Alumnus Phil De Luna (MSE PhD 1T9) featured in the Globe and Mail for his contribution on how science and innovation are advancing the clean economy

Phil De Luna: Science and innovation advancing the clean economy

Canada has established an early leadership position in three significant science and innovation opportunities: carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), hydrogen production for the industrial sector, and artificial intelligence (AI) for energy application, believes Phil De Luna, program director at the National Research Council (NRC) Canada.

“[All three areas] need serious investment to scale and create impact,” says Dr. De Luna, who is leading a seven-year, $57-million collaborative research program – the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge Program at the NRC. “Negative-emissions technologies will be absolutely necessary to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

In order to reduce the often substantial costs of CCUS technology, Dr. De Luna suggests creating a market for carbon utilization and conversion, in which CO2 can be turned into fuels and chemicals using renewable electricity, for example. “Imagine sourcing carbon for sustainable fuels and chemicals from the air rather than from fossil fuels,” he says. “Technology that turns CO2 into valuable products will lower the costs and provide an incentive for capture and storage.”

Clean hydrogen has the potential to decarbonize many of Canada’s hard-to-abate sectors – especially those that cannot be addressed by electrification alone, explains Dr. De Luna. “Today, hydrogen is used for applications like heavy-duty industry, fertilizer production, steelmaking, the chemical industry and natural resource upgrades. Current hydrogen production via steam methane reforming is relatively dirty and results in carbon emissions. If we can use excess renewable capacity to split water with electricity, we can green our sources of hydrogen production [and achieve] major GHG reduction impacts to all downstream processes.”

Dr. De Luna’s mandate is to partner with the world’s best academics and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to develop the high-risk, high-reward technologies that will help Canada meet its GHG emission reductions targets.

“My program has three thrusts: carbon conversion, hydrogen production and AI for materials discovery,” he says. “We’re building a brand new national lab in Mississauga – the first ever NRC research presence in the Greater Toronto Area. A large focus of this national lab will be on developing new clean-energy materials and enabling them to move to commercialization.”

Prior to joining NRC as its youngest director ever, Dr. De Luna was a finalist in the Carbon XPRIZE, a $20-million competition focused on impactful carbon capture. This work earned him a place on the 2019 Forbes Top 30 Under 30 energy list.

A reason for hope is the finance community’s increased attention on climate-change risk as a factor in investment decisions, according to Dr. De Luna. “For example, the Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) is a framework for companies to start disclosing financial risks due to climate change,” he says. “As of September 2019, over 898 organizations have signed on, including large multi-national organizations in energy, industry and consumer goods. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and the TCFD provides a way to measure the monetary risk of climate change.”

As key outcomes of the GLOBE 2020 event, Dr. De Luna envisions commitments from more leaders to the TCFD framework and a strong signal to the global community that clean energy has a broad base of support across Canada.

He also looks forward to “tangible partnership opportunities, demonstration or prototyping announcements, investments in clean technologies and inspiration for the next generation of clean energy leaders.”

Read the full article published by the Globe and Mail.