2019 Winner: Outstanding Achievement in Energy and Environmental Innovation sponsored by Syncrude Canada Ltd.
Combating Climate Change with Carbon Capture Technology
Dr. Nader Mahinpey holds the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Novel CO2 Capture Technologies for Oil Sands Operations. His research revolves around economically viable capture and conversion processes to address major concerns with green house gas emissions. By capturing and converting CO2 into economically viable substances, these developments bridge the gap between short and long term solutions.
What problem or opportunity did you identify and seek to address?
The main problem is climate change. To me, climate change is real. It has become an undeniable fact and reality. We see frequent occurrences of fires, tornadoes and hurricanes. Extreme weather is a sign of this happening.
This is a very complicated issue, requiring a multipronged approach and strategies. Alberta is the leader in sustainable oil recovery technologies, but at the same time, you have to prove that Alberta is also the leader in greenhouse gas control technologies.
The world energy demand is projected to increase by around 40% by the year 2030 and the majority of this energy is coming from fossil fuels. Despite the fact that scientists are trying to develop alternative and renewable sources of energy, fossil fuels remain the main source. To respond to the problems that we are facing, we must demand very innovative technologies.
Carbon capturing technology has been worked on for a long time. However, as far as the solvent system goes, we are coming to a limit where we cannot lower the costs any further. We believe solid sorbents are the plausible solution for carbon capture. There are still problems in sintering, attrition and thermal and physical degradation that we need to solve. At the same time, the material that we design has to be economically viable to be adopted by industry. We are looking at many different ways to design and fabricate these materials.
What has been the impact?
On the technical side, we are designing and working on novel materials that can capture CO2 from the atmosphere. When we capture CO2 in high concentrations, we can sequester it underground or convert it into value-added chemicals and products. Our technology in my group considers all of these options.
Furthermore, observed reductions in greenhouse gases will have direct health and environmental impact. Finally, we cannot have a sustainable solution without considering the social and economic impact of capturing CO2 and converting CO2 to value-added chemicals and products, which will create jobs. Our technology will train highly qualified personnel at the undergrad level, Masters, PhD and post-docs who will be the future leaders of our society.
How has being in Alberta helped you find success?
Alberta is the ideal place to develop these technologies. Alberta accounts for 11 per cent of the Canadian population, but we are producing 34 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions. Per capita, we are the major producers in Canada. The problem is situated here.
On the other hand, Alberta is the energy capital of Canada. We have all kinds of energy technologies available, but we need to find ways to match the technologies to the problems. That is the major undertaking for all of us, including my group.
Who have been your major supporters?
I am a strong advocate of collaboration. I have been working with different industries and the provincial and federal governments. Industry partners such as Canadian Natural Resources, Devon Energy and Natural Resources Canada support my industrial research chair.
The situation in—and the location of—Alberta helps to foster the development and application of these technologies.
What are the plans for the future?
Our ideal goal is to see our technology implemented in industry sites to become a small player in this serious world problem. We have many papers and patents and we are working on creating a spinoff company, which will work on the fundamental research and application of our technology. We are in discussion with industry to see how we can deploy our technology into a pilot platform and eventually into the commercialized form.
How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?
It’s a great pleasure to see my group’s work realized as a manifestation of the quality of work we are delivering. It provides more motivation for us to continue to come up with solutions to this significant world problem.