U of G Hub for Two $5-Million Research Networks

September 24, 2009 - News Release

The University of Guelph is home to two $5-million federal strategic research networks. Here, world leaders will combine their knowledge and research expertise to help generate sustainable sources of renewable fuels and address the global pollinator shortage.

Gary Goodyear, minister of science and technology, officially announced the networks today on behalf of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). The Guelph networks were among nine that were unveiled, with each receiving about $1 million a year for five years.

The Guelph-based Bioconversion Network and the Canadian Pollination Initiative (CANPOLIN) will be led by Prof. Hung Lee and recently retired professor Peter Kevan, both of the School of Environmental Sciences.

“This is phenomenal news for U of G,” said Kevin Hall, vice-president (research). “The fact that we were chosen to host two of these important initiatives speaks volumes about the University’s reputation in the life sciences and our ability to play a leading role in addressing global challenges such as our dependence on fossil fuels and pollinator decline.”

The Bioconversion Network aims to develop energy-efficient, commercially viable and environmentally sustainable biomass conversion processes. The ultimate goal is to produce new fuel, chemical and energy products.

“Society has an overreliance on petroleum, and it undermines long-term energy security and stifles economic growth,” said Lee, a U of G faculty member since 1986. He’ll be the network’s co-scientific director with Prof. Jack Saddler, dean of forestry at the University of British Columbia.

“We want to generate innovations that will benefit both the environment and the economy, and help Canada make the transition from a petroleum-based economy to a biobased one.”

Plant biomass is a carbon-neutral source of energy, and most of the substrates for bioconversion can be obtained from dead plants, making it more environmentally friendly. It’s also readily available and renewable.

The Bioconversion Network will bring together a core research team of 12 investigators from five universities. Together with industry partners, they will work to overcome the various scientific and technical barriers that are standing in the way of turning Canada’s vast quantities of forest waste residues into fuels and chemicals. Specifically, they want to focus on methods to improve process efficiency and lower production costs.

CANPOLIN includes 44 researchers from 26 institutions and is directed by Kevan, a renowned insect ecologist who's been studying pollinators for more than 30 years.

The diversity and abundance of insect pollinators are in a global state of decline due to such factors as disease, pesticide exposure, malnutrition, habitat loss and climate change. In Canada, 28 species of butterflies and moths and two bee species are known to be at risk. In the United States, honeybees have declined 30 per cent in the past 20 years.

This represents a serious threat to natural ecosystems and crop production, researchers say. It also has an economic toll because the value of insect pollination to Canadian agriculture is estimated to be about $1 billion.

CANPOLIN researchers will examine all aspects of pollination, including pollinator health and conservation, plant gene flow, the impact of climate change, economics, and future management needs.

NSERC created its Strategic Network Grants program in 2005 to increase research in targeted areas that could strongly enhance Canada’s economy, society and environment. It funds large-scale projects that bring together university researchers, industry, government and other agencies to accelerate research and training. The newest networks target healthy environments and ecosystems, sustainable energy systems and advanced communication and information management.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, at 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338 or lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982 or bagunn@uoguelph.ca.

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