By Robin MacLellan
It was like Christmas in July last month at Carleton University, when Catherine McKenna, minister of Environment and Climate Change arrived with more than $6 million for three projects.
The largest chunk of federal cash, $5.1 million from the NRCan Energy Innovation Program and the Ontario Research Fund (ORF), will go to Cynthia Cruickshank to assist with the development of new building envelope technologies designed to make Canada’s buildings more energy efficient and less greenhouse gas intensive.
“Carleton’s Centre for Advanced Building Envelope Research (CU-CABER) research program will foster clean energy innovation and play an important role in developing new solutions leading to more efficient, resilient buildings,” said Rafik Goubran, vice-president (Research and International) at Carleton.
With advances in super-thin insulation materials, prefabricated construction and panelized retrofits, CU-CABER will develop new approaches to constructing building envelopes that are thinner and cheaper, and new methods for renovating existing buildings with less cost and less disruption.
“Solutions for existing buildings will play the biggest role in meeting Canada’s climate change goals,” said Cruickshank, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of CU-CABER. “Although Canada will construct nearly four million new homes before 2030, more than 13.7 million homes are already built, and 62 per cent of them were constructed more than 20 years ago, before the National Building Code prescribed requirements for energy efficiency.”
As part of this work, Carleton will collaborate with researchers at Algonquin College and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center to conceive, prototype, evaluate and optimize new building envelope systems. In addition, the project will enable future collaborations with key players in the built environment such as researchers from NRCan’s CanmetENERGY-Ottawa laboratories, and the National Research Council.
Funding supports the construction of large-scale building envelope test equipment, including a state-of-the-art, two-story guarded hot box with a spray rack, capable of testing full-scale residential and building facades, and a materials characterization lab.
The new infrastructure will enable researchers to study how heat, air and moisture move through materials and highly insulated wall systems, and how these elements contribute to occupant health, comfort and building science risks, including condensation, mold growth and rot. This research will create innovation opportunities for Canada’s manufacturing, construction and renovation industries and provide new technical solutions to cut heat loss in buildings and reduce the cost associated with net zero ready and deep energy retrofit construction.
CU-CABER will also foster knowledge mobilization by training the workforce that will ultimately put this research into practice. It will be located at the CanmetENERGY complex in Ottawa.
“CU-CABER’s partnership between Carleton and Algonquin College is especially valuable as it creates learning opportunities at all levels in the workforce – including construction trades, building design professionals, engineers and project managers, and building science researchers,” said Cruickshank.
In the second project funded by the investment, Carleton’ s Tim Patterson also received funding from the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) Clean Growth Program, to develop rapid, cost-effective protocols and technology for the mining sector that will determine environmental baseline conditions, conduct land-use impact monitoring and to better protect aquatic ecosystem health.
Patterson’s research will “foster a cleaner environment and play an important role in ensuring future mining in Canada does not damage the natural habitat.”
The Mine Site Reclamation Policy (MSRP) for the Northwest Territories mandates that mines must be returned to self-sustaining ecosystems compatible with a healthy environment and human activities. The mining sector in northern Canada faces numerous challenges in meeting regulatory compliance, including legacy contamination associated with historical mineral processing and waste disposal, a lack of environmental background geochemical data, an elevated concentration of regulated elements in mineralized bedrock, changing climate affecting metal and the slow sedimentation rate in northern lakes.
“We have developed an integrated freeze coring technology coupled with the emerging analytical tool, Itrax XRF geochemical core scanning, to address regulatory compliance challenges in Canada’s northern mines,” said Patterson, professor in the Department of Earth Sciences.
“This innovation has already been tested in collaboration with two gold mining companies in the Northwest Territories and it shows potential for widespread deployment with further refinement.”
Field research will be in collaboration with TerraX Minerals in lakes in the Yellowknife area of the Slave Geological Province, central Northwest Territories and work involving the freeze cores collected in the field will take place at Carleton.
This research project is expected to fill a critical gap in the natural resource sector, by advancing emerging clean technology for commercial use. It will contribute to economic opportunities through environmental risk reduction, provide a cost-effective way to differentiate between climate and mining-related environmental impacts and reduce the environmental risk of mining to aquatic ecosystems.
The third funding announcement made by McKenna was $510,000 from the NRCan Green Infrastructure Fund to develop new data-mining tools that will improve building energy efficiency, occupant comfort, health, and workplace productivity.
This project will apply state-of-the-art data mining techniques to analyze operational data sources like building automation systems, energy meter networks, computerized maintenance management systems and Wi-Fi traffic data. This data will be used to detect operational abnormalities and sub systems that may not be working correctly. By combining these disparate data sources, insights that were not possible before will be revealed.
“There is a lot of focus on designing energy efficient buildings, but even well-designed buildings can function inefficiently unless further quality assurance measures are taken,” said Burak Gunay, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“Without the proper tools it is very difficult for building managers to diagnose problems and correct them. This tool will provide operators with key metrics and insights into building functionality.”
Frequently, even new buildings are not operated in a manner that realizes their full potential and often even very small interventions can make large differences, he said. These interventions include correcting programming errors in the environmental controls. This new technology has already been applied to Carleton’s Canal building, resulting in energy saving of about 30 per cent. Gunay and his team will bring this tool to buildings off campus.
Copper Tree Analytics, Delta Controls, Sensible Building Science and Bentall GreenOak each provided $30,000 of in-kind support for the project.