Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Research to develop a more energy and cost-effective means of degrading common fossil fuel pollutants earns StFX chemistry professor $25,000 Imperial University Research Award  

September 14th, 2020
Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley

StFX chemistry professor Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley is one of only 20 researchers nationally selected as a $25,000 Imperial University Research Award recipient. 

Imperial Oil has awarded funds to Dr. Hallett-Tapley’s lab for the project: “Visible Light Mediated Refinery Waste Degradation using Noble Metal Nanoparticle/Niobium Oxide Composite.” The grant is renewable over two years. 

“Essentially, this work will aim to design a new class of chemical solids. These materials will then be examined in waste product degradation in the petroleum industry,” Dr. Hallett-Tapley says. 

She says the most important aspect of this work is that the solids can be activated by visible light, the portion of the solar spectrum that is most commonly exploited in the solar cell industry – considerably lower in cost and energy than many other light sources that are employed in past photodecomposition studies.  

“My hope is to develop a more energy and cost-effective means of degrading common fossil fuel pollutants, to contribute towards and improve the environmental sustainability of the fossil fuel industry, as it currently stands.”

Dr. Hallett-Tapley says she feels the current work holds considerable environmental impacts, given the known desire to deviate from fossil fuel energy sources. “However, it is widely understood that the Canadian oil industry is a pillar of the national economy. Therefore, finding ways to make oil harvesting in the oil sands slightly more environmentally friendly and also establishing protocols that maximize use of the by-products of this industry should be of high importance.”

One of the aspects of the project that most excites her is the potential to involve StFX undergraduate students in a project that has considerable industrial applicability, as well as the opportunity to expand the “photocatalytic knowledge” she and her students have gained over the years to an industrially relevant project.  

Imperial Oil awards up to 20 grants of $25,000 a year nationally from a $500,000 budget for academic research. The grants are awarded to successful applicants specifically for research projects led by full-time faculty members to support research work carried out by university students under their direction. The research interests of this fund are primarily oriented towards the fossil fuel industry and are wide-reaching with projects interested in environmental remediation, chemical transformation of fossil fuel byproducts into valuable industrial chemicals, analytical techniques associated with the petroleum industry, and several other engineering and refinery-based studies.

Dr. Hallett-Tapley says she was quite surprised to learn the news as she had received notice of the successful application during the COVID lockdown in late March. “However, I was quite honoured that the proposed work was recognized by the Imperial Selection Committee as a potential valuable contribution towards improving the environmental impacts of the petroleum industry and pleased that the application was well received given is largely contingent on contributions from undergraduate researchers,” she says.

“I feel it showcases the importance of undergraduate researcher contributions and that our primary research model here at StFX can enable meaningful contributions to both industrial and fundamental scientific research communities.”

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