate change. We need to foster as many good ideas as possible and connect people who can help make change happen at a very rapid pace,” said Andrew Hrymak, engineering professor and project leader for Carbon Solutions.
“The challenge is real and pressing. We know as a society we have to make major changes to get to net zero.”
The event includes panel discussions featuring innovators from across campus and Southwestern Ontario. Western President Alan Shepard will give a keynote address on the university’s role in the green and clean technology field.
“One of the driving forces behind this conference is the incredible power that comes from bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise, particularly in the clean tech sector. At Western, we recognize sustainability is one of the most critical challenges of our time,” said David Muir, associate vice-president of innovation and strategic partnerships.
CleanTech Conference will leverage collaboration, innovation
The conference will revolve around two “interconnected themes,” Muir said:
-Pioneering approaches to combat climate change through innovation
-Fostering entrepreneurial efforts to seize economic opportunities in clean technology
“We’ve embraced a ‘think globally, act locally’ approach, fostering collaboration, innovation, and bold experimentation in our research initiatives,” Muir said.
“Western is committed to pioneering research in clean tech, focusing on areas such as renewable energy, sustainable materials and environmental sciences. Our goal is to drive innovation, develop practical solutions and contribute to the advancement of clean tech on a global scale.”
Carbon Solutions pair faculty and industry to mitigate emissions
Fifteen Western projects under the Carbon Solutions banner are already forging ahead with unique answers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a variety of fields and contexts.
Engineering professor Naomi Klinghoffer is using forestry waste – essentially, woodchips – to tackle a persistent carbon problem: jet fuel.
“The aviation industry really needs sustainable solutions. It’s not as feasible to use some of the solutions we see with other types of transportation. We can electrify cars, there’s lots of ways we can improve the rest of the transportation system, but the aviation industry is still completely reliant on liquid fuels,” Klinghoffer said.
“There are commitments within that sector to improve their sustainability and start blending in sustainable aviation fuels with the existing fuel. In order to meet those targets, we really need to develop these technologies.”
It’s a complicated process to break down woodchips into their chemical building blocks, and then rebuild those molecules into jet fuel. Klinghoffer’s project is also focused on removing water, contaminants and unneeded products from the forest waste so it can be transported without creating unnecessary emissions on its way to a facility.
“You have a product that’s smaller, lighter, but you’ve kept most of the energy value in that material. Then you can transfer that to a facility and go through the process of gasifying it and synthesizing the fuels. It’s going to reduce the carbon footprint, by reducing the amount of fuel to move this stuff around, while improving the feasibility,” Klinghoffer said.
Her team will work with Greenfield Global, which has expertise in the gasification process and producing jet fuel.
All the Carbon Solutions projects include external partners to take advantage of industry knowledge and innovation.
For engineering professor Katarina Grolinger, working with London Hydro has been the norm for years. But now the utility is partnering on a Carbon Solutions project to reduce emissions from buildings – one of the biggest energy users – by integrating machine learning with “digital twins” models monitoring real-life structures.
London Hydro can provide hourly usage data for a building. Sensors and other equipment will provide hundreds of other real-time data points to detect abnormal patterns and create a “smart” system.
“If you’re recording things and displaying it, and something abnormal happens on the building side – let’s say there is an unusual use of electricity, a spike, we want to be able to trigger some kind of alarm. We want to go beyond just integrating sensors with the models of the buildings. That’s where we would include that machine learning component,” Grolinger said.
“If you have the most efficient building in the world, and it’s 35 C outside, but it’s cooled to 10 C because someone messed up the thermostat, it’s going to kill the energy efficiency.”
Grolinger’s team will combine civil engineering, machine learning and software to create digital models reflecting the performance of buildings.
“Carbon Solutions project teams are all focused on carbon emission mitigation and partnering to validate and grow innovations,” Hrymak said.
“We have to make major changes to get to net-zero emissions. Clean technologies are an opportunity to effectively address carbon emissions, reduce energy consumption and create a more sustainable society.”
IF YOU GO
What: CleanTech Conference
When: Nov. 22, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: RBC Place (formerly the London Convention Centre)
Tickets: Available online