Queen’s professor awarded $4 million green energy grant

NSERC funding meant to aid research team in developing green technology

Gregory Jerkiewicz (left) took Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science (right) on a tour of his lab which was just rewarded a $4-million grant.
Gregory Jerkiewicz (left) took Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science (right) on a tour of his lab which was just rewarded a $4-million grant.
Supplied by Queen's Communications

A renewable energy research project headed by Queen’s researcher Gregory Jerkiewicz has received a $4-million Discovery Frontiers Project grant to develop clean energy technology.

Jerkiewicz leads the Engineered Nickel Catalysts for Electrochemical Energy Research (Ni electro team), which will be the first Queen’s-based research team to receive the grant. The grant, provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), is given to one project every two years. 

The award granted to Jerkiewicz’s team is the third such award awarded to a Canadian university.

“We are making the first steps into a new era … the beginning of the hydrogen economy,” Jerkiewicz said. 

The project will involve 14 researchers, including Jerkiewicz, from seven Canadian universities, nine foreign academic collaborators from seven foreign academic institutions and industrial partners in Canada and other nations. Jerkiewicz said the grant will help his team develop the next generation of nickel-based materials. 

aa“This grant facilitates collaboration. This grant gives us money to hire new graduate students. I have brilliant ideas, but we need graduate students to conduct research,” he said.

The grant will enable further research into the development of nanostructured nickel materials, which are chemical structures measurable on a nanoscale (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter).

The main objective of the team’s research is to break water into hydrogen and oxygen, which is then used in fuel cells to generate electricity. 

While hydrogen is an ideal source of fuel, its cost is significantly higher than other forms of energy, according to Jerkiewicz. His research aims to produce tools that make hydrogen production and alkaline fuel cheaper than they are currently.

The fuel doesn’t generate CO2 because energy is generated from renewable resources like water, Jerkiewicz said — water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen before it generates electricity in an alkaline fuel cell. When those elements are chemically recombined to generate electricity, the after-product is pure H2O.

“Where does it go? Exactly where we took it from in the first place,” he said.

Back: Vice-Principal (University Relations), Michael Fraser (left), Gregory Jerkiewicz (middle), MP of Kingston, Mark Gerretsen (right).
Front: Vice-Principal (Research), Steven Liss (left), Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan (middle), NSERC President, Mario Pinto (right).

Jerkiewicz’s vision is to eventually move away from greenhouse gases as sources of electricity. The emitting of greenhouse gases — such as carbon dioxide — contributes to the warming of the earth through their effects on the planet’s atmosphere.

“This is not carbon, this is not oil, this is not natural gas. This is hydrogen. And when we combust hydrogen electrochemically in a fuel cell, we electrochemically recombine hydrogen and oxygen into water and generate electricity, plus actual heat at the same time.”

Jerkiewicz added that it’s important to maintain a historical perspective when discussing issues like the appropriate response to climate change. 

He believes converting to renewable, environmentally-friendly energy sources will be a long process, and current research into green energy is merely a first step in moving away from our past of non-renewable resource consumption.

“At one point, the cavemen stopped being cavemen. Throughout civilization there was the Stone Age, the copper age, the steel age, and the 20th century can be thought of as the carbon age, in the sense that we’re using carbon-containing fuels for making goods.”

“We want to get into the era of hydrogen economy. We want to take from nature what we need and we want to return to nature what we take from it.”

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