U of C gains grants for environment research

A $19 million grant will help University of Calgary researchers keep Alberta’s water crystal clear.

Mon., Nov. 27, the Canada Foundation for Innovation announced the U of C will receive $19 million for research aimed at improving the quality of water in the Bow River downstream of Calgary and to develop less environmentally damaging means of developing Alberta’s oilsands.

The U of C’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy will oversee the two projects, which involve contributions from various faculties and corporate parties.

“This is a huge success for the university,” said Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Water Research co-director Dr. Ed McCauley. “The CFI recognizes that we have a quality vision.”

The Bow River research project is a collaboration between university researchers and the City of Calgary to develop processes to treat diverse chemicals–such as pharmaceuticals–which are increasingly present in Calgary’s discharge water. The grant will be used to build 12 outdoor streams at the city’s new Pine Creek wastewater treatment plant south of the city. The streams will mimick prairie streams, enabling researchers to study the effects of discharge on streams without endangering existing river systems.

“This pilot study is the first of its kind,” said McCauley. “There is a huge scale for new discoveries and Calgary can export these ideas to the world.”

The oilsands project will be directed by the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for In Situ Energy. The oilsands are mined for bitumen, which cannot be directly processed for petroleum products and must be further refined in order to be usable.

“Bitumen is extremely viscous and dense,” said Pedro Pereira-Almao, chemical and petroleum engineering professor and Alberta Ingenuity Fund scholar. “It cannot be used for conventional refining. It needs to be upgraded, which is a very expensive and environmentally unfriendly procedure.”

Pereira-Almao will use the money to research ways to speed up chemical reactions and find ways to directly upgrade bitumen in the reservoirs where it is located, rather than using heavy refineries in northern Alberta. The most important part of this project is to build a pilot plant to simulate these ideas, noted Pereira-Almao.

“This will make the U of C first in the world for this type of research,” said Pereira-Almao. “It will create a new age of engineers focused on processes that have a smaller environmental footprint.”

Students will also have the opportunity to be involved in both water and oilsands research.

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