U of R puts Regina on the map of clean energy technologies

Tick, tick, tick.

With every second the world is inching closer to 2050. A date leaders from around the globe have targeted to bring emissions to net-zero to help limit average temperature rise in this century. In addition, it was only a year ago that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada would reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

But is this possible? And if so, what are we doing to get there?

Here in Regina, those questions are the same, but some of the answers may surprise you. At the University of Regina, you’ll find a (not a small by any means) facility where researchers are doing cutting edge work to discover and utilize clean energy technologies.

The Clean Energy Technologies Research Institute, or CETRI in short, is a 12,000 sq. foot-research and laboratory space that centralizes all clean energy initiatives including carbon (CO2) capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), near-zero-emission hydrogen (H2) technologies, and waste-to-renewable fuels and chemicals. It also brings together one of the most dynamic teams of researchers, industry leaders, innovators, and educators in the clean and low-carbon energy fields.

Transitioning to a less carbon reliant and more sustainable economy will be no easy feat, but Director Dr. Hussam Ibrahim said CETRI is making strides.

One practical way to reach net-zero emissions is to use bioenergy together with carbon capture and storage.

“We know that there is no silver bullet solution. We have to look at multiple forms of renewable energies and multiple forms of decarbonization energies that would include carbon capture, hydrogen, and and renewables we have now added to this mix. It’s a multifaceted approach we feel is the best if we were to meet our targets of 2050,” Ibrahim said.

When it comes to carbon capture, utilization, and storage, CETRI is leading the way with over 25 years of research, development and demonstration activities.

“What distinguishes us as a university is it’s hard to find full-blown pilot plants within a university facility and we’ll [University of Regina] have three of them that are housed within our facilities to demonstrate developed clean energy technologies. Having access to not only doing research at the test tube scale, [but also] where we have a test tube [testing], a bench-scale [testing],  a mini-plot -scale [testing], and a demonstration -plant pre-commercial scale [testing],” he explained adding this unique opportunity to scale technology is important.

He said this proves to partners the technology can and will be reliable and will perform in the real world.

Research and Technology

Right now, CETRI is focusing its research in three areas. Each one lending another piece to the puzzle in reaching Canada’s 2050 goals.

  • Hydrogen: Revolutionary technology that utilizes a patented catalyst to convert any feed fuel into clean-burning hydrogen, with CO2 recycling and reuse capabilities.
  • Carbon capture: This innovative process reduces the cost of post-combustion capture, reducing the energy requirements, and equipment size of a typical amine-based CO2 capture plant.
  • Energy from waste: Research and development activities for utilizing Agricultural, Forestry, and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and Plastic Waste to produce energy, fuels, and chemicals.

“I believe this wave of clean energy and decarbonization is here to stay,” he said, highlighting the right set of skills, policies, and funding are in place now to ensure follow through. “I think [carbon capture] excites me the most … It’s a technology that is ready today to be deployed at a scale that is needed to achieve the 2030 and 2050 emission targets. There is no way around it if we are serious about meeting those goals, net zero demands emissions negative technologies by extension, carbon capture is essential to clean up existing large point sources.”

The team at CETRI has performed pioneering work on carbon capture including a breakthrough catalyst-aided amine-based capture system that uses hot water instead of steam significantly reducing the energy penalty from CCUS.

As a result, lowering the cost of post-combustion capture and significantly reducing energy requirements and equipment size of amine-based CO2 capture plants.

Ibrahim notes that CETRI not only conducts its own research and technology development, but takes on that of external clients, using their pilot facilities and expertise to test and analyze solvents and technologies developed by external clients—one of the most prominent is a partnership with Entropy, which is working on a new solvent-based carbon capture technology.

According to its website, Entropy intends to some projects on its own, and others as a technology provider to other organizations.

Reaching Net Zero

As Ibrahim looks to the next 20 to 30 years, he’s optimistic the world can hit its target, but believes that can only be achieved through concerted efforts due to the scale of the challenge and pace at which clean energy solutions need to be deployed.

“Time is not on our side” he said. “More needs to happen… We can get to the targets of 2030 and 2050, [but] we need to collectively act now. It’s hard to do this as an intuition or a single entity. It needs collaboration from academia, industry, communities and government at all levels.”