Energy production, conversion, and use have environmental impacts in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water use, and land-use footprints. There has been little systems-level research done in this area, particularly in Canada. This is the focus of our research. More specifically, there are four areas of focus: techno-economic assessments of energy systems, energy and environmental modeling, life cycle assessments of energy systems, and biomass feedstock supply, processing, and logistics. My research program focusses on both renewable and non-renewable sources of energy. Our research goals are to rank the myriad options of biomass use (e.g., power, liquid fuels, gaseous fuels, chemicals, by-products, etc.) and to work to reduce biomass energy technology costs.
Research Theme Areas
The NSERC Industrial Chair Program focuses on four key theme areas: integrated energy-environmental planning and forecasting, energy returns on investment (EROI) of energy conversion pathways, techno-economic assessments of energy conversion pathways, and resource assessment. This program will help develop a scientifically credible knowledge base with which to compare different energy sources, along with their conversion technologies and environmental impacts.
Integrated Energy-Environmental Modelling
This theme area focuses on the development of integrated resource planning models. These models would be used to project energy supply-demand mixes, associated costs, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over a long-term planning horizon for Canada. The Long-range Energy Alternative Planning System (LEAP) model will be used for integrated energy-environmental analysis for different jurisdictions. The LEAP model is a data-intensive framework for energy supply-and-demand use patterns and includes the characteristics of thousands of energy production, conversion, and use technologies. This model will be used to assess several GHG mitigation scenarios in the energy demand and supply sectors, including energy efficiency improvement, the implementation of renewable energy, biofuel use, and the implementation of advanced energy conversion technologies. The outcomes of this research will help evaluate the extent of GHG mitigation possible in a long-term planning horizon with GHG abatement costs ($/tonne of CO2 abated). This will help in the formulation and assessment of policies for the provincial government and in making investment decisions for industry. This theme area also focuses on the development of water and land footprints for a range of energy conversion pathways. Specific models would be developed to assess these.
Energy Return on Investment (EROI) of Energy Pathways
This theme area will assess energy pathways in terms of a ratio of energy output to energy input. The goal is to answer the question: how much fossil fuel energy is required over a life cycle to produce a unit of energy from a particular energy source? This ratio is referred to as net energy ratio (NER). Evaluating the NER over the life cycle for energy pathways (for both renewable and non-renewable energy systems) helps in understanding the effectiveness of a particular system compared to other energy systems. Each energy production pathway is analyzed as a combination of several unit operations. The material, equipment, and fuel-embodied energy and emissions factors are determined for each unit operation involved in a conversion pathway over its life cycle. The energy and emissions associated with each unit operation are investigated in detail. Overall, this theme focusses on life cycle assessments of energy pathways.
Techno-economic Assessment of Energy Conversion Pathways
This area of research is aimed at developing data-intensive techno-economic models to determine the viability and economic competitiveness of energy production, conversion, and use pathways, and to determine the cost of producing energy from a particular energy source. These models will include characteristics of energy systems such as efficiency, capacity factor, scale, yields, conversion rates, etc., that are specific to each unit operation involved in getting the end product from the primary resource and over the life of the plant. The models typically include energy and mass balances of the unit operations. A number of tools would be used to develop different techno-economic models including process models. The techno-economic models are specific to a jurisdiction and are sensitive to costs, which vary significantly from place to place. There are many new renewable sources of energy being considered as possible replacements of fossil fuels. These need to be evaluated and compared to conventional sources; there is very limited research on costs.
This theme area is focussed on the development of energy resource assessment intensity maps for a range of renewable (e.g., biomass, wind, solar) and non-renewable energy sources for Alberta and Canada. The maps include data-intensive geographical information system (GIS) maps. There is limited research in this area.