I am creating new processes for turning biomass from trees and grasses into a source of renewable, green energy.
As a native Albertan, I’ve always been aware of the importance of oil and energy to society. Much of our modern day life depends on it. But today, most of our energy comes from fossil fuels, which has problems such as pollution, global warming, national security and long-term supply. We need a Plan B.
Enter biomass. Trees, grasses and crops are the only known large-scale renewable resource that we can use to provide low-cost transportation fuel. While there are other options for providing electricity to homes and businesses, the infrastructure we have for transportation is built around liquid fuel and will be for some time. Cars have a long lifespan, and airplane fleets even longer.
Canada has the infrastructure for producing and processing large amounts of biomass. It has the largest area of certified forests in the world and a large agriculture industry.
My research involves finding ways to make the sugars in trees and grasses more readily available and to use those sugars to produce fuels. Most of the biomass that people see in their fuel at gas stations currently comes from corn. Using waste biomass from forestry and agriculture operations will reduce the environmental footprint, but we need new processes for harvesting their energy.
I am also working on extracting compounds from biomass that have interesting properties. Some are antimicrobial, some have anticancer properties, some are fragrances –there is a long list.
Forestry is the economic heart of British Columbia. In the midst of Vancouver’s high rises, it’s easy to forget that for many communities, forestry is either the primary or secondary employer, and forestry companies, in turn, give back. They support local infrastructure such as schools, community centres, hospitals and wastewater treatment plants.
By working with forestry companies to innovate and expand their product portfolios, we are helping to reinvigorate Canada’s forestry industry, create jobs in nearby rural communities and contribute to Canada’s efforts to lead the low-carbon economy transformation.
Both my parents are engineers. They taught me that technology always moves forwards, never backwards. As engineers, we have the ability and responsibility to ensure that technology is implemented for the benefit of society.