Two new clean-energy hubs in the GTA to boost U of T Engineering sustainability research

Story by Liz Do, U of T Engineering News

This rendering shows the vision for the Sustainability Lab, a new facility to be constructed on the roof of the Wallberg Building. (Image courtesy Baird Sampson Neuert Architects)

Two leading-edge facilities set to open in 2022 will further strengthen U of T Engineering as a powerhouse for clean energy research and commercialization.

This week, the National Research Council of Canada announced a new advanced materials research facility in Mississauga. Among other things, the facility will house the Collaboration Centre for Green Energy Research Materials (CC-GEM), a partnership between U of T and NRC that focuses on both fundamental discoveries and their translation into commercial technologies.

Professor Timothy Bender (ChemE) is one of two co-leads for CC-GEM. His research expertise focuses on the development of organic chemical substances that convert light into electricity or vice versa. These materials have important applications in display screens — from smartphones to big-screen TVs — and could also provide low-cost alternatives to the silicon-based products that currently dominate the solar power industry.

“Sustainably meeting our growing energy needs is one of the most critical challenges we face,” said Christopher Yip, Dean of U of T Engineering. “Professor Bender and his multidisciplinary team have a strong track record of success in transforming fundamental insights in chemistry, engineering and materials science into innovative technologies.

“This partnership will catalyze the transformation of these discoveries into innovative products and new business ventures that will power a greener Canadian economy.”

Professor Tim Bender. (Photo courtesy of Tim Bender)

Bender says that one of the most important functions of CC-GEM will be fostering new collaborations between U of T Engineering professors and students and NRC experts who have long-standing research programs in the field of photovoltaics.

“I’m excited because this centre will open up access to cutting-edge equipment and new kinds of experimental scenarios,” says Bender. “These are opportunities we currently don’t have at U of T.”

But CC-GEM is not the only new facility on the horizon. On the St. George campus, Bender is also one of the leading proponents of another emerging initiative: U of T Engineering’s Sustainability Lab (S-Lab).

This new facility will be housed atop the Wallberg Building, and will focus on accelerating research in areas such as smart grids, carbon management and advanced materials, to name a few.

S-Lab will be an open-concept, multidisciplinary space, encouraging students and researchers from more than a dozen lab groups across the Faculty to collaborate, share tools, equipment and resources, catalyzing new ideas to tackle the climate crisis.

“Going from no space to two facilities focused on exclusively on sustainability is quite extraordinary,” says Bender. “I see these two hubs as being connected; they will both enable us to foster important discoveries and industry collaborations, allowing us to quickly move these key green technologies to market.”