Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program plan

The Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program will develop transformative technologies to sustainably transition Canada's energy and chemical industries to a low-carbon economy.

Why we exist

Canada needs to reduce 716 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions per year to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Electrification and energy efficiency alone is not enough to meet our targets. Scalable technologies to produce zero-emission industrial chemicals and transportation fuels do not currently exist.

Our mission is to collaborate with leaders in academia and industry to catalyze the discovery and development of materials for early-stage, high-risk technologies to decarbonize Canada's oil and gas and petrochemical sectors.

Long description follows
The Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge Program will focus on materials to close the carbon loop by developing technologies to convert renewable electricity, carbon dioxide, and water into fuels and chemicals.

What we are aiming to do

The mission-driven Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program is focussed on advancing high-risk, high-reward technologies to produce feedstock chemicals and fuels from air and water rather than from fossil-based resources.

Working with the best in Canada from academia and industry, it will catalyze development of materials for renewably-powered CO2 conversion and hydrogen production using artificial intelligence and robotics to accelerate this discovery.

By the end of its 7-year mandate, the program aims to deliver significant outcomes across 3 master project program areas. It will accomplish the following objectives:

  • Discover a new broad range of cost-effective catalysts and membranes for fuels and chemical feedstock production
  • Scale up and demonstrate carbon dioxide conversion technology
  • Reduce the cost to make, use, move and store hydrogen
  • Publish experimental and computational databases and machine learning tools for catalyst material discovery

Our research activities

  • Artificial intelligence and robotics for materials discovery
  • Catalyst design and synthesis
  • Membrane design and synthesis
  • Device development and prototyping
  • Advanced characterization and spectroscopy
  • Technoeconomics and lifecycle assessments

Areas of focus

The program will focus on the following 3 areas:

Carbon dioxide conversion

Carbon dioxide conversion will focus on developing new catalyst materials that can efficiently convert captured carbon dioxide (either from the air or from industrial flue) into renewable fuels and chemical feedstocks such as syngas and ethylene.

Industrial-scale hydrogen production

Hydrogen production will support new technologies, such as water electrolysis and methane pyrolysis, that can produce hydrogen for industrial use while emitting less carbon dioxide than the industry standard—steam methane reforming.

AI-accelerated materials discovery

AI-accelerated materials discovery will combine robotics, artificial intelligence and high-throughput experimentation to accelerate the discovery of new catalyst materials.

Program timeline

The program will run for 7 years from 2019-2026 and follows a funnel approach whereby the number of projects in the program decreases and the amount of investment per project increases over time. The goal is to advance technologies as fast as possible from a low technology readiness level (TRL).

Foundational investments

The NRC has established key collaborations with a number of partners to provide foundational investments in technologies that will be essential for the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program's capacity to deliver on its aims. These include:

NRC facility in Mississauga - Photo: Phil De Luna