Professors showcase their ideas at premier Discovery innovation event

Environmental engineering Prof. Paul Van Geel is taking his bioreactor landfill technology to Canada’s premier innovation and commercialization event in Toronto this month.

In its fourth year, the annual conference of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) attracts some 1,500 researchers, academics, students, investors, entrepreneurs, innovators, business leaders, venture capitalists and government officials to network, collaborate and learn about the latest trends and people shaping Ontario’s innovation economy.

The two-day event, dubbed Discovery 09 Future Ready: Innovation for a Global Marketplace, is offering an expanded agenda of demonstrations and presentations in green, digital and health sector zones this year. Best-selling author Clayton Christensen, a professor at the Harvard Business School and a world-leading authority on innovation management, will be on hand. Other events include Green Procurement Marketplace and an International Café, where participants can connect with trade commissioners from around the globe.

Van Geel, who is the primary investigator on his third OCE research project and his industry partner, Waste Management of Canada, will host a booth at the event to highlight their research on bioreactor landfill processes.

“Bioreactor landfills are a waste-to-energy technology which encourages the waste within an engineered landfill to degrade or break down and produce landfill gas,” explains Van Geel. The gas, which is 50 per cent methane, can be used to generate power.

His project is placing instrument bundles within the waste in a bioreactor landfill in Quebec with sensors to determine how the waste degrades and how long it takes to produce methane.

“Collecting the landfill gas will not only produce power,” he explains, “but will control landfill gas emissions and odours. This waste-to-energy waste management strategy provides a viable alternative to landfilling, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels.”

While Van Geel is attending the OCE conference for the first time, computer engineering professor Thomas Kunz has attended previous OCE events.

“I enjoy the range of topics and keynotes,” says Kunz, “and meeting with industry representatives has led to research collaborations in the past.”

Kunz and his team will showcase a project that examines the use of communication technology to build the “smart grid.”

His OCE-funded project is developing a simulation model of the RDS network, that is, a wireless network technology that uses the FM radio station signals to carry data, as well as exploring security and authentication mechanisms to avoid attacks on the grid.

Conference participants have the opportunity to learn about new cutting-edge technologies that could soon make a market impact and learn of new government or investment resources, as well as new ways to get a business off the ground and how to successfully commercialize a new technology.

“Long term, the work can be easily extended and there is lots of scope for future work.”

The last few months have emphasized how crucial innovation is to Ontario’s success and competitiveness in the global marketplace, says OCE spokesperson Sean McNeely. “Unquestionably, this is innovation’s time to shine. And there is no better place to demonstration innovation’s market-changing potential than OCE’s annual Discovery conference.”

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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