Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Major projects ready to take wing from Dr. Dave Risk's Flux Lab

January 7th, 2010

Major projects ready to take wing from Dr. Dave Risk’s Flux Lab


When your research is devoted to helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s exciting when the technologies you’ve developed gain momentum. In Dr. Dave Risk’s Flux Lab on the StFX campus, no less than five major projects are ready to take wing.


Collaborations stretch from China to Havre Boucher,NS, and involve millions of research dollars.


“There’s a lot of work and a lot of excitement in the lab right now,” says Dr. Risk of the Earth Sciences Department, who is keen to say that the technology development is now at the demonstration stage.


“We’re introducing our technology right into the hands of the people who will be using it,” he says. “These opportunities are exciting and daunting at the same time. It's certainly a period of major growth but I'm so thankful that we have good collaborators, and great core expertise to get this important work done.


“We're all very driven by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the idea is that we'll be able to look back and count the CO2 reductions that we helped make.”


Dr. Risk says one of the factors that drives him in his research is the fact that there are solutions out there to environmental problems. “As a scientist we can’t just do the research, we have to go the extra distance to help get them implemented. For climate change in particular, we need quick solutions.


The Flux Lab, which is a part of the Environmental Sciences Research Centre in StFX’s Department of Earth Sciences, supports three grad students, three undergraduate students, and one post-doc, who is supported by an industry partner.


“Everybody in the lab, including all the students, they all see windows of opportunity that really interest them, and are very different,” Dr. Risk says. “There’s still the ability for students to carve out their own niche within these larger projects.


Projects include:


  1. NSERC Idea to Innovation program: Dr. Risk and co-applicant, StFX Earth Sciences professor Dr. Hugo Beltrami, will receive $106,000 in 2010 for finalizing research on new sensor probe, developed in StFX's ESRC by Drs. Risk and Beltrami and two graduate students, Nick Nickerson and Gordon McArthur. The technology, which measures gas emissions from soils, was patented by StFX last year. The instrument measures CO2 and other gas releases  from soils, and builds on former technologies developed by the  group. “It has piqued the interest of partners in industry and academia because of its high level of performance and important potential, which is to count CO2 emissions from our landscapes much more accurately and continuously than before,” Dr. Risk says. Part of this project will involve long-term demonstration projects in Nova Scotia.
  2. The lab is also working on a second related technology project, to develop a computing process to help researchers determine the best field placements for the instrument. The project has received $20,000 Springboard Atlantic funding for 2009/2010 to develop computing methods that help build robust surface CO2 monitoring networks. “This computing process helps us decide how many instruments to use, and where they should go, which is actually a surprisingly difficult problem and an important one because instrumentation is expensive,” Dr. Risk says. One industry partner, SeisMap Consulting Inc in Havre Boucher, has been critical to the continued success of this project.
  3. The lab is also involved in two exciting projects where the researchers are trying to combine these first two technologies for real world application. Dr. Risk says Capture and Storage, where CO2 is disposed of underground in tapped out oilfields rather than released to the atmosphere, is an important short term measure to keep atmospheric CO2 concentrations low, and Canadian governments have invested billions in its promise. “But, it must be done right and well monitored to make sure CO2 isn't leaking to the surface. Here, our new instrumentation and associated computing approaches will be demonstrated at a site in China in conjunction with the ChineseAcademy of Science, HTC Purenergy, and the British Geological Survey.” Total project cost is $575,000, and total Government of Canada investment over two years is $287,500.
  4. Also related to Carbon Capture and Storage, Dr. Risk is one of a hundred researchers who have joined forces in a big new Network of Centres of Excellence (Industry Canada) called Carbon Management Canada. This network combines the expertise of a multidisciplinary research team who will develop technologies necessary to rapidly “decarbonise” fossil fuel production and utilization. In partnership with industry and government, CMC's vision is to develop the technologies necessary to cut Canada's annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Administered out of the University of Calgary, the network was funded at $25 million over five years. Dr. Risk’s role is in the monitoring and risk management theme, which relates primarily to making sure large technology suites like Carbon Capture and Storage are implemented and monitored properly/safely. The researchers will develop some projects together and Dr. Risk is keen for those collaborations. “I look forward to working with those experts across the country.”
  5. Helping Dr. Risk manage and report these projects is the Early Stage Commercialization Fund (ESCF). “The ESCF has been a mainstay of our lab's successes.  The fund is administered by InNovaCorp for the Office of Economic Development. Together, they are the clear champions of green and CO2-friendly technology development in Nova Scotia,” he says. “This year the ESCF committee awarded us $30,000 for technical management and reporting to help bring together the threads from these various projects in a way that maximizes their potential contributions to the local economy, to help deliver goods that will allow local companies to exploit the technologies right here in Nova Scotia.”







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