Pictured above: Panelist Lukas Swan, moderator Rochelle Owen, panelists Chris Burns and Christine Macy.

By Allison Barss

Climate change has become an undeniable reality for the modern world. Global temperatures are climbing an estimated 0.14° C per decade, according to U.S. government figures. With that comes irreversible consequences, from rising sea levels and extreme weather to biodiversity loss and worsening health for humanity. These are signs that radical change is needed, and fast.

The United Nations estimates that energy production in the world’s cities accounts for 60 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. To find a solution, experts, policymakers and industry leaders are turning their attention to the management and development of new and renewable energy sources, while also finding ways to minimize their environmental impact.

What role does Dalhousie play in this? How can we help transition our fossil fuel-driven economy, into a ‘clean-tech’ economy, powered by renewable energy? Dal’s next Open Dialogue Live event on Dec. 8 will tackle this very question.

‘We don’t need a breakthrough’

Dal alum Dr. Chris Burns (MSc’11, PhD’15) says a one approach is to look at the resources we have right in front of us. “People always want something new,” he says. “But what really needs to be appreciated is that today’s technology is compelling, and capable of making change.”

Today, Dr. Burns’s work involves not just clean energy production, but clean-energy storage. “What’s exciting,” he says, “is that there are still energy storage sectors that are untapped — and full of potential.”

Earlier this fall, Dr. Burns’s company, Novonix — a Tennessee-based, leading battery materials and technology company that spun out of Jeff Dahn’s battery lab at Dal — received an impressive US$150 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to help strengthen the North American battery supply chain. This major investment will allow the company to develop materials and technologies to support longer-life and lower cost batteries, contributing to clean energy solutions.

“We don’t need a breakthrough,” says Dr. Burns. “We just need to look to what’s available to us. That’s where you drive impact.”

Dr. Burns will be one of three panelists to speak at Dal’s upcoming Open Dialogue Live event in December.

Rochelle Owen (BSCHE’91, MES,’06), executive director of Dal’s Office of Sustainability, will moderate the event, offering a look at the future of clean energy through an environmental, sustainable lens.

“We need to keep the principles of conservation in mind, and connect it back to the ecosystem,” says Owen. “We also need to consider equity and social justice. If we don’t put the proper legislation, policies, and programs in place, we can repeat past issues, and exacerbate current ones, like inequality and pollution.”

An interconnected point of view

Owen also adds that we need to apply scientific and legal concepts when trying to understand our clean-technology abilities. “But we also have to use a practical lens in looking at community, civic groups and business, to solve challenges and problems,” she says. “If we’re trying to innovate for new low-carbon energy sources, for example, we have to ask, ‘How can we do this more efficiently, and more effectively?’”

Fellow panelist Christine Macy, a professor in Dal’s Faculty of Architecture and Planning, agrees.

“Don’t focus your picture frame too narrowly,” she says. “We need to think of the earth as an interconnected sphere. It’s not just ecological, it’s social.”

Dr. Macy looks forward to offering a look at the future of clean tech through an architectural perspective. “We need to think about the way our cities can be built differently, how our buildings could be built differently,” she says. “The industrial sector is much more challenging, because it does require existing power sources, but simultaneously, an energy-efficient city is what we need in the future.”

Powering a greener, brighter future

In 2017, Dalhousie established the Clean Technology Research Institute (CTRI), an organization dedicated to the advancement of one of Dal’s Signature Research Clusters. Specifically, the CTRI helps facilitate research around energy storage, from batteries, supercapacitors, and thermal storage to energy production and policy.

CTRI researcher Dr. Lukas Swan (MASc’06, PhD’11), a professor in Dal’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Renewable Energy Storage Lab, says his team is ‘miles ahead’ in their thinking to help support Dal’s research on long-term energy storage issues and how to make them more cost effective. “Electric vehicles [or EVs] are travelling our roads today and more will be a major market by 2030,” he says. “We’re working to repurpose used EV batteries from retired vehicles to maximize the useful battery life and reduce lifetime costs.”

He also shares that thanks to an impressive battery test chamber parked outside the Renewable Energy Storage Lab on Dal’s Sexton Campus, his team is demonstrating their research in a pilot-style environment, helping to power a greener, brighter future.

Dr. Swan adds that he is excited about Nova Scotia’s wind potential when it comes to clean energy solutions, but says the sector needs more political backing to help change public perception. “It’s a very conservative approach here, and as a result, I believe the potential we have is being left behind,” he says. “Every jurisdiction has its advantages, its skills, its technologies and labour forces,” he adds. “You always have to play with your best cards.”

Open Dialogue Live: Clean Energy of the Next Generation will be presented by the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of Architecture and Planning, and the Office of Sustainability. It will be offered in-person on Thursday, Dec. 8 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. AST in Room H19 at the Ralph Medjuck Building at 5410 Spring Garden Road in Halifax, and simultaneously streamed online through YouTube and Facebook Live.

Panelists, who will discuss how they are fueling research, creating clean tech opportunities and talent, will include:

  • Chris Burns (MSc’11, PhD’15), CEO of Novonix
  • Lukas Swan (MASc’06, PhD’11), professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Director of Renewable Energy Storage Lab, and researcher at CTRI
  • Christine Macy, professor in the School of Architecture

The event will be moderated by Rochelle Owen (BSCHE’91, MES,’06), executive director of Dalhousie’s Office of Sustainability.

Register to attend in-person or online at https://alumni.dal.ca/get-connected/event/open-dialogue-live-energy-of-the-next-generation/

There is no cost to attend and both in-person and online audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions during and after the event.