Accelerated materials innovation for clean fuels - call for proposals

A cleaner, more sustainable Canadian energy and chemical industry through accelerated materials innovation.

1. Program overview

In support of Canada's goal in attaining its 2030 emissions targets, the National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Materials for Clean Fuels and Artificial Intelligence for Design Challenge programs are launching a call for proposals. This call aims to enable collaboration between leaders in academia and industry to catalyze the discovery and development of materials that can assist in decarbonizing Canada's heavy emissions sectors such as oil and gas, petrochemical, fertilizers, etc.

The Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program focuses on the development of new materials for the renewably powered production of chemicals and fuels for heavy-emission industries (oil, gas, petrochemical, fertilizer, cement, steel, etc.). Specifically, it targets the development of new catalyst, membrane and reactor materials for electro, thermo and photocatalytic conversion of captured carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into hydrogen and/or other renewable hydrocarbon base molecules. The program uses machine learning and robotics enabled accelerated materials discovery to synthesize, test, characterize and scale new materials faster than ever before.

The Artificial Intelligence for Design (AI for Design) Challenge program develops and provides AI technologies and capabilities to accelerate discovery, research and development, and innovation processes. The AI for Design Challenge program advances algorithms, methods and datasets to assist engineers, researchers and scientists with design and scientific discovery.

The Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program, hosted by the Energy, Mining, and Environment Research Centre, and the Artificial Intelligence for Design Challenge program, hosted by the Digital Technologies Research Centre, together leverage expertise from across the NRC.

The NRC is Canada's largest federal research and development organization. Our mission is to have an impact by advancing knowledge, applying leading-edge technologies, and working with other innovators to find creative, relevant and sustainable solutions to Canada's current and future economic, social and environmental challenges.

2. Call objectives and scope

This call consists of 2 streams (discovery and development) of technology research and development intended to have a strong and demonstrable potential to achieve a cleaner, more sustainable Canadian energy and chemical industry through materials innovation. Under these streams, the NRC will collaborate with and provide funding to academic researchers, research organizations and industrial partners to facilitate the discovery and adaptation of these technologies for use and adoption by stakeholders, and facilitate their implementation.

This funding call focuses on advancing materials research and development in 3 strategic areas:

  • CO2 conversion – Using renewable energy to convert CO2 captured from point sources or the atmosphere into valuable fuels and chemical feedstocks
  • Clean H2 production – Reducing the cost of low-carbon hydrogen produced from renewable energy
  • Accelerated materials discovery – Combining robotics, artificial intelligence and high-throughput experimentation to accelerate the rate of materials discovery

Projects under the strategic areas of CO2 conversion and clean H2 production span the technology readiness level (TRL) scales from 1 to 6, including discovery of new catalysts to the integration of these materials into devices and systems. Accelerated materials discovery encompasses platform building and multi-disciplinary projects such as advanced materials characterization, machine learning algorithms and robotics for materials discovery, and techno-economic / life cycle analysis models.

3. Eligible projects

Only projects which improve the sustainability, productivity and global competitiveness of the Canadian carbon capture, utilization and storage, and hydrogen sectors or that demonstrate an acceleration in materials discovery will be considered.

Projects must:

  • include either a materials component or an artificial intelligence / machine learning component applied to materials discovery/application
  • align with at least 1 of the program's 3 strategic areas: CO2 conversion, clean H2 production, and/or accelerated materials discovery
  • meet the requirements of the targeted program stream listed below

Project streams

The projects will address 1 of 2 streams of technology readiness level (TRL):

  • Discovery stream: TRL 1 to 3, as a partnership between the NRC and academia or other research organization.
  • Development stream: TRL 4 to 6, as a partnership between the NRC and a Canadian small or medium-sized enterprises (SME) and academia or other research organization.

Projects under the discovery stream will be primarily focused on platform technologies under the accelerated materials discovery strategic area. Project under this stream should demonstrate that they are of sufficient novelty and scale to meaningfully affect Canada's carbon footprint and/or achieve commercial readiness for implementation in a practical setting within less than 10 years.

Projects under the development stream will be primarily focused on application technologies pertaining to CO2 conversion or clean H2 production.

Example of project areas

The projects from both streams should aim at, but are not limited to, demonstrating 1 or more of the following:

  • Applied research to further the fundamental understanding of zero-carbon fuels and chemical production, including electrochemistry and photo-catalysis.
  • Development of new algorithms and applications of artificial intelligence for the accelerated discovery of new materials to renewably convert CO2 or produce low-emissions hydrogen.
  • Discovery, development and advanced characterization of new or novel materials and components, including catalysts, electrodes and membranes to improve devices for the production of zero-carbon fuels and chemicals.
  • Advanced methods for the production, characterization and analysis or classification of materials or components for zero-carbon fuels and chemical production using high-throughput methods such as advanced modelling, artificial intelligence-augmented methods, and materials acceleration platforms.
  • Use of advanced system-level modelling for production or process design, particularly to increase cost effectiveness of hydrogen- and carbon-utilization technologies, including the use of techno-economic and lifecycle assessments of zero-carbon fuels and chemical production pathways in the context of Canadian energy systems.
  • Prototyping and integration of catalyst, membrane and reactor materials into new device configurations for hydrogen production and carbon utilization.
  • Solutions for integration of zero-carbon fuels and chemical production into the Canadian energy system.

4. Eligible funding recipients

Collaborators working with the NRC who are eligible for funding under this call include:

  • Discovery stream:
    • Canadian and internationalFootnote 1 academic institutions
    • Canadian and internationalFootnote 1 non-profit research organizations
    • Indigenous governments and representative organizations
  • Development stream:
    • Canadian and international academic institutions
    • Canadian and international non-profit research organizations
    • Indigenous governments and representative organizations
    • Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises

Applicants must be either an academic researcher, research organization or an SME (less than 500 employees), working in partnership with an NRC researcher.

Applicants are invited to consult the Best Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research guide.

5. Eligible costs

Eligible costs may include:

  • salaries for highly qualified personnel working on the project activities
  • research support costs: direct costs incurred in the implementation phase of the project and may include consumable materials and supplies, equipment rentals and rent. For example, facility or equipment rental costs required specifically for the execution of the project.
  • reasonable costs (relative to price paid) for research equipment, including: testing tools, instruments and computer equipment and secure equipment, and information technology costs, including high-performance computers and secure servers
  • fit-up costs for facilities of eligible recipients for the proposed equipment during the implementation phase, which is defined as the portion of the project that encompasses acquisition, delivery, installation and commissioning of the equipment
  • costs related to installation, commissioning and testing of equipment during the implementation phase, namely salary costs, student stipends, contractors' and consultants' fees, travel costs and accommodations
  • expenditures on transportation, accommodation and meals incurred by the applicant in undertaking the project
  • amounts invoiced to the applicant by a contractor for services rendered relating directly to the project (professional services fees)
  • expenditures that cannot be identified and measured as directly applicable to carrying out the project, (indirect costs) though these have been incurred necessarily during the project to conduct the recipient's general business up to a maximum of 10% of total eligible costs

Costs that will not be covered include:

  • the purchase of land, leasehold interest in land or the payment of property taxes 
  • any portion of costs, including HST/GST/PST subject to refunds, rebates or credits
  • costs incurred by the NRC

6. Funding and support

Funding will be provided by the NRC's National Program Office using the Collaborative Science, Technology and Innovation Program (CSTIP) terms and conditions. CSTIP is intended to position the NRC as a collaborative platform that uses science excellence to tackle Canada's most pressing challenges. As such, projects supported under this initiative benefit from NRC assets in place (special-purpose research facilities, scientific expertise and networks) and financial assistance in the form of non-repayable grants or contributions. Financial assistance will go to the nominated principal applicant. For more information on available funding please consult the frequently asked questions about grant and contribution funding for collaborators.

The program is planning to make available up to $7,000,000 (CAD) over 3 years to support projects under this call. The projects funded under the discovery stream are expected to be situated between $50,000 and $250,000 per year per project and the development stream to be between $250,000 and $750,000 per year per project, shared between the recipients.

Stacking provisions and cost share

The stacking provisions and cost share for projects under this call vary by stream:

  • Discovery stream: The maximum limit of the total Canadian government assistance (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal assistance for the same eligible costs) should not exceed 100% of the total eligible costs of the project. The maximum NRC cost share will not exceed 100% of total eligible project costs.
  • Development stream: The maximum limit of the total Canadian government assistance (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal assistance for the same eligible costs) will not exceed 100% of the total eligible costs of the project. The program will generally support up to 75% of a recipient's total project costs. Exceptions may be made to provide up to 100% where the recipient can demonstrate that there will be no commercial benefit to the recipient as a result of the project.

7. Application process and timelines

The NRC is committed to a consistent, fair and transparent project-selection process in order to identify, select and approve the allocation of funding to projects that best fit the objectives of the collaborative call.

Expressions of interest will be assessed based on the criteria provided in Annex A, with only the most promising projects moving on to full project proposal (FPP). The program may request supplementary information at various points in the review process. FPPs will undergo a peer-review process.

Applicants that are invited for the submission of a FPP will receive notification with the required templates and information to be completed. The applicant must provide all mandatory information in order to be considered for funding. Please note that a request for a FPP cannot be considered as a funding commitment from the Materials for Clean Fuels or Artificial Intelligence for Design Challenge programs.

Key dates and deadlines

  • May 2, 2022: Call opens
  • June 30, 2022: Expression of interest submission deadline
  • August 15, 2022: Invitations for a full project proposal sent out by the NRC
  • September 30, 2022: Submission deadline for the full project proposal
  • October 30, 2022: Notification of final results
  • Fall/Winter 2022: Earliest project start date

Expression of interest (EOI) preparation

Completed EOIs with required attachments are to be submitted to the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program no later than 8 pm ET on June 30, 2022 at Subject line: Materials for Clean Fuels EOI proposal.

Through the EOI, the applicants will have to provide the following information:

  • Applicant information: Including primary contacts, mailing address, organization information.
  • Project information: Sector, focus area, project type, project details, letter of support, project timeline(s).
  • Budget and partners: Total program amount requested, all anticipated financial and non-financial partners, federal research centre support (if applicable).
  • Project summary: Methodology, project team, alignment with scope, addressing a gap, innovativeness, uptake potential, environmental impact, economic and/or social impact.

In addition to the project outline, project teams must submit:

  • an abridged curriculum vitae (CV) for the academic principal investigator (PI), the NRC PI, and Canadian SME PI. The project team must also include CVs for any other key members of the team. The CVs must be a maximum of 4 pages (letter size 8"1/2 x 11"). The abridged CV must clearly indicate the individual's current affiliated organization and their status within that organization.
    • All CVs must be saved together and submitted in a single PDF.
  • the NRC PI must provide evidence of NRC research centre support for the submission by means of a letter or a PDF copy of an electronic communication (email) from their corresponding director of research and development.

An applicant may withdraw its EOI at any stage of the evaluation process by notification in writing via email. Applicants must submit an EOI to be eligible to submit a proposal for further funding consideration.

To obtain a copy of the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program EOI form, to submit an EOI, or for additional information, please contact the program at

Full project proposal stage

The most promising projects from the EOI stage will be invited to submit a FPP which will be evaluated by an external peer-review committee.

The FPP form and further guidance will be made available to the selected project team.

Peer review

A representative of the NRC's National Program Office will perform an administrative review of the full applications to validate that they are complete and ensure that the proposed project team is still eligible for funding. Incomplete submissions or submissions that do not meet the requirements will not proceed to further assessment. Missing information or documents will not be requested and applications received after the submission deadline will not be considered. Any additional documents submitted that are not required will be removed from the full proposal before sending to the peer-review committee for assessment.

The evaluation of the full proposal will be solely based on the information and documents submitted.

  • The peer-review committee will be formed of subject-matter experts who are members of the scientific community and will assess the scientific and overall quality of full proposals.
  • Full proposals will be assessed by the Materials for Clean Fuels advisory committee and representatives from the AI for Design program as well.

Due diligence assessment

All successful applicants passing the FPP stage will undergo a due diligence assessment, which will include an evaluation of the project's finances, technical risk and team risk. The NRC may request that applicants provide additional information to support the due-diligence evaluation. All applicants undergoing due diligence will be notified whether or not their project passes the due-diligence assessment. Following due-diligence assessment, applicants whose projects pass the due-diligence assessment will be invited to work with the program to draft, sign and execute a funding agreement.

Funding agreement

After receiving the notice of funding approval, applicants will need to enter into a funding agreement with the NRC. If a funding agreement cannot be finalized within a reasonable timeframe, funding may be reallocated to other projects.

8. General terms and conditions

Commitment to EDI and GBA+

Project teams must clearly demonstrate their commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) in their research applications, including composition of their project teams, research methods, analysis and knowledge-mobilization plans. Consideration of EDI and inclusion of a plan for GBA+ analysis will form part of the proposal-scoring criteria. Undertaking GBA+ and critically considering factors related to EDI adds valuable dimensions in research, improves the quality, social relevance and impact of the research and may take the research in a new direction. EDI and GBA+ considerations should influence all stages of research or development processes, from establishing priorities and building theory to formulating questions, designing methodologies and interpreting data.  Applicants are invited to consult the Best Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research guide.

Ethics and the responsible conduct of research

Any individual or organization that receives funding must demonstrate the highest standards of research ethics and scientific integrity. This includes a declaration by the PI or project administrator, on behalf of the research team and their organizations, that there are no real or apparent conflicts of interest that could influence the application and evaluation processes. This also includes the commitment to comply with any other ethics and integrity rules that may be applicable given the location where the research will be conducted. Each research team member must respect the ethical rules and responsible conduct of research policies of the NRC (see file here)

Sharing permissions

The Clean Growth Hub

The Clean Growth Hub is a whole-of-government focal point for clean technology focused on supporting companies and projects, coordinating programs and tracking results. Within the full project proposal (FPP) form, applicants will be asked whether they provide permission for the NRC to share their application with the Clean Growth Hub. This will enable the program to provide to projects the opportunity for maximum exposure and guidance across other federal funding programs or providers.

The Clean Growth Hub is an interdepartmental organization with member departments and agencies including:

  • Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
  • Natural Resources Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Transport Canada
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • Global Affairs Canada
  • The Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada
  • The National Research Council of Canada
  • Business Development Bank of Canada
  • Export Development Canada
  • Sustainable Development Technology Canada
  • Canadian Commercial Corporation

Should you consent, the information you provide may be shared across federal departments/agencies, including but not limited to the departments and agencies represented in the Clean Growth Hub, with the potential to assist you in determining which federal programs/supports best suit your needs. Pursuant to paragraph 20(1) of the Access to Information Act, the Clean Growth Hub will not publicly disclose any information without permission.

Other federal and provincial co-funders

In order to facilitate co-funding, the NRC is working in partnership with other funding organizations across Canada. By giving the NRC the authority to share your proposal with other federal and/or provincial/territorial funders, you are allowing the NRC to explore possible co-funding opportunities. The NRC will not share proposals without formal consent.

Proactive disclosure

The applicant acknowledges that the NRC must comply with the Government of Canada's guidelines on the Proactive Disclosure of Grants and Contributions Awards, which require that the NRC publish information about this expression of interest (EOI). Published information may include, but is not limited to, identity of the applicant, project title, project summary description and project objectives. The applicant acknowledges that the NRC may elect to publish the required information on its website.

9. Annex A: EOI selection criteria

The EOI application will be assessed based on the following 8 criteria. While each criteria will be equally weighted in the evaluation process, considerations will also be given to regional diversity and distribution across streams and strategic areas.

  1. Methodology
    Describe how the project will be carried out including a high-level description of the tasks and methodology.
    • When answering this question, consider the following:
      • Does the project have a well-developed methodology?
      • Does it describe how the project will be carried out including a high-level description of the tasks and methodology?
      • Is the methodology logical and viable?
  2. Project team and resources
    Detail the roles, capability and capacity of your researchers/organization and any collaborators to undertake the work over the duration of the project and provide continued support at completion.
    • When answering this question, consider the following:
      • Do the project manager, technical/scientific team and partner organizations have the ability or capacity to deliver the project over the lifetime of the project?
      • Does the team have the required expertise to perform this project?
      • Does the team have a history of collaboration?
      • Is there a clear distribution of roles and input required from the different partners?
      • What is the percentage of work distribution among the different actors on the team?
  3. Alignment with scope
    Provide a clear statement of how the project addresses the objective and the priorities of the scope.
    • When answering this question, consider the following:
      • Does the project align with the scope (the program and the identified focus area)?
  4. Addressing a gap
    Provide a clear statement of the technology and knowledge gap(s) that the project will address and explain how it/they will be addressed by this project.
    • When answering this question, consider the following:
      • Does the project address a significant gap, with rationale, which could potentially lead to further advancements, demonstrations or commercial deployment?
  5. Innovativeness
    How is the proposed project innovative or novel? Provide context on similar projects already being undertaken in Canada and elsewhere and describe how this project is different.
    • When answering this question, consider the following:
      • Is the project sufficiently novel/innovative?
      • Will the project produce a clear advancement of the proposed technology?
  6. Uptake potential
    What are the anticipated key products (e.g. knowledge kit, codes and standards, intellectual property, prototypes, business case or feasibility of a demonstrated technology), who are the anticipated receptors of the products in Canada and abroad, and what is the replicability or uptake potential of the project?
    • When answering this question, consider the following:
      • Should the project be successfully completed, are there clear opportunities for future uptake and replication within Canada?
  7. Environmental impact
    Describe the potential environmental impact(s) should the project be successful.
    • When answering this question, consider the following:
      • Should the project be successfully completed, are their environmental impacts to be considered and do they address the overall environmental objectives of the program?
  8. Economic and/or social impact
    Describe the potential economic and social impact(s) should the project be successful. (e.g. reduced costs, new revenue streams, job creation, public confidence support etc.)
    • When answering this question, consider the following:
      • Are the proposed economic and/or social impacts of the project significant and do they address the economic goals of the program?