Bioproduct and transportation research at UBC Engineering gets $10M boost from Canada Foundation for Innovation

Xiaotao Bi, Walter Mérida and James Olson

Three UBC Engineering professors — Xiaotao Bi, Walter Mérida and James Olson — have collectively received a total of nearly $10.1 million from the Government of Canada’s Foundation for Innovation (CFI). By advancing the development of cutting-edge bioproducts and next-generation transportation systems, their projects may have a significant positive impact on life in Canada and around the world.


Founded in 1997, the CFI funds state-of-the-art research infrastructure (facilities and equipment) that Canadian researchers will use to conduct world-class research. Among the better-known CFI-funded projects are the SNOLAB in Sudbury, the Canadian Light Source synchrotron in Saskatoon and UBC’s Museum of Anthropology.


This year, the CFI invested over $554 million in 117 new infrastructure projects at 61 universities, colleges and research hospitals across Canada. Of these institutions, UBC received the largest contribution for the largest number of projects ($67.5 million for 26 projects). The funding was announced yesterday by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, at the University of Manitoba, and today by the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, at UBC's Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.


The three CFI-supported projects at UBC Engineering are:


Biorefining Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) ($1,798,677) - Xiaotao Bi


Bi, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and eight co-PIs from UBC and industrial partners will use the funds to build a pilot-scale biomass research, development and demonstration laboratory that will facilitate the translation of fundamental research into new prototypes and, ultimately, commercializable, market-ready sustainable bioproducts.


Beyond Traffic: Clean, Connected and Safe Transportation Testbed ($4,638,178) - Walter Mérida


Mérida, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his team at UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre will deploy a city-scale living laboratory that will advance one of Canada’s key priorities —a clean, connected and safe transportation system — by developing innovative renewable energy storage methods, wireless communication protocols for connected vehicles and greenhouse gas emission reduction pathways.


BiMat: Synthetic biology enabled materials science for high performance biocomposites ($4,472,892) - James Olson

To accelerate the world’s transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a forest bioeconomy, Olson, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his collaborators will use their expertise in genomics, synthetic biology, industrial biotechnology and materials science to develop technologies that convert biomass into high-value bioenergy, biochemical and biomaterial products — the global market for which is estimated to be worth $1.3 trillion by 2030. 



"Biomass residues are abundantly available in Canada, especially in British Columbia. They can potentially contribute to more than 10% reductions of BC's greenhouse gas emissions by displacing fossil fuels for district heating, transportation and aviation. UBC researchers have been developing biomass pretreatment, gasification, torrefaction, pyrolysis, catalytic upgrading, fermentation and clean burning technologies to facilitate transformation of biomass residues to bioenergy and biofuels, in collaboration with researchers in Canada and abroad. This new CFI funded Biorefining Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) will enable us to work closely with domestic and international industrial partners to transform those technologies from lab to pilot scale to facilitate the demonstration and commercialization of those novel technologies. We believe that the successful bioenergy utilization of Canada's abundant biomass resources will play a critical role in helping Canada to meet its 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target and helping Vancouver to achieve its 2050 Renewable City (100% renewable energy) target."

‒ Xiaotao Bi, Director, The China-Canada Joint Centre for Bioenergy Research and Innovation, University of British Columbia


“Renewable electricity can enable a variety of energy services, but transportation is still largely dependent on fossil fuels. Our first grand challenge is to link intermittent, renewable energy to clean transportation and to low- or zero-carbon fuel production. The second challenge is to enable transportation services that are securely connected not only to users and autonomous vehicles, but also to the underlying infrastructure. The third challenge is to ensure that new technologies, processes and practices are safe and resilient as the world moves to live in smart, healthy cities.”

‒ Walter Mérida, Director, Clean Energy Research Centre, University of British Columbia


"Over the past three decades, UBC has emerged as a world leader in forest bioproducts research. Scientists and engineers across multiple faculties have worked with each other, FPInnovations and industry partners to make significant advances in fundamental research and technology development, as well as to train future leaders in the field. Directly aligned with BC and Canada’s strategic research priorities, bold innovation in the forest bioproducts sector is crucial for Canada’s long-term social, economic and environmental well-being. With this CFI support, we plan to make major contributions to Canada’s prosperity in the coming years by creating high-strength, lightweight, low-cost materials from biomass that have the potential to transform the building, transportation, healthcare and other industries."

‒ James Olson, Interim Dean, Faculty of Applied Science, University of British Columbia



The China-Canada Joint Centre for Bioenergy Research and Innovation

The Clean Energy Research Centre




Thomas Horacek

Communication Officer

Faculty of Applied Science

The University of British Columbia | Vancouver Campus

Phone: 604-827-5266