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Bold innovation for a better future

A spotlight on Concordia’s next-generation research
October 20, 2022
By Damon Van Der Linde, BA 08

Concordia researchers are taking on unprecedented societal challenges and creating new opportunities for tomorrow.

These next-generation initiatives are fostered by the university’s focus on emerging areas, a drive to make social impact and an openness to collaborate across disciplines.

Learn about some of the key areas where researchers and their teams are advancing innovation.

Pragasen Pillay: “I believe that the younger generation is deeply attracted to questions of the environment, and I think they really want to make a difference.”

The future is electric: Building decarbonized and sustainable communities

Concordia is helping to curb climate change and pollution through expertise across the university that addresses not only the technical challenges of sustainability, but the political, social and financial aspects, too.

In 2009, the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science enlisted Pragasen Pillay as the NSERC/Hydro-Québec Senior Industrial Research Chair to help improve the efficiency of electrical machines, vehicles and renewable-energy applications.

As a professor and associate chair in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pillay advances his multidisciplinary research through the Power Electronics and Energy Research Group, and as director of the Centre for Urban and Renewable Electrical Energy.

Professor Thomas Walker approaches sustainability from a financial and organizational perspective at the John Molson School of Business. Prior to his academic career, he worked in the consulting and industrial sectors at such firms as Mercedes-Benz and KPMG.

He is also the academic lead and founder of the Emerging Risks Information Center (ERIC), which publishes research on sustainability topics spanning transportation, real estate, investing and corporate governance. More recently, Walker also became director of the L. Jacques Ménard BMO Centre for Capital Markets at Concordia, where he explores, among other things, how fintech can help financial institutions and their clients become more sustainable.

What is your current research focus?

Pragasen Pillay: When my chair was ending in 2020, Hydro-Québec asked if we’d like to move some of the test equipment to Concordia. We now have an industrial-scale testing facility and a significant contract with Hydro-Québec, as well as with local industry. I’ve also been working with professor Hua Ge [Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering] on a solar house, and how we can use electric vehicles to power buildings during emergency situations.

Thomas Walker: One of my big focus areas is greenwashing. Companies can’t just go out there and say they are sustainable. They have to show it. I research how to entice companies to become more sustainable, how to encourage investors to finance more sustainable companies, how regulations can move in the right direction and how to steer money towards sustainable users.

Thomas Walker

I also focus on pension funds and other long-term institutional investors that have some responsibility towards their own shareholders and are not just after the money — they can pressure companies to make changes.

What are some interdisciplinary aspects of your work?

PP: In terms of our renewable-energy work, and even on electrified transportation, we collaborate widely with people outside of our immediate group through Concordia’s Next- Generation Cities Institute.

TW: My research group received a sizeable grant jointly offered by Quebec and Luxembourg funding agencies to look at water pollution across borders. Sometimes a parent company in one country will have plants in another where restrictions are laxer in what is essentially ‘emission shifting.’

How do you see the future of renewable energy?

PP: I’m very optimistic about the technical solutions, but the adoption of the technologies is also a question of policy, an area where additional effort is required for widespread adoption. I believe that the younger generation is deeply attracted to questions of the environment, and I think they really want to make a difference. I teach a course on renewable energy once a year, which attracts over 100 students each time, with long waiting lists.

Empowered aging: Thriving at all stages of life

In 2021, the number of people in Canada over 65 reached more than 7 million, a figure that will continue to increase in the coming years. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated existing social inequities and isolation, highlighting the urgent need to find better ways for older adults to age well on their own terms.

Meghan Joy

Experts in aging across Concordia’s faculties have united under the engAGE Centre for Research on Aging to focus on the social, health-related and technological dimensions of aging.

Meghan Joy is the interim director of engAGE and an associate professor in the Department of Political Science. Her research explores the policy and politics of population aging and changing relations between governments and non-profit organizations.

Kim Sawchuk is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies who, since the 1990s, has studied the intersection between aging and communication technologies. She also collaborates with engAGE and is the director of Ageing + Communication + Technologies (ACT), which brings together researchers and community partners to examine new forms of communications in networked societies.

What does empowered aging mean to you?

Kim Sawchuk: There have been lots of injunctions for older adults to be active, and a lot of work on healthy and positive aging, which is, of course, important. Empowered aging is about people sharing their experiences — good and bad — not only as bodies that need biomedical attention, but as contributing members of society at all stages of life.

Kim Sawchuk

Meghan Joy: Empowered aging means that individuals have agency over their experience. In particular, that older adults with diverse lived experiences have control over what well-being means to them as they age, and also in terms of the programs and the support that is available.

Has the public perception of aging changed?

KS: I think the pandemic was a shock for people in terms of the types of conditions we created and how we’ve abandoned older adults. In some senses, that’s the biggest shift I’ve seen because suddenly, there was an acknowledgment that we’ve really done a poor job of thinking about long-term care.

Before the pandemic I had to fight to explain to people why I focus on aging and technology that’s not about assistive devices for health purposes, but about everyday digital practices.

Why are community organizations so important for empowered aging?

MJ: Community non-profit organizations offer vital, human-centred personal supportive work that is deeply informed by the needs and voices of diverse older adults. These agencies check in on people, offer opportunities for social connection, and are increasingly filling gaps in government programs such as by transporting folks to appointments. That’s why engAGE not only brings together researchers from across the university, but is also really rooted in the community.

Sustainable, smart and resilient aerospace: The future of flying

Aerospace is a significant contributor to climate change, creating more than two per cent of global carbon-dioxide emissions. This is forcing the industry to build more efficient aircraft while also advancing electric- and hybrid-powered flight. Concordia’s aerospace facilities provide state-of-the-art technology where researchers can develop their next-generation projects.

Christian Moreau: “Canada is a global leader in thermal spray, and it’s because we have a very strong aerospace industry, in addition to mining and renewable energy — all sectors that can benefit from the advantages of spray coatings.”

As the Canada Research Chair in Thermal Spray and Surface Engineering, Christian Moreau is developing the latest materials to protect vital aircraft components and optimize efficiency. He is also a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Industrial Engineering.

Susan Liscouët-Hanke is an associate professor in the department working on developing tools and methods for the conceptual design of future aircraft, particularly on making them more environmentally friendly by consuming less fuel or by implementing technologies that reduce the carbon footprint.

How does your research contribute to more sustainable aerospace?

Christian Moreau: Using new materials can make engines lighter, but it’s also important that they are able to operate at higher temperatures. That way, you can get much more efficiency, which saves fuel and reduces emissions. Applying coatings on the surface is a way to get the best of both worlds. Canada is a global leader in thermal spray, and it’s because we have a very strong aerospace industry, in addition to mining and renewable energy — all sectors that can benefit from the advantages of spray coatings.

Susan Liscouët-Hanke

Susan Liscouët-Hanke: I focus more on the things you don’t see — all of the systems inside the aircraft that make it work. These include flight controls, as well as environmental systems that help protect against ice or keep passengers comfortable.

We are starting a project on hybrid-electric aircraft with a combination of typical engines that consume fuel, along with a battery system for different phases of flight. There are plenty of complicated systems fit into the small space of the aircraft and they need to be very light.

Why is Concordia in an ideal location for aerospace research?

CM: Montreal is the third-largest hub for aerospace in the world after Seattle and Toulouse. If we don’t take the lead, we will become followers, and a lot of other cities in the world are competing to increase their share of the aerospace industry. We see a lot of new technologies including artificial intelligence, electrification and hydrogen that are game-changers in the context of making aerospace greener, but they require a lot of research and development to be carried out in the coming years.

How are you collaborating with researchers from other disciplines?

SLH: We’re working on a project based in Europe called AGILE 4.0 that is developing methods and tools to collaborate between different research centres and companies based in Europe, Canada and Brazil. What is interesting about aircraft design is that it’s so multidisciplinary — no one alone can develop the technologies of the future.

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