Sustaining earth and society: environment and energy

Environmental and energy challenges command the world’s attention, while a healthy environment and energy equation requires balance amongst existing resources and those still to be discovered.

Sourcing of primary energy as well as its transmission, storage, and distribution are critical elements of societal infrastructure that are impacted by environmental issues. Aware that development of “smart regions” can only be achieved through collaborative, interdisciplinary research, University of Waterloo researchers across various disciplines are collectively addressing such issues as climate change, food systems, ecological restoration, and urban planning, as well as how these issues impact sustainable energy.

Improving energy generation

Zhongwei Chen
The Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy (WISE) is Canada’s largest concentration of academic researchers devoted to sustainable energy. WISE has identified three major research directions to address the scientific complexity and interrelated nature of energy challenges: achieving a global low-carbon energy system, smart urbanization and growth of cities, and offgrid energy access. Although it’s clear there is no single solution to the world’s energy challenges, researchers at Waterloo are finding ways to improve energy generation methods and incorporate new energy sources, convert and deliver energy more efficiently, create smart energy grids, microgrids, and networks, as well as engage in the advancement of energy policy and planning.

An additional strength is the Water Institute with its multidisciplinary capability to address surface and groundwater issues such as watershed management, water and energy, emerging contaminants, and water treatment using nanotechnology. Waterloo researchers are modelling the impact of urbanization and agricultural practices on wetland ecosystems, engaging in research on river-engineering, eco-hydraulics, and fluvial geomorphology, engineering new water purification technologies for developing countries, and conducting environmental simulations. Issues involving water are some of the topics that raise questions of governance, ethics, and science policy. Meeting the food needs for a world population expected to reach nine billion by 2050 will have important implications for the natural environment. Waterloo’s research strengths in climate change, plant biology, agricultural biotechnology, ecological agriculture, and soil science can influence and support solutions to the challenge of providing food for a burgeoning population. As well, researchers in Waterloo’s Global Food Politics Group explore the politics and governance of food, agriculture, and the environment.

Creating new battery technologies

people in corn field
At the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN), third-generation solar cells based on organic electronics and quantum dots are being developed. Nanotechnology is also supporting the creation of new battery technologies with high energy capacity and energy density. Researchers at both WIN and WISE provide critical policy advice to stakeholders, including government and the private sector.

In the Faculties of Science and Environment, specializations ranging from advanced analytical geoscience (including studies of tectonic to hydrological processes) through environmental monitoring and ecosystem modelling to the environmental applications of metagenomics are being pursued. Research encompasses studies of mineral and energy resources, climate change, aquatic systems, earth surface and subsurface processes, the cryosphere, and sustainable food systems. Genomics and proteomics coupled with structural biology and modelling are used to better understand basic biological processes such as brain function and how environmental stimuli, including contaminants, impact the function of cells and organisms.