Turning bio-mass into gold

Source: 
Queen's Alumni Review-Issue2 2012
Author: 
Kirsteen MacLeod

Green research has huge environmental – and economic – potential.

Dr. Pascale Champagne, a leading researcher in environmental engineering, is tackling the mysteries of biomass at her new lab in Innovation Park at Queen’s university. “Every day brings exciting new challenges, solutions and breakthroughs,” she says.

Champagne, an associate professor in the department of Civil engineering who is cross-appointed to Chemical engineering, specializes in alternative waste management and in converting waste to useful forms such as products and energy. Her innovative research has the potential to revolutionize approaches to sustainable waste management. One project of note is underway with the Queen’s-RMC Fuel Cell research Centre (FCRC), which also has its lab in innovation Park (IP). FCRC, the facility’s anchor academic unit, has a relationship with IP’s industry partner, Novelis. Other “green” initiatives at IP include Endetech, which offers innovative technologies for water safety; the Novelis- Queen’s air filtration project; and, GreenCentre Canada, which is working to transform chemical discoveries into green products.

“I’m leading a project in collaboration with researchers at the FCRC, and Utilities Kingston is also a partner,” Champagne explains. “We’re trying to enhance bio-gas production, cleaning and conditioning it so that you can use it in a fuel cell for generating energy. Many pieces need to come together for this to happen, and so that’s what we’re investigating.”

While solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are a promising technology for producing clean electrical power from reformed hydrocarbon fuels, before a fuel can be used, its effects on the SOFC need to be known. Champagne’s research so far into biogas-fueled solid-oxide fuel cells is now being applied in a project that began in fall 2009 and will lead to a pilot-scale installation at the City of Kingston’s Ravensview Wastewater Treatment Facility, located on the St. Lawrence River, just east of the city.

“The pilot-scale installation will be used for demonstrations,” Champagne says, “to showcase a highly efficient heat and power cogeneration system that uses a greenhouse-gas-neutral, renewable biofuel.” The system could significantly reduce the cost of wastewater treatment operations, particularly in smaller communities.

In another significant project underway at her research lab, Champagne and her team are working with industry partner Woodbridge Foam to make higher-value materials from waste products such as forestry residues. This innovative research, likely to have wider applications, is pushing the boundaries of discovery – and environmental and economic possibilities look bright.

Champagne, who likes to be “scientifically creative,” says biomass research is engaging. “The discovery process is wonderful: some of the things we’ve been doing haven’t been done before,” she says. Further, for someone who most enjoys “any place, trail or site off the beaten track,” it’s gratifying to know her research will contribute to reduced air, soil and water contamination.

Says Champagne, “Just imagine the impact if we can find ways to replace petrochemicals with bio-sourced renewable materials.” And the commercial potential is significant. “We’re probably looking at a five- to 10-year window for any renewables commercialization using my research,” Champagne notes, although markets for this technology are growing exponentially.

Queen's Alumni Review http://queensu.ca/news/alumnireview 

 

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