Emerging Leaders in Chemical Engineering

The third annual Emerging Leaders in Chemical Engineering plenary session is a prestigious event intended to showcase the personal perspectives of leading early-career researchers in 10-minute TED-Talk-style presentations. Participants are expected to highlight their vision of opportunities and big challenges in their respective fields, discussing strategies for success and their views on where research is moving in the next 5 to 10 years.

2019 Emerging Leaders in Chemical Engineering


Joule Bergerson, MCIC, University of Calgary

Joule BergersonJoule Bergerson is an Associate Professor in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department and the Centre for Environmental Engineering Research and Education in the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary and a Canada Research Chair in Energy Technology Assessment. Dr. Bergerson received her Ph.D. in a joint program of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. To date, her work has addressed fossil fuel derived electricity, oil sands development, carbon capture and storage, energy systems for low carbon communities, renewable energy and energy storage technologies. Project researchers on her team work with scientists, engineers and members of the business community who are developing new energy technologies, to develop and refine techniques for prospective life cycle assessment. These techniques help prioritize research and development activities, by identifying technologies – or optimal combinations of technologies – that provide particularly large life cycle benefits.

Assessing Emerging Technologies for Innovation

Recent global developments suggest an imminent and significant energy system transition. The relative competitiveness of carbon mitigation technologies in the energy sector has been transformed by such factors as increasingly ambitious climate change commitments (e.g., COP21), technology innovations (e.g., energy storage technologies), and rapid cost reduction in several low carbon technologies [e.g., photovoltaic (PV) systems], while others have yet to achieve their potential [e.g., carbon capture and storage (CCS)]. In the face of these changes, engineers must not only develop new energy technologies that lower environmental impacts at competitive costs, but more efficient systems to manage and integrate emerging technologies and processes. Carbon mitigation technologies that promise to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from the energy sector add further complexity to the economic, environmental and social tradeoffs under consideration. Current research in this area uses individual assessment techniques that often fail to capture the full life cycle (LC) of a technology, both over its lifetime and with respect to upstream/downstream activities within the supply chain.

At the same time, life cycle assessment (LCA) analysts are increasingly being asked to conduct life cycle-based systems level analysis at the earliest stages of technology development. While early assessments provide the greatest opportunity to influence design and ultimately environmental performance, it is the stage with the least available data, greatest uncertainty, and a paucity of analytical tools for addressing these challenges. While the fundamental approach to conducting an LCA of emerging technologies is akin to that of LCA of existing technologies, emerging technologies pose additional challenges.

In this talk I will present a set of case studies and insights derived from more than 10 years of development and application of new techniques to assess energy technologies. This includes discussion of: a) detailed modeling of the technology from a full environmental and techno-economic LC perspective; b) treatment of the unique uncertainties inherent in emerging technologies; c) consideration of the economic, policy and social conditions in which the technology will be deployed; d) coordinated guidance on the use of tools that are appropriate for particular technologies at specific stages of development; and e) a discussion of the insights delivered. These analyses deliver technical assessments, methods, models and open source tools that consider a broader set of impacts in a consistent manner. Enhanced decision-making results from better information about the potential to improve both techno-economic and environmental performance of energy systems. Specifically, evaluating technologies at an early stage, and throughout the development cycle, will help to prioritize research and development, improve process designs, ensure that the goals of innovation are achieved (e.g., GHG reductions targets), and help to avoid potential unintended negative consequences (e.g., large investments in new technology pathways that ultimately deliver costs and environmental impacts that leave society worse off.


Daria Boffito, MCIC, Polytechnique Montréal

Daria BoffitoDaria C. Boffito is Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal since 2016, whereby she is the head of the Process Intensification and Heterogenous Catalysis (EPIC) research group. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Intensified Mechano-Chemical Processes for Sustainable Biomass Conversion. She received prestigious Canadian and International prizes, including the NSERC Banting post-doctoral fellowship, the PBEEE FRQNT scholarship, GreenTalents2012 (German govt.), and The Australia Awards Endeavour Research Fellowship (2011, Australian govt.) Besides biomass conversion, her research interests include sonochemistry, heterogeneous catalyst design, photocatalysis, drug delivery, and water treatment. Prof. Boffito is very active in the field of scientific communication. She co-authored one book on how to redact scientific papers, posters and presentations, as well as a series of 21 articles in the Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, which also include bibliometric studies. Prof. Boffito actively collaborates with Canadian companies in the field of oil and gas, material synthesis and biomass conversion. In the last 6 years she published more than 70 papers in scientific journals (including 21 articles on scientific communication), 8 book chapters, 1 book on scientific communication, and she is inventor on 3 patents. She counts more than 70 communications at national or international conferences.

Process Intensification: Producing More with Less

The chemical industry’s volume is expanding. Projections forecast the global chemical market  to outgrow the increase in GDP, reaching a volume of EUR 5,600 billion in 2035 [1]. Together with the escalation in the volumes of existing goods and new chemicals and biochemicals brought to the market, the amount of by-products, including greenhouse gases, increases. Manua Loa observatory has recorded the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere since 1958: it correlates with World population growth as well as fossil fuel consumption [2]. Green technologies based on cleaner energy sources such as biofuels, hydroelectricity, wind and natural gas are a global priority. Their implementation cannot only rely on existing industrial infrastructures but needs new resources and space. This represents a limit to the increase in the production capacity of existing chemical plants and to the development of new technologies. There is the need to find innovative methods to drastically increase the efficiency of chemical and biochemical processes. Process Intensification (PI) refers to new technological strategies that are able to reduce dramatically the size of a chemical plant so as to reach a production objective. PI still struggles to find a widely accepted definition, but the insiders agree that it targets order of magnitude improvements to manufacture chemicals by retooling existing facilities into innovative, smaller ones. By relying on four approaches (by structure, by energy, by synergy, and by time), which can be either adopted individually or combined, PI aims at reducing chemical processes to their intrinsic reaction rates by short-circuiting mass and heat transfer resistances [3]. PI targets both equipment (e.g. spinning disk reactors, rotating packed bed reactors, microchannel heat exchangers, etc.) and methods (e.g. ultrasound, microwaves, reactive distillation, reverse flow reactors, etc.). Designing new catalysts that increase the intrinsic reaction rates is not considered a way to target PI, because it is neither a method, nor an equipment, but rather an appoach by “material design”. However, finding synergies between PI and catalysis is a way to tackle both the extrinsic and intrinsic reaction rates at the same time. Finding these synergies also offers the opportunity to innovate [4].

In this talk, the philosophy behind Process Intensification will be presented along with the approaches by structure, energy, synergy and time to achieve it. The presenter will also focus on the semantics of Process Intensification and on the synergies between Process intensification and heterogeneous catalysis.

[1] Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, CHEMICALS 2035 – GEARING UP FOR GROWTH, May 2015 (www.rolandberger.com)
[2] Trevisanut C., Jazayeri S.M., Bonkane S., Neagoe C., Mohamadalizadeh A., Boffito D.C., Bianchi C.L., Pirola C., Visconti C.G., Lietti L., Abatzoglou N., Frost L., Lerou J., Green W., Patience G.S., Micro‐syngas technology options for GtL Can J. Chem. Eng. 2016, 94, 4, 61–622
[3] Van Gerven, T., Stankiewicz, A. Structure, Energy, Synergy, Time—The Fundamentals of Process Intensification. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2009, 48 (5), 2465–2474
[4] Boffito D.C., Van Gerven, T.,Process Intensification and Catalysis, Reference Module in Chemistry, Molecular Sciences and Chemical Engineering, Elsevier, 2019, 1–16, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780124095472143434?via%3Dihub


Benoît Lessard, MCIC, University of Ottawa

Benoit LessardBenoît Lessard leads the Lessard Research Group at the University of Ottawa, which focuses on the development of novel carbon based electronic devices through material design and synthesis and device prototype engineering. The group has projects in the development of flexible solar cells, organic light emitting diodes (OLED) for highly efficient displays and ultra-selective biosensors. In May 2015 Prof. Benoît H. Lessard was appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering at University of Ottawa, and was promoted to Associate Professor in May 2019. He was awarded the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Advanced Polymer Materials and Organic Electronics, 2018 Ontario Early Researcher Award and the 2015 Charles Polanyi Prize in Chemistry. Prof. Lessard was also awarded one of the 2017 Emerging Leaders of Chemical Engineering Plenary Presentations at the 67th Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference (Edmonton, AB) and named a 2018 J. Mater. Chem. C Emerging Researcher. Since 2008, Prof. Lessard has published 73 peer reviewed journal articles, 14 patent applications, 1 book chapter and presented his work over 76 times at international and national conferences. Prior to joining the University of Ottawa, Prof. Lessard completed an NSERC Banting Fellowship at the University of Toronto studying crystal engineering and OPV/OLED fabrication and obtained his PhD (2012) from McGill University in Polymer reaction engineering.

Enabling the internet of things through the development of carbon based electronics

Miniaturization of electronics is ushering in a new era of how humans interface with machines. The internet of things represents the connectivity of the world we live in with others through computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data, hopefully enriching our lives. Wearable and implantable sensors can augment and relay vital environmental or biometric targets such as perspiration rate and pH, heart beat, blood glucose level, or even carbon monoxide levels in the room.  These factors could be measured continuously to help us know when we should leave the room, go to the hospital or even how to maximize athletic performance and training. These sensors will need to be flexible and bendable for integration into cloths or implanted into skin.

Carbon based electronics, also known as organic electronics will facilitate this transformation due to their inherent bendability compared to brittle conventional silicon semiconductors. This substitution carries several advantages: 1) low manufacturing costs, due to solubility of organic molecules, these materials can be printed using conventional printing techniques which are much less intensive then inorganic processing; 2) can easily be implemented onto flexible substrates, the organic semiconductors can be printed onto plastic and are inherently less brittle than inorganic crystalline materials; 3) and can be molecularly tuned for high sensor selectivity, organic molecules can easily be functionalized with a reactive site that will preferentially bind with a specific gas or analyte. For these reasons organic electronics have already started penetrating the market and are poised to continue. Among the most notable commercialization is the use of highly efficient organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) for thin phone or television displays by Samsung, LG and even Apple and many more.

The Lessard Research group focuses on the development of novel functional organic materials and polymers for use in next generation organic electronics. The group has projects that span the development of inexpensive flexible solar cells to polymer based biosensors. We strive to develop orthogonal processing techniques which are overcoming many of the challenges associated to making multi-thin films devices. From synthesis to device fabrication and prototype evaluation, our group can study the subtle yet crucial cross disciplinary aspects which are often overlooked by researchers that only focus on only the chemistry or the physics. Working with Canadian companies that manufacture organic electronics and some that utilize the final sensors, we are striving to bring these technologies to market and accelerate their mainstream adoption.


Jinfeng Liu, MCIC, University of Alberta

Jinfeng LiuJinfeng Liu received the Ph.D. degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2011. Since 2012 he has been with the University of Alberta, where he is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering. His works in the general areas of process systems and engineering. His primary research objective is to develop computing technologies for smart and sustainable manufacturing and production using systems, computing and engineering principles. His current research focus is on the development of enabling modelling, estimation and control methods to address the great challenges in closed-loop smart agricultural irrigation for water sustainability. He has published 3 monographs, 1 edited special issue, over 100 journal and conference papers. He currently serves on the editorial boards of the IFAC Journal of Process Control and Control Engineering Practice. 

Meeting the Challenges of Water Sustainability: The Role of Process Systems Engineering

Water is essential for our daily life and is at the core of sustainable development. It is inextricably linked to climate change, agriculture, food security, health, equality, gender and education [1]. Water supply crisis has been consistently recognized as one of the greatest global risks by the World Economic Forum (e.g., [2]). Population growth is the major factor causing the global water supply crisis [2]. Water management is not a trivial concern, especially as food and water are inextricably linked.

Agricultural irrigation consumes about 70% of the global fresh water withdrawals [3]. As population growth continues, 60% more food will be needed to satisfy the demand of more than 9 billion people worldwide by 2050. However, in many regions (even the ones in water-rich countries like Alberta, Canada), water allocated to irrigation is largely capped [4]. The irrigation water-use efficiency worldwide is low (around 50% to 60%) [5]. New technologies for more efficient irrigation need to be developed; otherwise, water scarcity will become a global issue in the near future.

In the current agricultural irrigation practice, the amount of water to be irrigated and the time to apply the irrigation are determined in advance based on irrigators’ knowledge. The actual conditions in the field are generally not considered in determining the irrigation amount and time. From a process systems engineering (PSE) perspective, the current irrigation practice is an “open-loop” decision making process. It is well recognized in process control that open-loop control is not precise.

A “smarter” approach to agricultural irrigation is to close the decision-making loop to form “closed-loop” irrigation. In the closed-loop system, sensing instruments (e.g., soil moisture sensors, evapotranspiration (ET) gauge, thermal cameras) are used to collect various real-time field information (e.g., soil moisture, ET, temperature) regularly. The various field information is then fused together to get estimates of the entire field’s conditions. The estimated field conditions are then fed back to an adaptive control system. The adaptive control system calculates the best irrigation commands for the next few hours or day based on a field model, the estimated field conditions, local weather forecast as well as other pre-specified irrigation requirements. Due to significant nonlinearities, uncertainties, and very large sizes of the fields, there are many great challenges that need to be addressed.

We have been collaborating with different partners (including sensing instruments provider, sprinkler manufacturer, farmers, and government agency) to realize this revolutionary closed-loop smart irrigation vision. I will share my views on the role of process systems engineering in this closed-loop smart irrigation vision, the great challenges and opportunities in modelling, sensing, and control of irrigation systems. I will also explain why a multidisciplinary approach is needed to address this problem and discuss the research trends for the next 5 to 10 years.

[1] UN Water. World water development report, 2015.
[2] World Economic Forum. Global risks 2015, 2015.
[3] FAO. AQUASTAT website, 2016.
[4] Government of Alberta. Agriculture and forestry annual report, 2018.
[5] FAO. Climate change, water and food security, 2008.


Adam Donaldson, Dalhousie University
Jan Haelssig, Dalhousie University
Ian Jobe, Chemical Institute of Canada