St.FX gets $1.5 million for greenhouse gas reduction research

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ANTIGONISH – Research to develop new technologies and crucial guidance to reduce greenhouse gases has netted a StFX earth sciences professor and his team $1.5 million in funding.

Dr. Dave Risk and his team in the StFX Flux Lab are part of Natural Resources Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative, a recently announced $1.48 million project involving research partners Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and industry partners Picarro, Cenovus Energy, Campbell Scientific, and Forerunner Research.

“Through the ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative, our government is investing in innovative clean energy technologies that create jobs, generate new economic opportunities and protect the environment,” said the Hon. Joe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources. “This program demonstrates our tangible support for energy projects that drive energy innovation.”

The funding comes for “Surface Containment Monitoring for Carbon Capture and Storage,” a project that will examine existing Carbon Capture and Storage monitoring tools and techniques, two field experiments in different ecotypes in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, and ongoing development of new algorithms used in monitoring technology developed and patented in Dr. Risk’s Flux Lab.

The project will support one grad student, a part-time post-doctoral fellow, casual undergraduate work, and a project manager. “The project’s aim is to intercompare large-scale atmospheric detection strategies for finding gas seeps at Carbon Capture and Storage sites and to produce clear recommendations for use,” Dr. Risk says.

A primary focus will address the complicating issue of background variation. “Where some of these gases are emitted by natural processes, we must have a way of not only measuring the gases, but distinguishing between normal biologic signals, and any seeping gases that could come from below,” Dr. Risk says.

“We will be using two large-footprint atmospheric techniques, drive around mapping, some soil-level instruments, and some isotopes like radiocarbon.”

Risk says as these projects are well designed and have extremely low likelihood of seepage, researchers have to define detection limits and push them as low as possible. “And, if we can find economical strategies for doing so, everyone wins.”

“This is an excellent example of how research based at this primarily undergraduate university, can address important issues that are facing us nationally and globally,” says Keith De’Bell, StFX’s Associate Vice-President Research. “It also demonstrates St. Francis Xavier University’s commitment to providing students with opportunities to engage in research. Congratulations to Dave Risk and his Flux Lab team.”

Risk’s lab has enjoyed much success, with major projects currently on the go worth over $3 million, for gas monitoring, sensors development, and graduate student training.

Risk credits the group’s achievements to the individuals in the lab. Currently the lab consists of several undergraduate, masters, and PhD students and one post-doctoral fellow. The PhD students are officially registered at other institutions but chose to bring their expertise to StFX.

Part of the group works on industrial projects, and the others work on ecological projects. Risk likes this dynamics that result from the mix.

PhD student Sonja Bhatia says Risk creates a supportive, interactive environment. “He not only encourages, but also provides avenues for student interaction, both on and off site. This unique approach creates a culture where students help each other with all kinds of problems, from technical to logistical. It is a relaxed, yet productive atmosphere that provides the right mix of support, fun and motivation to complete interesting, technical and challenging research projects.”


Organizations: StFX Flux Lab, Natural Resources Canada, Lawrence Livermore National Lab Max Planck Institute St. Francis Xavier University

Geographic location: California, Germany, Canada Nova Scotia Saskatchewan

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