Moving the yardsticks in energy research

I chair a University of Calgary body known as the Senate.The Senate is composed of 62 respected Calgary citizens as well as university students, faculty and staff. It acts as a communication link between the Calgary community and the university. Through its many activities, the Senate works to enhance the profile and reputation of our university.

We held a Senate meeting today. Amongst other business, we heard a presentation from Dr. Ed McCauley, Vice-President of Research. I had asked Ed to give us an update on the University’s Energy Research Strategy and specifically to report how we’re doing on the four Grand Challenges that are part of this strategy. These Grand Challenges represent areas of particular research strength at the University of Calgary – opportunities for our energy researchers to mobilize themselves and make major advances (I like to use the phrase ‘move the yardsticks’).

One of the Grand Challenges, for example, is to address issues associated with hydraulic fracturing such as contamination of shallow aquifers and emissions to the environment. The University of Calgary is consequently developing micro-seismic monitoring as a means to reveal the complex geometries of hydraulic fractures that are otherwise difficult to visualize.

But perhaps the item from Ed McCauley’s presentation that caught most Senators’ attention is the Grand Challenge called ‘Toward low carbon energy’.

In this Challenge, our researchers are developing new technologies such as metagenomics and petroleum microbiology that can potentially extract energy with minimal environmental impact. In addition, renowned researcher Dr. Steven Bryant is putting together a cross-disciplinary team of collaborators. Steven and his team are utilizing nanoscale technology in new ways to improve the efficiency of in-situ oil recovery in the oil sands.

Ed McCauley believes that someday we will have the technology to extract energy from a reservoir while leaving the carbon in the ground. If possible, that would be transformative and deeply cut greenhouse gas emissions. Now that’s what I call a grand challenge!

I enjoy hearing from Ed McCauley. He has the courage to dream audacious dreams as well as the resolve to put together teams of gifted researchers to bring the dreams to life.

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