Clean Energy: NRC Fuel Cell Programs


As a result of the new federal budget, the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada's Innovation Centre, Vancouver--home of the NRC National Fuel Cell Program--will receive increased support and use this funding to continue a national fuel cell effort involving government, academic, and industrial partners.

The budget that was announced in December includes $110 million over the next 3 years in support of NRC. A portion of these funds will be directed towards fuel cell research at the Innovation Centre, Vancouver, enabling it to embark on a variety of new initiatives and eventually hire additional researchers.

By supporting the early-stage research, development, and deployment of fuel cell technologies, NRC and its partners are nurturing a commercial industry that will ultimately employ the skills of technicians and other staff needed to bring the technology to market.

In in the short term, this is good news for science and engineering graduates. Because fuel cell technology by nature is multidisciplinary, those skilled in chemistry and physics as well as in chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering will continue to be sought after by government and corporate organizations propelling technology development (see sidebar).

Partnership Programs

The NRC Innovation Centre, Vancouver, may be the home of the NRC National Fuel Cell Program, but that doesn't mean that the centre is going it alone. Taking an integrated approach not only enables NRC to tap into broad resources but also helps create opportunities for scientists and academics possessing skills in a variety of disciplines.

NRC partnership programs often involve a variety of institutes and other federal agencies such as Natural Resources Canada and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). NRC also partners with industry and leading Canadian and international universities.

One strategic effort, the NRC National Fuel Cell Program, with its annual budget totaling $4.9 million--approximately $3.5 million of which is funded by the program and $1.4 million of which comes from partner contributions--has enabled the development of 12 significant research projects. Researchers from six NRC institutes are involved, including those at ICPET, the Integrated Manufacturing Technologies Institute, the Industrial Materials Institute, the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences, and the Institute for Research in Construction. The program has also has positive implications for eight Canadian companies and several universities including the University of British Columbia, University of Victoria in British Columbia, McMaster University, Waterloo University in Ontario, and the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, U.K.

For students seeking a career in the alternative-energy sector, programs like these are providing opportunities to work in various areas of fuel cell technologies, preparing them for private sector jobs that may arise as the industry grows.

Postgraduate students wishing to work on research projects in government laboratories are encouraged to look for ongoing opportunities available through NRC/NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowships. More information about these fellowship programs is available online at

"Our vision is to be recognized as a world leader in fuel cell and hydrogen systems and technologies, and as a supporter of clean energy and resource sectors through excellence in research, innovation, partnerships, and cluster building," said Maja Veljkovic, director general of the Innovation Centre.

By providing cost-effective product-testing, evaluation, and incubation services, NRC is fostering the growth of regional fuel cell clusters and helping accelerate the commercialization of fuel cell technologies.

Acting on its mission to develop its four areas of strategic importance--people, technology, business development, and project management--the Innovation Centre is uniting the talents of researchers working at NRC institutes across Canada. Such efforts--and others related to NRC's Horizontal Fuel Cell Program--are today tackling a variety of hurdles facing industry.

Among the Innovation Centre's most significant new projects are those concerning fuel reforming (extracting hydrogen from hydrocarbons), hydrogen compression and storage, micro-fuel cells, and other critical areas such as adaptive control systems and wear-and-tear of fuel cell materials.

At the Innovation Centre alone, 48 full-time staff members including 17 research officers and 17 technical officers are almost solely dedicated to project management and research related to fuel cell and hydrogen systems. Twenty-two more workers--a blend of NSERC postdoctoral research fellows and visiting professors and undergraduate students from across Canada and abroad--are also playing key roles. Encouraged by the recent budget news, the Innovation Centre is looking forward to increasing its staff over the next 3 years.

"As we move forward, we'll be looking for researchers with skills to help launch new efforts such as the development and operation of a Residential Fuel Cell Power System Research Facility," says Des Mullan, Innovation Centre director of business development.

The new facility will be built at a cost of $550,000 and will support the development of systems delivering up to 10 kilowatts of electricity designed for households and small businesses, a market segment identified by numerous Canadian fuel cell and related companies as having enormous

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