In a fth-oor lab at McMaster University, biophysicistDuane Chung studies one o the world’s most simple yetabundant aquatic plants in search o tomorrow’s uels.I he and ellow researchers at theUniversity o Waterloo succeed, theywill help turn algae lipids into arenewable uel. Through geneticengineering and better photobioreactor reactor design todrive algae growth, they hopeto harvest alternative energyrom the chlorophyll-bearingorganism.“To be realistic, I would say it’s goingto take a while beore we’re beginning to make thishappen,” says Chung, the head o Centurion Biouels.It’s a air statement, easily applied to much o theresearch going on around the world as scientist-entrepreneurs seek ‘green’ solutions to the problems orising oil and gas prices, the need or a secure energysupply, and toxic greenhouse gases (GHGs).Burlington resident Norm Rathie and his company,Met-Tech Inc. are working with a U.S.-based partneron “a 100 per cent chemical approach” that can usegrass clippings or corn stover (the stalks let behind aterharvest) or other biomass while husbanding its carboncontent.They hope to produce ethyl levulinate, which can bean additive to diesel uel; levulinic acid, a precursoror many chemical manuacturing processes; urural,an industrial chemical; and ormic acid, among otherproducts.With biomass, says Rathie, it’s all about “yield, yield,yield”, as researchers seek green uels that can competecost-eectively with petro-uels.There are great expectations rom biouels.But there are great obstacles too. And thehigh cost o eedstock – and theresearch and development costs that go into convertingit – is only one o the barriers as proponents strive tocreate an economically viable industry.“It’s still a tough area and clearly, part o the issueyou’ve got is there are other alternatives outthere that are more cost-eective,” says JohnNeate, o the non-proft OCETA (OntarioCentre or Environmental TechnologyAdvancement). Too many people look or“the silver bullet,” he says.OCETA ran a one-day biouels workshop atMcMaster in late October. (Go to: http://www.oceta.on.ca/workshops/hamilton/biouels.htm)The seminar zeroed in on some barriers. They included:
The need to integrate a renewable-uels structurewithin existing petro-uel production and supplysystems as much as possible
A system or environmental gains to be ‘monetized’,such as through tradeable GHG emissions-reductioncredits
The necessity or diversifed product revenuestreams to help oset the ‘sunk costs’ o harvesting,preparation, and transport o bio-eedstocks.The young biouel industry is years rom being a viablesector. And ironically, just like petro-uel acilities, greenuel production has lately taken ak or environmentaland economic allout, whether it’s about smell or landspoilage.The ood-corn-to-ethanol strategy has reaped a bumpercrop o criticism. Critics have slammed subsidies and useo nitrogen ertilizers. The Organization or Economic Co-operation and Development suggests the global biouelrush pushes up ood prices.The debate has been so intense that the CanadianRenewable Fuels Association complainedin November to the United Nationsabout a harsh UN special report.
The CPR Glove hasgrabbed more honoursas one o the year’s mostinventive discoveries inscience and technology.The custom-made glove,designed to assistin cardio-pulmonaryresuscitation eorts,won in the undergraduatecategory at the CollegiateInventors’ Competition inCaliornia.Three McMasterUniversity inventors– Corey Centen, NileshPatel and Sarah Smith– received a $15,000prize in the competition,an annual program o theNational Inventors Hallo Fame Foundation inthe U.S.The glove, outttedwith sensors and anLCD screen, wasalso recognized byTIME magazine inits Inventions othe Year specialedition.
In search of tomorrow: the path to
Nilesh Patel, left,and Corey Centenwith the CPR glove