Addressing the climate crisis might seem like a daunting task, but collaboration between experts is a necessary step to addressing big challenges.
Through the Environmental and Related Technologies Hub (EaRTH District), Trent Forensic Science and Environmental and Life Sciences professor Dr. Sanela Martic is leading the Electro-EaRTH project, which is bringing together leading researchers from four postsecondary institutions to find clean, green energy solutions as alternatives to fossil-based petrochemicals.
“To find answers to some of our big questions around cleaner energy, waste reduction, and recycling pollutants, we cannot work in a silo,” says Professor Martic. “The members of our team all contribute knowledge in very specific areas to see if we can make current processes faster and greener, to contribute to the research space, and to get industry partners interested in finding better energy alternatives.”
Professor Martic is working with Dr. Brad Easton from Ontario Tech University; Dr. Ruby Sullan from University of Toronto Scarborough; and Dr. Padmaja Shastri from Centennial College.
Prof. Martic’s work focuses on converting chemical pollutants, such as industrial byproducts, into reusable value-added chemicals in greener ways. She is doing this through electrochemistry, a process that uses less harsh, non-traditional chemicals and produces less waste. Dr. Easton uses electrochemistry methods to create new fuel cells through alcohol oxidation. Dr. Sullan contributes to the team with her work creating microbe-driven energy using bacteria in fuel cells. Dr. Shastri is an expert in microbiology, microbial fuel cell making, and measuring the power generated through these cells.
“We meet regularly to get a sense of how we can integrate each other’s work into our ongoing projects and teaching,” explains Prof. Martic. “For example, Prof. Sullan and Prof. Shastri are collaborating to create better fuel cells by understanding the role of microbes. The next layer is to add the materials that Prof. Easton is creating to make it even more efficient, and on my end, we're going to use Prof. Easton's material to speed up our processes, as well as determine how microbes interact with device surfaces.”
Broadening student perspectives
Central to the Electro-EaRTH project is providing cross-institutional learning opportunities for students. Prof. Martic and her students have visited partner labs and hosted project partners and they participate in online webinars and workshops, lab demos, and in-person research exchanges. Through the project, there will also be an opportunity for paid summer research positions for both undergraduate and graduate students, and the research team is exploring the co-supervision of graduate students.
Another key outcome of the Electro-EaRTH project is curriculum development, incorporating knowledge gained into existing courses and lab work. Prof. Martic and her students hosted an Electro-EaRTH Research Day at Trent in July, where participating students showcased their research through posters and presentations.
“Through our ongoing collaboration and exchange of ideas, students get to see what these partner institutions do, and expand their knowledge and understanding in a broader field,” explains Prof. Martic. “I think it's so beneficial because one lab can only show them so many things. We only have our own expertise, our own space. Through these exchanges, students have the opportunity to be trained in methods and instrumentation used in other labs, adding new skills that will enrich their CVs and future careers.”