Canadian Nanotechnology Firm Finds Water in the Driest of Air

A Canadian startup could have a new breakthrough in pulling moisture from the driest of places. For years, researchers around the world have been looking for new technology and methods of making drinkable water out of the atmosphere.

The company Awn Nanotech, based out of Montreal, have been leveraging the latest in nanotechnology to make that water harvesting a reality. Awn Nanotech, most recently, released new information about their progress at the American Physical Society’s March meeting — the world’s largest gathering of physicists.

Founder Richard Boudreault made the presentation, who is both a physicist and an entrepreneur with a sizeable number of other tech-based startup companies under his belt. He said the company got its inspiration after hearing about the water crises in southern California and South Africa. While most others were looking to solve the problem by desalination techniques and new technologies, he wanted to look to the sky instead.

He also wondered if he could create a more cost-efficient alternative to the other expensive options on the market. By tapping into nanotechnology, he could pull the particles toward each other and use the natural tension found in the surface as a force of energy to power the nanotechnology itself.

“It’s extremely simple technology, so it’s extremely durable,” Boudreault said at the press conference.

Boudreault partnered with college students throughout Canada to develop a specific textile. The fine mesh of carbon nanotubes would be both hydrophilic (attracts water to the surface) on one side and hydrophobic (repels water away from the surface) on the other.

Water particles hit the mesh and get pushed through the film from one side to the other. This ultimately forms droplets.

“Because of the surface tension, (the water) finds its way through,” Boudreault explained. The water then gets consolidated into storage tanks as clean water where it can await consumption. While there’s no need for power with the system, the Awn Nanotech team realized they could significantly speed up the water harvesting process by adding a simple fan. The team quickly added a small fan of a size that cools a computer. To make sure the fan also kept energy usage low, the fan itself runs on a small solar panel.

There have been some other attempts around the world to scale up water harvesting technology. In April 2017, a team from MIT partnered with University of California at Berkeley to harvest fog. They turned their attention to already very moist air and created a much cheaper alternative to other fog-harvesting methods using metal-organic frameworks.

However, unlike the small frameworks developed by the MIT researchers, Boudreault said that they’ve quickly scaled up their technology. In fact, the Awn Nanotech team has already created a larger alternative to their smaller scale that can capture 1,000 liters in one day. They’re currently selling their regular-scale water capture systems for $1,000 each, but the company intends on partnering with agricultural companies and farms for the more extensive systems.


Ontario government scraps plan for $3.8 billion in renewable energy projects – Is this a harbinger of things to come?


The move will keep $2.45 from going on the average homeowner’s monthly hydro bill.

Ontario is blowing off plans for more wind and solar power as it feels the heat over high electricity bills less than two years before a provincial election.

In its latest effort to curb prices, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government is axing plans to sign another $3.8 billion in renewable energy contracts, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said Tuesday.

The move — which the Progressive Conservatives have demanded for years — will prevent $2.45 from being added to the average homeowner’s monthly hydro bill in the coming years.

Thibeault called it a “common sense” decision after the province’s electricity planning agency recently advised there is no “urgent need” for additional supply given Ontario’s surplus of generating capacity.

“I’ve been tasked to find ways to bring bills down,” said Thibeault, who was appointed minister last June. “When our experts said we didn’t need it, that’s when I acted.”

There may be more measures to come, Thibeault hinted in a speech prepared for the Ontario Energy Association on Tuesday night.

He pledged to “take a prudent look at every policy decision that has been made and determine if there is work we can do to reduce costs to Ontarians.”

The projects scrapped Tuesday would have created up to 1,000 megawatts of power, just under one-third of the 3,500 megawatts the four-unit Darlington nuclear power station produces near Oshawa.


Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown called the suspension “too little, too late” while former Liberal energy minister George Smitherman and environmentalists suggested the government should have taken aim at costly nuclear refurbishments.

“Ontario had a choice to look forward but it chose to look backwards,” Smitherman said in a statement.

“The cancellation of the Large Renewable Procurement (LRP II) program makes it a scapegoat for pricing when the real culprit for oversupply is the aging Pickering nuclear plant.”

Ontario is planning to keep Pickering open until 2024 to provide electricity while it spends $12.8 billion refurbishing Darlington.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said “the Liberals have chosen the wrong target,” echoing comments from the David Suzuki Foundation and Environmental Defence that the renewable cancellation is “short-sighted.”

“If you’re concerned about cost, you do more renewables and less nuclear,” said Gideon Forman from the foundation, noting the suspension will cost jobs in the green energy sector.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association warned cancelling the renewables will make it harder for Ontario to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets in the battle against climate change.

Thibeault insisted the government is not “backtracking” on green energy because previously signed renewable contracts will go ahead in the province, eventually providing 18,000 megawatts of green energy. He said 90 per cent of generation, including nuclear, is emissions-free.Renewable Energy Pix

Sixteen projects — five wind, seven solar and four hydroelectric — approved last winter are proceeding and expected to create 455 megawatts of generating capacity.

That means ratepayers will still be on the hook for “energy we don’t need,” said Brown.

“They’ve made a huge mistake on the energy file . . . bills are still going to go up.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath blamed increasing privatization of the electricity system for steadily rising prices in the last decade, leaving Ontarians “paying the freight.”

The Liberal government, lagging in the polls, announced in its throne speech two weeks ago that the 8 per cent provincial tax on electricity will come off bills starting in January.

Many rural homeowners who face high delivery charges for hydro will also see 20 per cent savings, and 1,000 more companies will be able to take advantage of a program that allows them to shift hydro use away from periods of peak demand in return for lower prices.

That’s in addition to a hydro subsidy plan for low-income residents called the Ontario Electricity Support Program already in place.

Wynne and her MPPs were shadowed by wind farm protesters last week at the International Plowing Match and booed over hydro prices by some in attendance.

Thibeault downplayed the hostile reception.

“I was booed as a politician before. It’s something that comes with the job, right? My previous experience as a hockey referee helped me with the boos,” Thibeault told reporters Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, the provincial Financial Accountability Office released a report that found households in Toronto and Niagara typically spend the least on home energy costs and confirmed that northern Ontario residents spend the most, with low-income families facing the highest burden.

We want to know what YOU think. Is a “practical” decision like this, based on “which way the political wind is blowing” (pardon the pun) make sense in the short term? Long term? Leave us your Comments. We always like hearing from you! – Team GNT

U of Alberta awarded $75 million for energy research – Including ‘Low-Cost’ Solar on Par with Hydrocarbons


Government of Canada investment establishes the Future Energy Systems Research Institute.

The University of Alberta will launch a new institute aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of fossil fuels and developing new low-carbon energy systems, thanks to a $75-million federal grant.

The U of A’s Future Energy Systems Research Institute will bring together researchers across disciplines to improve energy systems related to unconventional hydrocarbon resources—tailings ponds, greenhouse emissions, water use, land reclamation, and safe, efficient energy transportation.

The institute will also build on U of A strengths in advanced materials, smart electrical grids and bioprocessing to help move Canada to a low-carbon energy economy.

The $75-million federal investment is part of the Canada First Excellence Research Fund to strategically invest in areas where post-secondary research institutions have a competitive advantage and can become global leaders.

“I thank the Government of Canada’s historic investment in the Canada First Excellence Research Fund. This funding marks a major step forward for Canada and our collective ability to provide global leadership in response to a diverse set of grand challenges,” said U of A President David Turpin.UniversityOfAlberta_UglyLogo_1-796768

Turpin said the Future Energy Systems Research Institute pushes Canadian energy and environment research “onto a new level.”

“We will build on our broad historic strengths in these areas and spearhead provincial, national and international research partnerships and projects that envision and deliver solutions to the world’s most urgent energy challenges—reducing the environmental footprint of today’s energy system and making the transition to a cleaner, safer and more abundant low-carbon energy future.”

Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s minister of science, unveiled the latest round of investments Sept. 6 at the University of Waterloo. In total, the Government of Canada invested $900 million in 13 Canadian research universities.

“The Canada First Research Excellence Fund will equip Canada to respond to some of the most pressing issues it will face in the future: brain health, sustainable food and water supplies, environmental concerns, future energy supplies. The research supported through this fund will make the country stronger,” Duncan said.

Low-cost solar on par with hydrocarbons

Jillian Buriak’s work toward low-cost solar cells is the kind of innovative energy research that will benefit from $75 million in new federal funding announced today.

U of A chemistry professor Jillian Buriak represents the type of research innovator who could apply for funding through the new institute. Buriak is developing low-cost solar cells, including a version that uses a spray-coating technology.

Buriak said some estimates predict energy use by humans will double by 2050 and triple by 2100. The sun is the largest source of power we can access, and the cost of solar power is now on par with hydrocarbons, making it an increasingly viable alternative, she said.

“A clean, low-carbon source of plentiful energy is needed to maintain the social and economic security of humanity. From climate change to escalating conflict over energy and resources, our future is at risk unless we transition to a low-carbon future,” said Buriak. “The Canada First Excellence Research Fund allows the University of Alberta to pioneer a made-in-Alberta solution to help solve the world’s energy challenges, helping us to transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The U of A will work collaboratively with the University of Calgary, which also received $75 million for its Global Research Initiative in Low Carbon Unconventional Resources. The U of C’s initiative aims to transform the extraction of unconventional energy resources such as the oil-sands to improve efficiency and reduce Canada’s carbon footprint.



Toronto’s QD (Quantum Dot) Solar sole Canadian among five winners of solar technology challenge

QD Solar untitledFive North American solar start-up companies have been selected to receive further support in developing their technology and moving them closer to market under the SunRISE TechBridge Challenge, which had 56 team entries.

Of the five winners, one is Canadian colloidal quantum dot cell developerQD Solar, which will gain support from Greentown Launch acceleration and DSM Partnership/Investment, as well as desk and lab space at Greentown Labs in Somerville, MA, and networking and coaching to accelerate their business and networking in the cleantech community in the Greater Boston area.

QD Solar uses low-cost, nano-engineered particles to produce solar cells that can capture wasted infrared light, resulting in a 20% increase in efficiency over conventional solar panels, based on research conducted at the Nanomaterials for Energy Laboratory in the University of Toronto’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The SunRISE TechBridge Challenge challenged companies to present innovative solutions and new materials that will lower the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for photovoltaic (PV) systems, including novel materials for existing and emerging high performance PV modules, technologies enabling non-traditional solar deployment, and business models that integrate solar PV with energy storage.

QD Solar started life at the University of Toronto and MaRS Innovation, and in March received $2.55 million from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC).


Conventional solar panels waste a large portion of available sun energy because their silicon solar cells can’t capture infrared light energy, a problem that QD Solar set out to solve with their proprietary quantum dot-based solar cells using nano-engineered, low-cost materials that can absorb infrared light.

QD Solar CEO Dan Shea is a former executive with Celestica and Blackberry.

In 2009, co-founder Edward Sargent and his team at the University of Toronto received a grant from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia to advance their research into colloidal quantum dots for solar power applications.

The SunRISE TechBridge Challenge was organized by Fraunhofer TechBridge and the SunRISE Partners, which include Royal DSM and Greentown Labs.

The Fraunhofer TechBridge Challenge is an offering of the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE), which organizes several industry-sponsored annual challenges to accelerate promising technologies through targeted industry-driven validation projects, including the SunRISE Challenge, Advanced Industrial Surfaces, the Microgrid Challenge, and the Innovation Ecosystem Program.

Fraunhofer Gesellschaft is a German applied R&D organization which has 66 institutes and independent research units throughout Germany and 80 institutes and centers around the world.

Nicola Bettio, a member of QD Solar’s Board of Directors, manages the KAUST Innovation Fund and anticipates the establishment of the company’s presence in a significant development facility in KAUST’s Research & Technology Park in the near future.


Canada’s Grafoid Scores Another Significant JVP with China’s Xiamen Tungsten

AA 1 grafoidKingston, Ontario’s Grafoid Inc. has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the establishment of a strategic joint venture partnership with China’s largest producer and exporter of tungsten products, Xiamen Tungsten Co. Ltd., which will see Xiamen take up to a 20% equity stake in privately held Grafoid, pending the completion of due diligence which is set to conclude on May 22, 2016.


Xiamen’s equity position in Grafoid was negotiated through its parent company, Ottawa’s Focus Graphite Inc. (TSX VENTURE:FMS) (OTCQX:FCSMF) (FRANKFURT:FKC), through the purchase of up to 7 million Grafoid common shares currently held by Focus Graphite.

“In addition to providing Grafoid with a strategic partner, Grafoid’s MOU with Xiamen, has benefits for Focus Graphite. When finalized, it will provide additional funding to allow us to advance our overall mine and transformation plant financing, and potentially open the China market to Focus Graphite for additional offtake partners and the sale of value added graphite products,” said Focus Graphite CEO and Director Gary Economo.

“Specifically, this injection of funding could enable Focus Graphite to advance our Lac Knife detailed engineering and finalize the environmental permitting process” said Economo. “And, it enables us to move to the next stage in assembling our mine CAPEX financing.”

Last September, Grafoid and Focus Graphite finalized two offtake agreements for obtaining graphite concentrate from a mining project at Lac Knife in Quebec for the next 10 years, one of the priorities of the Quebec government’s Plan Nord initiative.
Focus Graphite, with 7.9 million shares, is currently Grafoid’s largest stakeholder.

The MOU will also see the establishment of Xiamen’s business office at the Grafoid Global Technology Center in Kingston, providing Xiamen with a North American base for future business expansion, as well as the establishment of a Grafoid business office in China.

Grafoid’s path to commercialization lies in its patented product, a high-quality graphene trading under the name Mesograf.

Other terms of the MOU include the desire of Xiamen to introduce a clean energy technology platform and associated technologies to the Chinese market, and the opportunity for Grafoid to bring its suite of Mesograf and Amphioxide graphene based products to China.

With the Lac Knife project moving forward, Grafoid is well positioned to supply global markets with with high purity, value-added, cost-competitive graphite products while supporting the next generation battery development platform of Grafoid, Focus Graphite, Stria Lithium Inc., and Braille Battery Inc.

With annual revenue surpassing 10.143B CNY ($1.55B US), Xiamen, a publicly traded company listed on the Shanghai Exchange (SHA:600549), is a major player in that country’s smelting, processing and exporting of tungsten and other non-ferrous metal products, the operation of rare earth business interests, and the supply of battery materials.

Grafoid currently has 17 joint partnership ventures with industrial and academic partners, including Japan’s Mitsui & Co., Hydro Quebec, Rutgers University, the University of Waterloo, and Phos Solar Systems in Greece.

Last February, Grafoid received an $8.1 million investment from the SD Tech Fund of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) to help automate the production of Mesograf and end-product development.

Earlier this month, Professor Aiping Yu of the University of Waterloo’s Chemical Engineering department received a $450,000 Strategic Partnership Grant through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to help Grafoid develop an advanced graphene fiber based wearable supercapacitor.


Targeted drug delivery could help fight tumors and local infections

Drug Delivery 050815 onereallytin

Some drug regimens, such as those designed to eliminate tumors, are notorious for nasty side effects. Unwanted symptoms are often the result of medicine going where it’s not needed and harming healthy cells. To minimize this risk, researchers in Quebec have developed nanoparticles that only release a drug when exposed to near-infrared light, which doctors could beam onto a specific site. Their report appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

For years, scientists have been striving to develop localized treatments to reduce side effects of therapeutic drugs. They have designed drug-delivery systems that respond to light, temperature, ultrasound and pH changes. One promising approach involved drug-carrying materials that are sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light. Shining a beam in this part of the light spectrum causes the materials to release their therapeutic cargo at a designated location. But UV light has major limitations. It can’t penetrate body tissues, and it is carcinogenic. Near-infrared (NIR) light can go through 1 to 2 centimeters of tissue and would be a safer alternative, but photosensitive drug-carriers don’t react to it. McGill University engineering professor Marta Cerruti and colleagues sought a way to bring the two kinds of light together in one possible solution.

The researchers started with nanoparticles that convert NIR light into UV light and coated them in a UV-sensitive hydrogel shell infused with a fluorescent protein, a stand-in for drug molecules. When exposed to NIR light, the nanoparticles instantaneously converted it to UV, which induced the shell to release the protein payload. The researchers note that their on-demand delivery system could not only supply drug molecules but also agents for imaging and diagnostics.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by McGill University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ghulam Jalani, Rafik Naccache, Derek H. Rosenzweig, Lisbet Haglund, Fiorenzo Vetrone, Marta Cerruti.Photocleavable Hydrogel-Coated Upconverting Nanoparticles: A Multifunctional Theranostic Platform for NIR Imaging and On-Demand Macromolecular Delivery. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2016; DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b12357

The Promise Of Canada’s Nanotechnology Industry – Analysis


The term ‘nanotechnology’ entered into the public vernacular quite suddenly around the turn of the century, right around the same time that, when announcing the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in 2001, President Bill Clinton declared that it would one day build materials stronger than steel, detect cancer at its inception, and store the vast records of the Library of Congress in a device the size of a sugar cube. The world of science fiction took matters even further. In his 2002 book Prey, Michael Creighton wrote of a cloud of self-replicating nanorobots that terrorize the good people of Nevada when a science experiment goes terribly wrong.

Back then the hype was palpable. Federal money was funneled to promising nanotech projects as not to fall behind in the race to master this new frontier of science. And industry analysts began to shoot for the moon in their projections. The National Science Foundation famously predicted that the nanotechnology industry would be worth $1 trillion by the year 2015.

Well here we are in 2015 and the nanotechnology market was worth around $26 billion in last year, and there hasn’t even been one case of a murderous swarm of nanomachines terrorizing the American heartland.

Is this a failure of vision? No. If anything it’s only a failure of timing.

The nanotechnology industry is still well on its way to accomplishing the goals set out at the founding of the NNI, goals which at the time sounded utterly quixotic, and this fact is increasingly being reflected in year-on-year growth numbers. In other words, nanotechnology is still a game-changer in global innovation, it’s just taking a little longer than first expected.

The Promise of Nanotechnology

We know the hype, but what’s the reality of nanotechnology? Simply put, the field involves the manipulation of matter on an extremely small scale – that of less than 100 nanometers – in order to create new materials and devices. Just as nanotechnology itself is a broad interdisciplinary pursuit across the sciences, so too are the technology’s real-world applications, which span several industries: biomedical, electronics, energy, and environmental just to name a few. The largest sub-sector of nanotechnology is nanomaterials, which accounted for nearly 80% of the industry in 2013. These materials can be used for anything from water purification to self-cleaning walls to anti-microbial surfaces in a hot zone, and they are already being applied in a wide variety of industrial contexts.

The promise of nanotechnology is alive and well, and the possibilities remain endless. Science & innovation occupy a unique position in their potential to change the world for the better. When grappling with transnational risks to the environment and human life, national governments and international institutions can easily be derailed by internecine conflict. In the few cases where interests are aligned, bureaucratic inefficiency can further thwart a swift and effective response. Science transcends these challenges as nothing else can, and in this nanotechnology is the cutting edge. It’s the difference between having to organize, fund, and coordinate tens of thousands of volunteers across three states to clean up the Deepwater Horizon spill and dispersing the oil quickly and painlessly using nanomaterials, which would also be a far safer alternative than the chemical-based dispersants used in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nanotechnology also represents economic promise, something that a handful of far-sighted governments were quick to identify. Through 2012, the United States has invested $3.7 billion, China $1.3 billion, the EU $1.2 billion, and Japan $750 million into their respective domestic industries. All are hoping that these early investments will pay off by creating jobs and a solid R&D base in one of the last uncharted frontiers of the global innovation economy.

The Canadian Connection

Although the Canadian government is not among the world’s top spenders on nanotechnology research, the industry still represents a bright spot in the future of the Canadian economy. The public-private engine at the center of Canada’s nanotech industry, the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT), was founded in 2001 with the stated goal of “increasing the competitiveness of Canadian companies; creating technology solutions to meet the needs of society; expanding training programs for researchers and entrepreneurs; and enhancing Canada’s stature in the world of nanotechnology.” This ambitious mandate that NINT set out for itself was to be accomplished over the course of two broad stages: first a ‘seeding’ phase of attracting promising personnel and coordinating basic research, and the then a ‘harvesting’ phase of putting the resulting nanotechnologies to the service of Canadian industry.

Recent developments in Canadian nanotechnology show that we have already entered that second stage where the concept of nanotechnology transitions from hopeful hypothetical to real-world economic driver.

This article was published by Geopolitical


Energy storage: It’s Canada’s moment


CanadaEmissionsx250Canada has a chance to add a new dimension to its energy economy – one that is clean, profitable and globally groundbreaking.

The opportunity is electricity storage, which until now has been limited by technology to a relatively modest scale. That’s about to change. And it means that Canada – and specifically Ontario – can become an ideal seedbed for storage technology, because there are ready markets for both large- and small-scale storage systems.

First, the large scale. Ontario has a fleet of nuclear generators that operate around the clock, and come close to filling the demand for power at off-peak hours. In addition, Ontario has developed a large renewable energy sector of wind and solar generation (in addition to its traditional hydro stations.) Problems sometimes arise when the natural weather cycles that drive wind and solar production are out of synch with the market cycle. On a sunny, breezy Saturday afternoon in May, with the nuclear plants running flat out, the hydro stations churning out power with the spring runoff and solar and wind systems near peak production, Ontario may have more electricity than it needs.

Our electricity system operators have a solution, of course: Sell the excess electricity to our neighbours. But since our neighbours are often in the same boat, Ontario must cut the price close to zero – or in extreme situations, even pay neighbouring states or provinces to absorb our overproduction.

Wouldn’t it make far more sense to store that excess energy, knowing that it will be needed in a matter of days, or even hours? What’s been lacking is the technology to do the job.

That’s changing however, as Ontario’s current program to procure 50 megawatts of storage capacity demonstrates. Companies with a variety of approaches are working hard to bring their solutions to market – many of them clustered at the MaRS centre in Toronto. Some, such as Hydrogenics Corp., convert electricity into hydrogen, which can be used to supplement natural gas.

My own company, NRStor, has partnered with Temporal Power and is operating a flywheel storage system in Minto, Ont., that helps the market operator to maintain consistent voltage on the grid.

Of course, businesses around the globe are looking at the same opportunities as we are, and here lies the opportunity for Canada to rebrand its energy economy.

A recent report by Deutsche Bank calls battery storage the “holy grail of solar penetration,” and believes that with the current rate of progress in improving efficiency, mass adoption of lithium ion batteries at a commercial/utility scale could occur before 2020.

Analysis by Prof. Andrew Ford of Washington State University calculates that a 1,000-megawatt air storage system from U.S.-based General Compression Inc. could deliver $6- to $8-billion of value to Ontario – in the form of lower energy costs to local utilities – over a 20-year period. All this is of interest to large-scale electricity system operators, big utilities and their customers.

But there is another reason for us to pay attention to energy storage – a reason grounded on a much more human scale. There are still large rural areas around the globe where there is no reliable electrical grid – including Northern Canada.

There is great potential for these communities, including remote First Nations communities, to improve their standard of living by installing microscale renewable generation in combination with storage, and relying less on carbon-spewing diesel generators, powered by fuel that must be transported long distances at great expense.

Storage is the key to making renewable energy a fully competitive component of any electrical grid. It can make our grid cleaner and more efficient, for the benefit of all consumers – large and small, urban and rural. We have the chance, in Canada, to become world leaders in developing this technology. Let’s seize it.

Annette Verschuren is the chairwoman and CEO of NRStor and on the board of MaRS Discovery District.

Annette Verschuren is speaking at the Cleantech Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX Cleantech) conference in Toronto on Oct. 15.


A Failing Grade for Canada’s Climate Policy

The Canadian government is failing when it comes to reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and isn’t on track to meet reduction goals set for 2020 and 2050, according to professor and environmental analyst Mark Jaccard, of Simon Fraser Univ.

CanadaEmissionsx250“I find that in the nine years since its promise to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050, the Canadian government has implemented virtually no policies that would materially reduce emissions,” he writes in his climate policy report card. “The 2020 target is now unachievable without great harm to the Canadian economy.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in 2009, changed the 2020 target from 20% to 17% of 2005’s emissions, which was 749 Mt. In 2014, the country produced 726 Mt of carbon dioxide.

Emissions have been steadily increasing since 1990, fluctuated between 2005 and 2008 and notably declined in 2009, according to the Canadian government. Since then, emissions have been slightly rising.

Jaccard credits the global recession of 2008 and 2009 with the cause of temporary reductions in Canada’s emissions. Additionally, Ontario reduced its emissions by 80% after closing or converting its coal-fired power plants over a 10-year period, between 2004 and 2014. According to Jaccard, this was possible due to coal providing only 25% of Ontario’s electricity.

Speaking with The Globe and Mail, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Canada has a proven track record in reducing greenhouse emissions, including a major investment in clean energy in Ottawa.

“The Harper government did pass regulations to phase out traditional coal-fired power, but those won’t have an impact for the next 10 to 15 years,” the media outlet reports. “As well, Ottawa has matched U.S. moves to impose increasingly tough fuel efficiency standards on vehicle, but, again, those regulations will yield little result before 2020.”

Exploring reasons behind inactivity regarding regulations, Harper suggests the dynamic between immediate costs and long-term benefits may deter politicians from imposing regulations. Further, some may view the issue as to much for a single country to handle, and will stave off action until a near-universal global effort occurs.

For Canada, “a failing grade is obviously the result,” Jaccard writes.


MIT & University of British Columbia: Nano-Supercapacitors Tiny wires could Provide a Big Energy Boost

Yarn made of niobium nanowires, seen here in a scanning electron microscope image (background), can be used to make very efficient supercapacitors, MIT researchers have found. Adding a coating of a conductive polymer to the yarn (shown in pink, inset) further increases the capacitor’s charge capacity. Positive and negative ions in the material are depicted as blue and red spheres.

Yarns of niobium nanowire can make supercapacitors to provide a surge of energy when it’s needed

Wearable electronic devices for health and fitness monitoring are a rapidly growing area of consumer electronics; one of their biggest limitations is the capacity of their tiny batteries to deliver enough power to transmit data. Now, researchers at MIT and in Canada have found a promising new approach to delivering the short but intense bursts of power needed by such small devices.

The key is a new approach to making supercapacitors — devices that can store and release electrical power in such bursts, which are needed for brief transmissions of data from wearable devices such as heart-rate monitors, computers, or smartphones, the researchers say. They may also be useful for other applications where high power is needed in small volumes, such as autonomous microrobots.

The new approach uses yarns, made from nanowires of the element niobium, as the electrodes in tiny supercapacitors (which are essentially pairs of electrically conducting fibers with an insulator between). The concept is described in a paper in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Ian W. Hunter, doctoral student Seyed M. Mirvakili, and three others at the University of British Columbia.

Nanotechnology researchers have been working to increase the performance of supercapacitors for the past decade. Among nanomaterials, carbon-based nanoparticles — such as carbon nanotubes and graphene — have shown promising results, but they suffer from relatively low electrical conductivity, Mirvakili says.

In this new work, he and his colleagues have shown that desirable characteristics for such devices, such as high power density, are not unique to carbon-based nanoparticles, and that niobium nanowire yarn is a promising an alternative.

“Imagine you’ve got some kind of wearable health-monitoring system,” Hunter says, “and it needs to broadcast data, for example using Wi-Fi, over a long distance.” At the moment, the coin-sized batteries used in many small electronic devices have very limited ability to deliver a lot of power at once, which is what such data transmissions need.

“Long-distance Wi-Fi requires a fair amount of power,” says Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor in Thermodynamics in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, “but it may not be needed for very long.” Small batteries are generally poorly suited for such power needs, he adds.

“We know it’s a problem experienced by a number of companies in the health-monitoring or exercise-monitoring space. So an alternative is to go to a combination of a battery and a capacitor,” Hunter says: the battery for long-term, low-power functions, and the capacitor for short bursts of high power. Such a combination should be able to either increase the range of the device, or — perhaps more important in the marketplace — to significantly reduce size requirements.

The new nanowire-based supercapacitor exceeds the performance of existing batteries, while occupying a very small volume. “If you’ve got an Apple Watch and I shave 30 percent off the mass, you may not even notice,” Hunter says. “But if you reduce the volume by 30 percent, that would be a big deal,” he says: Consumers are very sensitive to the size of wearable devices.

The innovation is especially significant for small devices, Hunter says, because other energy-storage technologies — such as fuel cells, batteries, and flywheels — tend to be less efficient, or simply too complex to be practical when reduced to very small sizes. “We are in a sweet spot,” he says, with a technology that can deliver big bursts of power from a very small device.

Ideally, Hunter says, it would be desirable to have a high volumetric power density (the amount of power stored in a given volume) and high volumetric energy density (the amount of energy in a given volume). “Nobody’s figured out how to do that,” he says. However, with the new device, “We have fairly high volumetric power density, medium energy density, and a low cost,” a combination that could be well suited for many applications.

Niobium is a fairly abundant and widely used material, Mirvakili says, so the whole system should be inexpensive and easy to produce. “The fabrication cost is cheap,” he says. Other groups have made similar supercapacitors using carbon nanotubes or other materials, but the niobium yarns are stronger and 100 times more conductive. Overall, niobium-based supercapacitors can store up to five times as much power in a given volume as carbon nanotube versions.

Niobium also has a very high melting point — nearly 2,500 degrees Celsius — so devices made from these nanowires could potentially be suitable for use in high-temperature applications.

In addition, the material is highly flexible and could be woven into fabrics, enabling wearable forms; individual niobium nanowires are just 140 nanometers in diameter — 140 billionths of a meter across, or about one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

So far, the material has been produced only in lab-scale devices. The next step, already under way, is to figure out how to design a practical, easily manufactured version, the researchers say.

“The work is very significant in the development of smart fabrics and future wearable technologies,” says Geoff Spinks, a professor of engineering at the University of Wollongong, in Australia, who was not associated with this research. This paper, he adds, “convincingly demonstrates the impressive performance of niobium-based fiber supercapacitors.”

The team also included PhD student Mehr Negar Mirvakili and professors Peter Englezos and John Madden, all from the University of British Columbia.