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Five million dollar grant going to Ryerson energy research

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By Justin Chandler

A research grant the federal government awarded to a network of energy-storage researchers led by Ryerson academic Bala Venkatesh is the largest ever received at Ryerson, Venkatesh says.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awarded the NSERC Energy Storage Technology (NEST) network $4,984,000 to study energy storage technologies at Ryerson and 14 other universities. That’s the largest grant the council has ever awarded, NEST-network leader Venkatesh, said in an email.

The NEST network’s grant was announced at Ryerson on March 1 by Kirsty Duncan, federal minister of science. The NEST network was one of two teams to receive a network grant of about $5 million from NSERC. Network grants from NSERC fund large-scale projects.

“Energy storage is the solution for sustainable and renewable energy in the future,” Venkatesh said.

The NEST network estimates it could cost Canada $350 billion to update its energy infrastructure by 2030.  But the network says its technologies will help to reduce or maybe eliminate the costs needed to update Canada’s power transmission and distribution systems.

Researchers at Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Energy (CUE) have previously told the Eyeopener that energy storage systems can reduce the strain on existing power grids by storing energy during off-peak times and using that energy to supply customers when the power grid experiences peak usage. That process reduces the amount of energy that grids need to distribute at peak times when doing so is most difficult.

Venkatesh said early versions of energy-storage systems are already for sale and that NEST-network research into batteries as well as flywheel, thermal and compressed air storage will ensure that energy storage becomes a regular asset for power systems.

Flywheel energy storage works by converting electricity into kinetic energy, then back into electricity. Electric input causes a rotor to spin in a near-frictionless enclosure. Kinetic energy from the spinning rotor can then be converted back into electric energy.

Compressed air storage works by storing compressed air, then heating it so that it expands and turns a turbine on a generator.

Twenty-seven professors from 15 Canadian universities will oversee NEST network projects. Each of the 24 projects has a team which includes research fellows and students, Venkatesh said.

The network also includes 17 companies, utilities and agencies from both the private and public sector.  Partners include Natural Resources Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Energy,  Scarborough-based energy-storage company eCamion, and tech business IBM Canada.

The NEST network’s industry partners invested about $240,000 and its university partners invested about $2.3 million in the network.

The network estimates the energy-storage market at $600 billion over 10 years.

The remaining $38 million worth of grants announced by Duncan last week were awarded in sums of about $500,000 to 74 researcher teams, according to NSERC’s website. Those teams were the recipients of NSERC project grants, designed to fund early stage research in projects one to three years-long.

Venkatesh is also the director of the CUE, where he said some of the research will take place. As previously reported in the Eyeopener, the CUE studies energy storage technologies such as batteries, pole-top storage units and microgrids.

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