New University of Alberta research chair to assess energy efficiency

By Bill Mah, Edmonton Journal June 17, 2013

EDMONTON – The issue of how best to develop and transport Canada’s energy resources has inspired fierce debate and Amit Kumar wants to add the voice of science to that conversation.

The University of Alberta mechanical engineering professor was named Monday as the first academic to hold two new research chairs that will allow him and a team of 20 researchers to assess how Canada can produce energy more efficiently while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving water.

Kumar was appointed the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Chair in energy and environmental systems engineering. He was also named as the inaugural Cenovus Energy Endowed Chair in Environmental Engineering.

Kumar and other U of A researchers will create computerized models that examine the economics and environmental impacts of producing energy, whether it’s from coal, wind, hydro, biomass, natural gas or oil.

“What our research program does is it basically puts all these different types of energy systems in perspective in one picture to compare them,” Kumar said.

“This type of research has not been done earlier.”

The findings will aid governments in the drafting of policies and will help industry to make investment decisions, he said.

The research, funded by a Canadian oil company and federally and provincially funded research agencies, will also investigate the best technologies to use with different energy sources.

“This chair is basically looking at development of computer-based engineering models where we assess different types of energy systems — renewable and non-renewable,” Kumar said.

“What are their environmental impacts? How much is their greenhouse gas emission? How much water is required to produce a unit of energy? What is the land footprint? How much land is required to produce energy from a particular source? And we are also looking at the economics.

“What is the cost of producing energy from different sources?”

The two research programs have $4.4 million in total funidng, including a $3 million endowment from Cenovus Energy, $925,000 from NSERC, $250,000 from Alberta Innovates — Bio Solutions and $250,000 from Alberta Innovates — Energy and Environment Solutions.

“From my perspective, it’s really critically important that our legislators and our policy-makers have good, fact-based, science-based information on which to design new policies that will allow us to continue with resource development in a very responsible fashion,” said Cenovus president and CEO Brian Ferguson.

In his speech at the announcement, Ferguson said Kumar’s research will allow “good, quality legislation and policy that’s based on good, thoughtful science, that’s based on facts, and it’s not based on exaggeration and it’s not based on populist politics.

“To ensure the long-term viability of the industry, Cenovus and its peers must constantly look for better ways of doing things.”

He gave the example of pipelines to carry Alberta bitumen to market, now a hotly debated topic in Canada and the United States.

“As these pipelines have been delayed, the industry has turned to more and more rail transport. We already know the cost difference between shipping oil by rail versus pipeline, but we don’t know the difference between the two when it comes to the life cycle of greenhouse gas emissions,” Ferguson said.

“That’s just one of the important pieces of research that Dr. Kumar and his team are undertaking in the months ahead which will be tremendous new information for us all.”

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