Mobility In A Low-Carbon Future

As the world shifts to electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, the use of more biofuels and “smart cities,” where public transit increasingly supplants single-vehicle movement, a forward-thinking initiative entitled “Mobility in a Low Carbon Future” aims at helping Alberta’s fossil-fuel-reliant economy and population benefit from those developments.

Energy Futures Lab (EFL), an initiative aimed at developing a vision for Alberta’s energy system through to 2050, is hosting a one-day workshop — what its organizers describe as an “accelerator” — on Nov. 20 in Calgary at WinSport, at Canada Olympic Road Southwest, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Pong Leung, a lead designer with EFL and an organizer of the event — he’s a University of Alberta graduate with an advanced degree in environmental management and policy — argues that there is no better place to hold such an event, given Alberta’s role as Canada’s energy industry leader.

“How can we prepare Alberta for a low-carbon future,” says the Vancouver resident, who is originally from Edmonton. “The challenge for Alberta is that we’re a jurisdiction where hydrocarbons are a big part of the economy. In a low-carbon future, what does that mean for the prosperity of Alberta?”

Leung, a partner in Vancouver-based Travesia Partners, which helps clients develop sustainability plans, is an optimist because he believes most Albertans grasp the challenge and will be able to leverage the province’s substantial advantages in transitioning to that future.

Some of the organizations and corporations participating in the all-day workshop reflect how those benefiting from the province’s role as a fossil fuel industry leader understand how the world is changing.

For instance, they include Suncor Energy Inc. and the government department, Alberta Energy. Another is Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd., which is working with government agency Alberta Innovates on an initiative called “biojet,” which is examining the use of biofuels to power its jets in the future.

Other participants include the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), Canadian Energy System Analysis Research (CESAR), E3 Metals Corp. and Natural Step Canada.

Natural Step Canada is a non-profit, Ottawa-based organization that is aimed at developing a sustainable Canadian economy (it is a sponsor of EFL).

Toronto-based CUTRIC, sponsored by the public transit-oriented Canadian Urban Transit Association, aims at developing a low-carbon transportation future in Canada.

CESAR is a University of Calgary-based initiative aimed at research and analysis around the transformation of Canada’s energy systems towards sustainability.

E3 Metals is a Calgary-based company focused on lithium extraction from hydrocarbon reservoirs.

Leung says the concept of the accelerator is to gather policy and industry leaders in one room, where they can deal with the challenges and opportunities the low-carbon future entails.

The accelerator will bring together a select group of innovators from government, industry, civil society and academia to work together on opportunities, including those the EFL and others identify.

“We need a number of people from different sectors to get involved,” he says.

These include participants perhaps not readily thought of as a part of that low-carbon future, such as those from the forestry and agriculture sectors.

Officials from Alberta Transportation, an obvious participant in that low-carbon future, will also be involved.

“The idea is that we should all work together to transition to that future,” he says.

The participation of those involved in the forestry and agricultural sectors is logical, he says, given that many believe biomass will play a role in that low-carbon mobility future.

The accelerator participants will hear insights from those who have conducted leading-edge and future-oriented research and those providing systematic solutions and challenges. The accelerator will be aimed at cross-sector collaboration and real-world actions and initiatives.

In the morning participants will hear about economic, technological and social trends revolving around a low-carbon future. This will include both presentations and discussion.

The afternoon will feature break-out sessions focused on addressing challenges that, if overcome, can unlock the potential of innovations in Alberta to spur development of important industries.

The focus of the accelerator will revolve around Alberta’s opportunities in biofuels, lithium and hydrogen.

Leung says he believes biofuels can play a large role in the province’s future — and in the future of Prairie economies.

“How can we use biomass more effectively?”

He cites WestJet’s work on the future of “biojets” as an example.

The focus on lithium is also logical, since oil reservoirs hold large volumes of lithium, a key mineral used in the development of batteries for electric vehicles, cell phones and in other areas.

“Can we accelerate lithium development as an industry in Alberta?”

The hydrogen space is another area where Alberta has a natural advantage, says Leung.

Hydrogen can be extracted from hydrocarbons, during the upgrading and refining processes and through other processes.

“Can we create a value chain where hydrogen is utilized as a fuel source,” he says.

B.C.-based companies such a Ballard Power have long played a role in using hydrogen as a fuel source and Toyota Motor Corp. and other automakers are seriously looking at it as a cleaner-burning fuel source.

Accelerator workshop participants will also discuss the future role of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, says Leung.

Those wanting more information about the workshop should contact the EFL at info@energyfutureslab.com or email Leung at pleung@naturalstep.ca or Kelley Thompson at kthompson@naturalstep.ca.

Space is limited so, to ensure you have a spot, register by Tuesday, Nov. 6.