Jan. 22, 2014

Research cluster: energy storage and conversion

Interdisciplinary team from science, engineering faculties explores technology to further clean energy

About 15 researchers from the Faculty of Science and the Schulich School of Engineering have come together to help develop solutions to some of the world's most vexing energy issues.

The Calgary Advanced Energy Storage and Conversion Research (CAESR) group aims to develop technologies for clean and efficient energy storage and conversion of electricity, such as batteries, electrolyzers and fuel cells.

"When the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, there's lots of beautiful, clean, renewable electricity available, but when it's still or dark, it's gone and there are few good options available to store solar and wind generated electricity for when we need it," says Viola Birss, director of CAESR, professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science. "That's one of the interesting problems that this group can help to solve."

Conversations brought researchers together

CAESR came about after months of conversations between "like-minded" researchers in different fields who are working on various electrochemical components and processes behind energy conversion and storage.

"There are a lot of different challenges with creating these electrochemical devices and you need scientists, chemists, electrochemists, physicists, mechanical engineers and chemical engineers working together," says associate director of CAESR, Kunal Karan, an associate professor in chemical and petroleum engineering at Schulich.

"The beauty of electrochemical fuel cells is that a single form of technology can be applied from small scale like laptops to houses to communities and large scale power generation," he says. "This is why we're so excited."

First cluster focused on energy conversion and storage
While there are other research clusters across Canada in this general area, none is focused on energy conversion and storage. CAESR's goals align with Eyes High, the university's new energy strategy and it will provide interdisciplinary learning for students, says CAESR associate director Venkataraman Thangadurai, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science.

If all oil and gas production ended tomorrow, there would be enough fuel stored to power the world for 45 days. However, if all sources of electricity ended, there would only be enough energy stored to last 30 minutes.

"The world is moving ever more towards the use of clean electricity and we hear about Neil Young and protests against 'dirty oil' and fracking," says Birss. "NIMBY-ism is also pushing the world to the use of cleaner sources of electricity and thus energy storage is becoming increasingly important."