Studies of contaminant movement, pet food and surplus dairy calf welfare are among the U of G research projects that have received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Alliance program.

In total, U of G research teams were awarded more than $13.5 million in multi-year funding for research collaborations with partners in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors on projects that have real-world impact for Canadians. The funding spans four  colleges and 10 departments, with projects being supported for up to five years.

The funding is part of more than $347 million announced today to support more than 882 researchers nationwide through the Alliance program.

Dr. Erica Pensini

Dr. Erica Pensini

Dr. Pensini, a professor in the School of Engineering, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS), will lead a five-year project to increase scientific knowledge about sulfolane, a toxic liquid industrial solvent, often used to refine gas. 

Pensini and her team will use field studies and lab work to investigate how sulfolane moves through freshwater, how it behaves when exposed to water and contaminants in the soil, and how to measure its impact on human and ecosystem health.

“The project focuses on a particular site owned by one of our industry partners,” said Pensini, “but our findings will be applicable to other sites impacted by sulfolane in Canada and beyond. We expect it to provide insights about the transport and fate of other water-miscible pollutants too.”

Pensini will work with U of G researchers Dr. Beth Parker, School of Engineering, and Dr. Ryan Prosser, School of Environmental Sciences within the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), as well as Dr. Tadeusz Gorecki from University of Waterloo’s Department of Chemistry.

The research team received more than $3.28 million from the NSERC Alliance program, with additional $2.19 million in funding and in-kind support from industry partners Shell Canada, Azimuth Consulting Group, Matrix Solutions, Shell Oil Co (U.S.)

Dr. Anna Kate Shoveller
Dr. Kate Shoveller

Dr. Kate Shoveller

Dr. Shoveller, a professor in the Department of Animal Biosciences, OAC, will study the effects that core pet food ingredients — such as fats, proteins, essential vitamins and unique compounds like polyphenols — have on the health and well-being of dogs and cats.

The five-year project will also explore if natural calming ingredients, such as chamomile and lavender, can reduce anxiety in pets.

“By using nutrition to improve the physical and mental health of our pets, we can strengthen that invaluable human-animal relationship that adds so much to human life,” said Shoveller.

“But unlike other fields of animal research, funding for companion animal research can be hard to find, which makes industry-academia research partnership opportunities like the NSERC Alliance program are crucial to scientific advancements in the field.”

The research team received more than $1.31 million from the NSERC Alliance program and an additional $2.54 million in funding and in-kind support from Champion Petfoods and Mitacs.

The project team includes faculty researchers from OAC, Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and the College of Biological Science, as well as several Mitacs-supported doctoral students and postgraduate researchers who will participate in an innovative internship program designed by Champion Petfoods. External collaborators from Canada, the United States and Europe are also involved in the project.

Dr. William Smith

Dr. William Smith, University Professor Emeritus, and Dr. Mihai Nica, both in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, will lead a team of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to extend and implement a theoretically based approach Dr. Smith’s research group has developed for discovering new carbon capture solvents. 

Carbon capture solvents help fight climate change by trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large emitters such as electricity power plants and the steel, cement, fertilizer and chemical industries. The captured CO2 is either used to manufacture useful end products or stored safely in underground repositories.  

“Due to the vast number of potential solvents, it is prohibitively time-consuming and expensive to discover improved candidates by trial-and-error experimental studies alone,” said Smith. “Our approach combines molecular-based and macroscopic theory with artificial intelligence methodologies to predict how well a potential solvent will capture CO2.” 

Industry partners will experimentally test and validate the most promising candidates the team discovers, with the aim of identifying new and improved solvents. The research team has received almost $1.47 million from the NSERC Alliance program, with $390,000 in additional funding and in-kind support to come from industrial partners NRCan and Delta Cleantech.  

Dr. Michael Steele

Dr. Michael Steele

Dr. Steele, a professor in the Department of Animal Biosciences, OAC, and Dr. David Renaud, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine, OVC, aim to enhance calf welfare and increase the sustainability of the Canadian dairy, beef, and veal industries.

“Early life events — breeding, nutrition, disease and stress — affect the long-term health and performance of surplus dairy calves,” said Steele. “This funding provides us an opportunity to showcase how to improve their welfare while also increasing the sustainability of Canadian dairy farms and producing a better product for market.”

Over five years, the researchers will focus on identifying the best management practices for dairy calves crossbred for beef production in areas such as genetics, nutrition and reducing stress and disease. 

The research team received $1.79 million from the NSERC Alliance program and an additional $1.47 million in funding and in-kind support from five farm trade and advocacy organizations — Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Beef Farmers of Ontario, Veal Farmers of Ontario, Alberta Milk and BC Dairy Association — as well as Semex, a livestock genetics company, and Trouw, a manufacturer of animal nutrition products.