Two Newly-appointed Research Leadership Chairs in CEPS

Posted on Tuesday, February 27th, 2024

Written by Mehran Bozorgi

Collage of Dr. Beth Parker's headshot with Dr. Animesh Dutta's headshot, both with greenery in their background.
Dr. Beth Parker, left, and Dr. Animesh Dutta are named RLCs.

Dr. Animesh Dutta and Dr. Beth Parker, professors in the University of Guelph’s School of Engineering, are two of the 12 faculty named Research Leadership Chair (RLC) for 2024. The RLC program was launched in 2017 to recognize mid- to late-career researchers who have made significant contributions to their field. Nominees are nominated by their respected colleges and criteria include having received national and international recognition for their research.

Dr. Animesh Dutta - Leading the Way in Sustainable Energy Solutions

Dr. Animesh Dutta’s professional journey in mechanical engineering has always revolved around a core fascination with understanding how things work, particularly in the area of energy. In the face of escalating challenges posed by climate change and global warming, which contribute to widespread environmental deterioration, disproportionately impacting marginalized communities and areas, there is a growing emphasis on exploring sustainable energy alternatives and minimizing waste.

"I've always been intrigued by the mechanics of energy systems," says Dutta. "From nuclear energy to renewable sources, my goal has been to explore sustainable options, aiming to reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel sources and benefiting both our society and the environment."

Bridging the Gap between Traditional and Renewable Energy

Dutta's current focus lies in transforming non-food waste bioresources into valuable bioproducts. The idea is to utilize renewable resources, waste biomass, waste plastics, and their combinations to produce bio-carbon, a potential substitute for coal, bio-oil, a potential alternative to petroleum, and syngas, a fundamental component for fuels and chemicals. By utilizing green thermo-chemical and bio-chemical processes, Dutta's research addresses the critical necessity to manage waste effectively and decrease dependence on fossil fuels, ultimately aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote a circular economy.

Two of his notable accomplishments include designing a biomass gasifier for the cement industry in Vietnam and a compact circulating fluidized bed boiler for waste combustion in India, demonstrating the real-world impact of his research.

In the pursuit of a sustainable future, Dutta is exploring green hydrogen energy generation and storage technologies. Hydrogen is seen as a key player in the future of energy due to its high energy content and clean-burning nature. His goal is to produce hydrogen with CO2 capture from renewable sources, which could be a game-changer in achieving carbon-negative results – a process where more carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere than emitted, helping to combat climate change. This aligns with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions, where the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted equals the amount removed, balancing our environmental impact.

“Innovating for a sustainable future isn't just about technology; it's about shaping a better world for the generations to come," says Dutta.

Waste Not, Want Not: A New Approach to Fulfill Future Energy Needs

Over the upcoming years, Dutta is strategically directing efforts towards chemical upcycling of waste plastics, as well as hydrogen production and storage derived from biowastes. This groundbreaking research initiative is poised to yield innovative technologies that not only encourage industrial adoption but also pave the way for an increased array of products sourced from residual resources and waste materials. Instead of remaining a burden, waste will be transformed into a renewable asset, thereby facilitating a smooth transition towards a circular economy.

“The key focus of the identified research, "Carbon-negative," aims to deliver renewable hydrogen fuel, along with valuable carbon in the form of "activated carbon" and a "green hydrogen storage material" sourced from renewable and waste biomass. The triumph of this proposed research is crucial in aligning with government mandates to fulfill net-zero emissions commitments”, says Dutta.

Ultimately, the overarching goal is to efficiently manage waste and diminish reliance on fossil fuels.

Empowering the Next Generation

Dutta takes immense pride in mentoring his students, many of whom now hold prominent positions in academia and industry.

"The greatest accomplishment for me is seeing my students excel and lead in their respective fields," says Dutta. He emphasizes the importance of thinking globally and encourages the new generation to be visionary in addressing sustainability and climate change challenges.

Dr. Animesh Dutta is currently seeking graduate student researchers to join his team.

Dr. Beth Parker - Groundbreaking Work in Groundwater Research

Dr. Beth Parker’s journey in environmental research is a story of dedication and innovation. Raised on a family farm, her early exposure to the importance of soil and water quality laid the foundation for her future pursuits.

"I remember the first Earth Day, at age 10, and lots of discussion about needing to change our habits for water treatment and the need for improved landfill designs as part of new environmental regulations," says Parker.

At the University of Guelph, she combines this ethos with her expertise to advance our understanding of groundwater.

Pioneering Groundwater Research: The Bedrock of Sustainability

The main focus of Parker's research is to understand how water moves underground and how contaminants behave in groundwater, specifically in fractured bedrock, a key component for safeguarding our water supply.

"This is crucial for assessing the performance of waste disposal methods and groundwater contaminant risks to water supply wells and surface water," says Parker.

Her work with the City of Guelph and other communities is pivotal in making informed decisions about water management. Through her collaborative partnership with the City of Guelph, she has leveraged their funding to her research into more than $22M of grants, saving the city millions of dollars, while building state-of-the-science monitoring infrastructure and data that increases confidence in the safety and sustainability of the community’s water supply. This collaboration led to the City receiving the Exemplary Source Water Protection Award from the American Water Works Association in 2019 and she was honored with an NSERC Synergy award in 2023. Parker is also an inventor with four patents to her name. One notable invention is a multi-depth monitoring system, now marketed and sold by Solinst, a Canadian company. Additionally, she has a license for intellectual property related to her rock core contaminant sampling, extraction, and analysis methods, called CORE-DFN, which is tailored to contaminant transport by diffusion halos away from advective pathways, and is granted to two American firms that are using the methods to enhance their service offerings, further extending the impact of her research.

A Legacy of Innovation and Education

Reflecting on her career, Parker takes pride in her paradigm-shifting discoveries in the groundwater field and the impact of her work on society.

"Our current research themes are centered around understanding critical groundwater quality and quantity issues across Canada and globally," she says.

Moreover, her mentorship of students and her partnerships have significantly contributed to the environmental sector, with many of her former students now in successful careers as professional geologists or engineers in environmental consulting, industry, academics, or government agencies, exemplifying her commitment to both scientific advancement and education.

Vision for the Future: Sustaining Freshwater Resources

Looking ahead, Parker is dedicated to the completion of the Morwick G360 Research Center, poised to become a global hub for groundwater research.

"By maintaining an ongoing program for training, we empower hydrogeologists with the latest knowledge, methodologies, and technologies in contaminant hydrogeology. A well-trained workforce is crucial for addressing the complex challenges in groundwater research and freshwater stewardship," she says. Her ambition extends beyond the research center, encompassing the protection and preservation of freshwater resources locally, and globally.

"Recognizing groundwater as a vital major component of our freshwater resource sustaining communities and ecosystem health, our efforts aim to develop solutions, technologies, and policies that contribute to the sustainable use and protection of this critical component of the water cycle," says Parker.

Dr. Beth Parker is currently seeking graduate student researchers to join her team.

This story was written by Mehran Bozorgi as part of the Science Communicators: Research @ CEPS initiative. Mehran is a PhD candidate in the School of Engineering under Drs. Syeda Humaira Tasnim and Shohel Mahmud. His research focus is on the development of solar-assisted cooling systems to achieve thermal comfort conditions in buildings in different climate conditions.

Headshot of Dr. France-Isabelle Auzanneau

Dr. Animesh Dutta,
School of Engineering

Headshot of Dr. France-Isabelle Auzanneau

Dr. Beth Parker,
NSERC Chair in Groundwater
Contaminaion in Fractured Media

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