2017 TLCERF Grant Recipients

Since its inception in 2013, the Foundation has grown tremendously thanks to the support of our many donors and supporters of annual fundraising efforts. More recently, the Foundation has grown enough to expand the support we are able to provide to deserving clean energy projects being undertaken by talented graduate research students across Canada. It is with this growth that we are happy to announce for the first time, the Foundation is awarding two recipients with the TLCERF Grant!

Outstanding applications were received from many schools across the country this year, with representation from almost all provinces. The Grant Advisors, with help from the Foundation Board members, had the challenging task of choosing the 2017 grant recipients, amongst a pool of very strong candidates and diverse projects. After an ever-challenging adjudication process, the Foundation is excited to introduce Leah Ellis (Dalhousie University) and Marten Pape (Waterloo University) as the two 2017 TLCERF grant recipients.

Everyone at the Tyler Lewis Clean Energy Research Foundation is extremely proud to have Leah and Marten join the Foundation’s family, as they are not only strong researchers investigating promising clean energy topics, but they also embody the Foundation’s mission beyond their research. An introduction to both award recipients and their research is summarised below.

Leah Ellis – Surface Studies of Aging Lithium-Ion Electrode

Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia

Leah’s passion for sustainability started at the earliest point of her career, when, as a high-school student, she worked at an organic food store to finance her BSc in chemistry. Leah’s MSc in chemistry focused on developing electrode materials for sodium-ion batteries, which are analogous to lithium-ion batteries, but are expected to be cheaper and more sustainable. Following her MSc, she did internships at Tesla Motors in California, and E-One Moli Energy in Maple Ridge.

In the four-month gap between the end of her internships and the start of her PhD, Leah embarked on a 12,000 km bicycle expedition across the continent of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. At the time, Leah had a reputation as a staunch environmentalist, refusing even to learn how to drive a car. This bicycle trip put her theories of sustainable transportation to a test! The experience was also a test of physical and mental strength.

Leah is now a PhD student, studying lithium-ion batteries under the supervision of Dr. Jeff Dahn, at Dalhousie University. This work is done in partnership with Tesla’s cell development lab. The purpose of her research is to improve the lifetime and energy density of lithium-ion cells, for use in green technologies.

Below, in her own words, is an overview of Leah’s work with lithium-ion batteries:

Lithium-ion batteries must have long lifetimes if they are to enable green energy storage technologies. As we all know from experience with our portable electronics, lithium-ion cells lose capacity over time. This is because the electrolyte decomposes at the surface of charged electrodes. This causes films of solid electrolyte decomposition products to form on the electrodes. In time, these films can completely cover the electrode surfaces, block the passage of lithium-ions to the electrodes, and cause cell failure. The goal of my research is twofold: the first goal is to understand electrolyte decomposition; second goal is to find ways to prevent it.

Surface studies (using x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy) are very useful for understanding the mechanisms of electrolyte decomposition. Surface studies can determine the chemical composition and thickness of films formed on aged electrodes. This insight allows for the elucidation of the chemical mechanisms and reaction conditions which cause electrolyte decomposition and cell failure, which paves the way for targeted approaches to prevent it. For example, certain chemicals can be added to the cell to form protective films on the electrode surfaces. Other chemicals can be used to stabilize the electrolyte and prevent it from decomposing over time. 

This research is important for improving the performance and lifetime of lithium-ion batteries. If all electrolyte decomposition reactions were prevented, a lithium-ion battery would in theory last forever. Longer-lived lithium-ion cells would lower the cost and environmental footprint of the devices they power, and hasten the transition to a sustainable future.

Marten Pape – Partial Power Processing Converters in Offshore Wind Farms with a DC Collection System

University of Waterloo, Ontario

Marten is a part of the ‘Power Electronics Research Group’ at the University of Waterloo, where he also obtained his Masters of Applied Science in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Originally hailing from Germany, where he obtained his Bachelor’s degree from the Karlsruhe University of Applied Science, Marten now works under the supervision of Dr. Mehrdad Kazerani investigating power processing converters for offshore wind farms.

In addition to being deeply passionate about his PhD work in the area of energy and resource sustainability, Marten’s extra-curricular interests also reflect his interest in clean energy. Marten has been involved with many projects related to active transportation, including electric bicycles and solar photovoltaic charging, as well as founding his own community energy consulting company, where he acts as a consultant and design lead.

Marten is also a keen outdoorsman, enjoying hiking, camping and cycling and cycle touring. Marten is a volunteer for a local bike repair co-op where he helps to refurbish bikes for resale and help others repairing their own bikes. Marten’s extra-curricular endeavours do not end there, as he has also been a part of orchestras and choirs for many years.

Below, is Marten’s description of his work in the area of off-shore wind farms:

Offshore wind power offers the prospect of steadier clean energy generation at a very large scale to many coastal regions in this world, such as those in Europe, the Americas, and China. Some of the technology employed in offshore wind turbines is still based on concepts initially designed for onshore application which have a nearby electricity grid. In order to transmit the energy to shore over long distances, systems called “High-Voltage Direct Current Transmission” systems have been added. The current approach to employ these transmission systems involves large offshore equipment, causing a large share of the energy losses. However, offshore wind turbines could integrate the functionality provided by this offshore equipment while avoiding many of the associated disadvantages.

Inside a wind turbine, power electronic converters control the rotational speed and power extraction of wind turbine rotors. Today’s converters always process all the energy produced by a wind turbine. This means that all energy produced contributes to the energy losses in such a converter. These converters have to be built large enough to handle all of that energy. During the review of past work, I have discovered that improvements can be realized by adopting a technology called “Partial Power Processing Converters”. The principle of these converters is that when applied in a wind farm, each converter only processes the differences in generated wind energy resulting from the limited wind speed differences within a wind farm. This would result in significantly smaller and lighter converters used in wind turbines, therefore conversion losses would be greatly reduced because only a small fraction of energy actually needs to be processed to operate each wind turbine. A recently completed study indicates a potential reduction of energy losses in the range of 50-60% compared to today’s employed technology and a significant reduction of required equipment mass. This is equivalent to increasing the annual energy output of a wind farm by about 5%.

Going forward, we will study the configuration more in-depth to identify the impact of various design options on the economics of a wind farm, develop a methodology to determine the appropriate size for the partial power processing converters, and understand the impact of these converters on the reliability of such wind farms.

As there are strong signs that the industry will move towards wind farm concepts like these in the medium term, we think that this concept will help to accelerate making offshore wind farms more cost-effective and more efficient.