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Strategic Partnership Grants Target Area Descriptions

Return to Strategic Partnership Grants for Networks (SPG‑N) description
Return to Strategic Partnership Grants for Projects (SPG‑P) description

  1. Environmental Science and Technologies
  2. Information and Communications Technologies
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Natural Resources and Energy

Preliminary SPG‑N applications will be accepted in all four target areas defined below. In the network proposed, 80 per cent or more of the research must fall within one or more of the research topics listed under the target areas.

1. Environmental Science and Technologies

For SPG‑P only: NSERC and Environment Canada have entered into a three-year agreement (2013–16) whereby Environment Canada will fund or co-fund selected Strategic Projects in the Environmental Science and Technologies target area. Environment Canada will flag successful proposals for funding under its Environmental Damages Fund (EDF) program.

The EDF is a specified purpose account, administered by Environment Canada, to provide a mechanism for directing funds received as a result of fines, court orders, and voluntary payments to priority projects that will benefit our natural environment. More detailed information on the EDF program is available on the This link will take you to another Web site Environmental Damages Funds page.

Applicants for proposals that will be reviewed by the Environmental Science and Technologies selection panel will be contacted to confirm their interest in being considered for these funds and to obtain their consent for the sharing of application material with representatives of Environment Canada. Following the selection panel meetings, NSERC will contact applicants whose proposals were identified for EDF support to discuss dispositions for receiving project funds from NSERC and Environment Canada.

Note that Environment Canada representatives may attend selection panel meetings as observers and will have full access to funding applications during the meetings where consent has been attained. They will be required to sign NSERC’s This link will take you to another Web site Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement for Review Committee Members, External Reviewers and Observers.

The NSERC-Environment Canada agreement will be in effect for the 2015 competition.


Effective management of water resources and aquatic ecosystems presents many challenges both in Canada and worldwide. These challenges include protecting source water; ensuring the quality, quantity and sustainability of water supply; using water efficiently in anthropogenic activities; and optimizing water treatment and distribution. All of these challenges are complicated both by high energy costs and climate change. To meet these challenges will require research to enhance scientific understanding and capacity, and to develop innovative, cost-effective technologies and sound management practices. As the demand for water increases and the supply of water becomes less reliable, research will also play an essential role in informing and providing innovative solutions for policy and regulatory decision makers, as well as for companies, municipalities, governments and the public.

Improved scientific understanding and technological innovations may also provide significant commercialization opportunities. The global market both for water as a commodity and for water-related services is growing at an unprecedented rate. Canada has companies that hold leading positions in water disinfection and purification services, and that are strongly represented in the water consulting and engineering fields globally.

For the purposes of this target area, the following definitions apply:

  • “water” includes upstream and downstream freshwater, groundwater and downstream coastal ecosystems, as well as municipal and industrial supply and wastewater;
  • “anthropogenic activities” include urban land use, agriculture, fisheries, mining, oil and gas, forestry and manufacturing; and
  • “water systems” include collection (source water or wastewater), treatment (pre- and post-use), distribution and discharge.

Issues regarding water should not be considered in isolation. Researchers are encouraged to take an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to the challenges in this target area and, where appropriate, to include a component involving co-applicants from outside the natural sciences and engineering disciplines. Potential approaches could employ risk-based frameworks with regard to processes and relationships, or consider how various social, economic and political conditions may impact implementation of research results. Proposals that incorporate the investigation of the performance of science-based criteria and indicators in decision making and policy development are also of interest, but not a requirement.

Research Topics

(a) Enhancing Aquatic Ecosystem Services

Research in this research topic focuses on determining how human activities depend on and affect aquatic ecosystem services, as well as developing effective methods for protecting, maintaining and restoring aquatic ecosystems.

Researchers are encouraged to develop criteria for, and indicators of, the health of aquatic ecosystems, in order to help prioritize and clarify the trade-offs inherent in decision making processes. There is particular interest in developing criteria and indicators that can guide risk assessment, environmental policy and decision making on the impact of anthropogenic activities. This research may involve developing methodologies or models that better explore and describe how anthropogenic activities affect aquatic ecosystems and the services that they provide. It may also involve investigating the ability of various aquatic ecosystems to recover or be restored after disturbance, or the ability of urbanized aquatic ecosystems to provide necessary services.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • how climate change, land-use change and other anthropogenic activities affect aquatic ecosystems services;
  • how various aquatic ecosystems services depend on the health of those ecosystems; and
  • the cumulative effects of various stressors, and of interactions among these stressors, on the ability of aquatic ecosystems to provide services.

(b) Optimizing Water Use in Industry

Water is a crucial feedstock for many industrial processes, including oil and gas extraction, mining, agriculture and manufacturing. However, industrial water use can lead to contamination of surface and groundwater supplies.

Researchers are encouraged to develop new technologies, methods and analytical tools for treating industrial water and wastewater, and for remediating contaminated water for legacy or new and trace contaminants from industrial processes (such as pharmaceuticals and nanomaterials).

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • enhancing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of water treatment processes (including remediation);
  • analyzing the water-energy relationship within industrial processes, with a view to reducing water use;
  • nonpoint source contamination of surface and groundwater (for example from agricultural operations);
  • impacts of natural resource extraction and injection processes (such as oil and gas or mine tailings) on receiving water systems (surface and groundwater) and on aquatic ecosystem services; and
  • interactions of stressors in the environment (such as the cumulative effects of different industries on the same aquatic ecosystem).

Researchers who are considering applying under this research topic should read the context and research topics of the Manufacturing and Natural Resources and Energy target areas before selecting their target area and research topic.

(c) Ensuring Secure Community Water Systems

Urbanization poses specific challenges in water and aquatic ecosystem management that are particular to major cities. As well, northern, remote or rural communities also face distinct challenges towards satisfying public health, environmental and regulatory requirements for water and aquatic ecosystem management.

Technologies are required to enable the management of elements (such as energy, conservation, waste reduction and efficient use of capacity) associated with treatment, distribution, collection and discharge of water and wastewater.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

For urban communities:

  • development of technologies to treat legacy and/or new and trace contaminants;
  • development of new technologies or modification of existing technologies for water/wastewater treatment, water desalination/reuse/replenishment, managing water loss and managing storm water and infiltration;
  • cumulative effects and interactions of the stressors that urban areas place on watersheds and groundwater; and
  • source water protection of urban water supplies (including groundwater).

For northern, remote or rural communities:

  • appropriate technologies for aquatic ecosystem protection, water/wastewater treatment, water distribution and water management. Where applicable, proposals could integrate a component addressing the barriers to successfully managing and maintaining new water systems and solutions.

2. Information and Communications Technologies


Advances in information and communications technologies (ICTs) are changing the ways that Canadians communicate, share information and innovate. The global ICT market has caused development cycles to accelerate, thus shifting the profile of Canada’s ICT sector and making ICT services the prime engine for its growth. ICTs also enable many other economic sectors in Canada, where the potential impact of these technologies on economic development surpasses that of the ICT sector itself. Hence, in coming years, this industry will need to change its focus, becoming less an end in itself than a means to an end. The federal government has recognized the importance of ICTs for Canada’s economy as a whole and is committed to establishing a Digital Economy Strategy to improve Canada’s digital advantage.

Within the ICT sector, breakthroughs are needed in hardware, software and systems research. In particular, research is needed in areas that will strengthen the quality and capacity of Canada’s computing and communications infrastructure, which in turn will lead to development of new products and services.

From a broader perspective, the interface between the ICT sector and other economic sectors is an important setting for innovating and for applying the skills of highly educated Canadians. ICT researchers and designers must increasingly approach innovation from a systems perspective: as a chance to integrate technologies, solve problems and address challenges across multiple sectors of the economy. Overall, ICT systems and structures need to be designed around innovation’s new mantra - flexible, nimble, accomplished in a multi-disciplinary manner, as well as, providing accelerated speed-to-market.

In the fast-moving world of ICTs, a close partnership between academia and industry is essential to help focus research on the needs of future high-value niche markets. By communicating regularly with their industrial partner(s), university researchers will be able to validate their research goals and gain a better understanding of:

  • the ultimate market potential of their research;
  • the collaboration and resources that will be required to bring their innovations to market within the ideal time frame;
  • the technical and financial implications of their research; and
  • how the value of their research might be realized within 5 years.

Research in this target area will focus on integrated ICT solutions. Proposals must contain an explicit description of at least one potential future application of the proposed technology to communications or computing. For a proposal to be considered for funding, this application must be of demonstrable interest to the supporting organization(s).

Research Topics

(a) ICT Devices and Systems

To address the exponentially increasing requirements for information storage, processing and communication capacity, researchers must explore opportunities to create radically different devices and technologies and to integrate them into platforms for next-generation computers, communications, and sensor networks. The goals of such research may include higher device speeds, enhanced energy efficiency, enhanced functionality and development of new platforms such as quantum and molecular devices and systems.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • devices: sensors, actuators, fibres, MEMS, biochips, antennas, RF devices, terahertz devices; and
  • systems: programmable platforms, molecular electronics, quantum systems.

(b) Next-Generation Computing Platforms

The goal of this topic is to investigate the delivery of the next generation of computing platforms and services. Areas of investigation will include adaptive architectures and self-managing systems. Research must take the security, efficiency, speed, survivability and reliability of such systems into account. Of particular interest is the potential to support computing/data infrastructure systems for software application delivery.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • cloud computing (e.g., grid, desktop, immersive, Everything as a Service (EaaS));
  • adaptive architectures and self-managing systems; and
  • alternative approaches (such as biocomputing and quantum computing).

(c) Advanced Communication Networks

Future networks will need to be more ubiquitous and secure than they are today and support ubiquitous wireless coverage in a sensor-rich, sustainable, lightweight infrastructure environment. These networks will need to be unencumbered, so that they can support new, innovative applications that continuously push capacity and accessibility limits. The goal of this topic is to stimulate research on ubiquitous wireless, wireline, powerline and optical networks, at both the systems and the technology levels. Researchers are encouraged to focus on developing next-generation wireless and optical networks, while addressing broadband connectivity, spectrum efficiency, machine-to-machine connectivity and related issues.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • cognitive radio;
  • intelligent signal processing;
  • dynamic spectrum sharing;
  • enhancements in broadband capacity and speed;
  • unencumbered adaptive high-capacity networks; and
  • machine-to-machine (M2M) networks (e.g., sensor networks).

(d) Application/Software Engineering

Increasingly, software development and dissemination takes place within an ecosystem of frameworks, clouds and application programming interfaces (APIs) that form the basis of innovative software applications. The goal of this topic is to investigate interoperable software engineering methods and tools tailored to specific application domains, users and situations of use.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • application-specific software engineering (e.g., computer games, control and monitoring applications and Geographic Information Systems);
  • software certification (including fault tolerance, reliability, survivability, software development processes, formal verification and network redundancy);
  • interoperability (e.g., vertical handoff and seamless mobility);
  • software ecosystems (in other words, various software systems working in an integrated manner). This could include challenges in microapplication development, open source development and intellectual property rights management; and
  • service-oriented architectures applied in novel areas.

(e) From Data to Knowledge to Action

One of the biggest challenges in society is handling vast amounts of information. The goal of research on this topic is to turn data into knowledge that individuals, teams and organizations can use to improve their decision making and achieve their goals and objectives. Research in this area deals with visualizing and analyzing complex, evolving, heterogeneous and massive data sources.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • unstructured pattern recognition;
  • automatic translation;
  • search capabilities: intelligent, meaning-based search and retrieval; semi-structured and unstructured search;
  • data-driven inquiry (in other words, interacting with very large databases across disparate and/or federated data repositories); and
  • advanced applications in artificial intelligence.

(f) Human Interaction with Digital Information

The goal of research on this topic is to enhance users’ experience with and confidence in digital systems by investigating hardware and software systems that make data more accessible, understandable and useful. The emphasis should be on disruptive technologies that will dramatically change how people interact with digital information in their personal, social and professional environments.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • alternative user interfaces, such as multi-display environments, digital tables, multi-touch displays and other new technologies for digital interaction, including sight and/or voice-based, haptic, multimodal and hands-free technologies;
  • development of virtual and immersive environments, such as 3D, multi-view and CAD;
  • serious gaming (e.g., for training and simulation purposes); and
  • novel ways to handle security, encryption, identity management and privacy issues (e.g., homomorphic encryption).

3. Manufacturing


To compete successfully in the manufacturing sector in the global economy, Canadian manufacturers must create and develop high-value products and services based on unique differentiators. Canadian manufacturers must also keep abreast of, and have access to, state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, equipment and materials being researched and used elsewhere in the world, so that these advances can be adapted to the Canadian context.

Research in this target area will focus on:

  • a systems approach that puts the research in the context of a potential manufacturing process and path to commercialization;
  • advancements in manufacturing processes or material design that contribute to new and/or competitive products coming to market; and
  • increasing manufacturing productivity and flexibility, reducing energy costs and environmental impacts (operational improvements or integrated production systems for a broad range of manufacturing will be considered).

Research Topics

(a) Material Systems

The performance of materials can be improved by controlling and optimizing their chemical, biological and physical structure. Materials are commonly employed as part of a manufactured system comprising combinations of materials interacting mechanically, thermally, electrochemically, environmentally or through combinations of all of the above. Improving the functional performance of the overall system requires the development of materials, or combinations of materials, that can be integrated into systems with novel structure/property relationships.

Research proposed under this topic must focus on developing novel or improved monolithic or multi-material platforms that can be integrated into manufactured products to provide unique responses to end-use requirements or unique cost-reduction opportunities.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • novel biological structures, such as bionanoparticles (virus-like particles, liposomes, etc.);
  • microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) platform technologies applicable across several application areas, such as advanced functional materials development, micro-fluidics (either for semiconductor device cooling or for biomedical instrumentation realization); micro-opto-electromechanical systems (MOEMS) photonic interconnection capabilities between components/systems such as base semiconductor process development;
  • development of materials or structures that enable or provide enhanced catalytic performance;
  • development of smart materials and structures with properties that can be significantly changed in a controlled fashion by external stimuli;
  • materials used in batteries, fuel cells and other energy storage or energy conversion technologies;
  • light-emitting materials for low energy consumption, high light output (but low heat emission) and wavelength-specific applications (e.g., UV for sterilization, grow light for enhanced photosynthesis);
  • materials for industrial and medical lasers;
  • development or improvement of joining techniques and technologies;
  • engineered structural materials, e.g., ferrous, non-ferrous (magnesium, aluminum, etc.), structural foams, composites or functionally graded materials;
  • coatings: corrosion, erosion, damping, extreme temperature, self-healing or self-lubricating;
  • functional porous materials for carbon capture and storage; and
  • near-net-shape processes: casting, moulding, sheet metal, forging and sintering.

(b) Automation, Process Improvement and Inspection/Measurement

The goal of research proposed under this topic is to improve processes through automation, increased inspection/measurement efficiency or other aspects that will facilitate the design, analysis, efficiency and/or support of manufacturing facilities.

These improvements must lead to better productivity, space utilization, logistics, repeatability, process stability, cost effectiveness or quality control. Inspection/measurement improvements are expected to rely on resolution, recognition, accuracy and speed of data capture suitable for manufacturing environments.

The research should provide value-added impacts on existing manufacturing processes, preferably applicable across a range of end-market applications.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • process-integration techniques that streamline processes;
  • flexible, reconfigurable production lines and tooling and material manipulation;
  • intelligent sensors (vision, proximity, chemical, thermal, etc.) that can connect to closed loop control for automated process adjustment and pass/fail analysis;
  • robotics;
  • automatic defect recognition (ADR), destructive and non-destructive testing (NDT) and on-line chemical detection or analysis;
  • hardware and/or software development for image processing;
  • subsurface imaging;
  • laser acoustics; and
  • vibration modal analysis.

(c) Process and Product Modelling

Researchers are encouraged to exploit Canadian expertise to create modelling tools that enhance or enable the optimization of processes, materials or products. Validation of models with data relevant to industrial application is a critical aspect and should be included in the project scope and work plan.

The development of products or materials can be accelerated and optimized if models can be developed that describe the structure-property relationships and/or process-performance relationships in the system of interest. Continuous process modelling and simulation and discrete process models are of interest.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • inter-organizational system integration across the manufacturing enterprise;
  • use of process data for off-line or real-time process control and optimization;
  • fundamental or empirical models for structure-property relationships;
  • logistics modelling and optimization; and
  • modelling of manufacturing processes to enable the design of new systems or the optimization of existing systems with respect to product/process costs, quality, safety or environmental impact.

(d) Sustainable Manufacturing

Research under this topic should enable manufacturers of products and services to adopt a holistic approach that considers the impact of their manufacturing processes on the environment, from preliminary design and material selection, to plant design and waste minimization, to supply chain sourcing and distribution, and on through product use and ultimate product reuse/recycling. The research should also address the interplay between the social, economic and regulatory constraints within which every product or service must perform its intended function.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

  • product life-cycle assessment and/or eco-design (e.g., product design that increases the reusability and recyclability of the product);
  • replacing petroleum-based feed stocks with biomass to manufacture chemical intermediates and/or recyclable biopolymers;
  • the manufacture of low environmental impact construction technologies for residential and non-residential applications;
  • reducing manufacturing-plant energy consumption by increasing processing efficiency, improving process flows and fossil energy substitution;
  • eliminating hazardous chemicals and reducing waste generation in manufacturing processes;
  • value-added production from natural resources; and
  • low-carbon-emission processing.

e) Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, has been receiving renewed attention and is creating a renaissance in both commercial and academic activities. AM affects the way engineering design is done, enabling “distributed manufacturing”—decentralization of manufacturing capability from factories to offices and homes. AM also provides a way to manufacture highly complex, customizable and multi-functional production parts, enabling significant cost and in-use carbon savings. The goal of the research proposed under this topic is to stimulate innovation in additive manufacturing processes. 

Suggested research within this topic includes:

  • Mechatronics machine design to enable the next generation of AM technologies
  • AM process speed and repeatability improvement 
  • AM process closed-loop control algorithms and sensing devices, including cyber-enabled AM
  • AM in-line and off-line quality assurance/management algorithms and devices
  • Materials development, characterization and performance for AM
  • Design and topology optimization for AM
  • Validation, verification and certification of AM parts
  • Modelling and simulation of AM processes
  • Micro-scale AM processes for non-planar applications
  • Infrastructure and supply-chain impact of AM
  • Sustainability issues in AM
  • Novel-slicing algorithms to account for materials, lattices, colour and porosity
  • Waste control and material recycling strategies for AM processes

4. Natural Resources and Energy

Natural Resources


Research in this target area seeks to enhance the sustainable development and use of Canada’s minerals, forests and fisheries. This research is intended to generate innovative ideas and transfer knowledge and technologies so as to increase the competitiveness of Canada’s natural-resource industries and inform policymakers on the appropriate development and management of these sectors.

Applicants are encouraged to consider holistic, multidisciplinary approaches as an effective strategy for addressing the priority challenges identified.

Research Topics

(a) Understanding Sources of Supply and Exploration for New Resources

Opportunities to increase natural-resource supplies are limited, so there is a need to focus on new tools and techniques for identifying new supplies and for maximizing the use of existing ones.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

Minerals Sector

  • Exploration for strategic mineral commodities to secure domestic sources of key materials that are required for the next generation of energy-efficient products;
  • Poorly understood or under-represented mineral systematics for identifying opportunities to create new commodity streams;
  • Tectonic context and regional tectonic setting of mineral deposits as a driver for mineral exploration;
  • Exploration for remote, undercover and deep mineral deposits; and
  • Conversion of geoscience data into knowledge for mineral exploration.

Forest Sector

  • Improving the accuracy and precision of forest inventories while reducing costs and increasing speed of data acquisition;
  • Correlating ecological knowledge with remote-sensing technology to predict and quantify the fibre characteristics of trees at the forest-stand level;
  • Forest-renewal methods that maintain and support natural biodiversity while maximizing potential forest-site productivity; and
  • Genome mapping and breeding strategies in natural forest stands, and clonal management in fast growing plantations, for understanding physical and chemical fibre characteristics and forest stand renewal.

Fisheries Sector

  • Identification of strains, varieties and populations that may be especially well suited to withstand current and future environmental stressors and whose genetic diversity could be used to develop and enhance aquaculture and fisheries;
  • Key environmental factors for maintaining and improving fisheries and restoring high-value fisheries;
  • Effective methodologies and technologies to facilitate remote mapping of aquatic areas, aquatic habitat types, habitats supporting fisheries and species diversity; and
  • Alternate feed sources for expanded aquaculture operations.

(b) Optimizing Resource Extraction, Harvesting and Renewal

All activities that harvest natural resources—be they mineral extraction, forestry or fisheries and aquaculture—must be efficient and cost-effective. They must also minimize their environmental footprint and either mitigate their impacts on or restore the natural state of the environment in which they are carried out. These two complementary objectives can best be achieved through improvements in current technologies and implementation of new technologies that reflect state-of-the-art knowledge about the resource itself, the environment in which that resource is found and the end uses to which it will be put.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

Minerals Sector

  • Minimizing energy use in mineral extraction and mining and in the recovery of minerals from great depths, while also minimizing waste-rock inclusion and ensuring worker health and safety.

Forest Sector

  • Harvesting techniques and technologies that minimize negative impacts on the forest environment while promoting stand regeneration;
  • Harvesting strategies that support the segregation of trees or parts of trees having different fibre characteristics; and
  • Transportation systems to reduce the cost of hauling logs.

Fisheries Sector

  • New, cost-effective, environmentally friendly fishing gear and techniques and aquaculture production technologies, to improve ecosystem sustainability and better meet environmental standards;
  • Exploitation of potential new fisheries to maximize productivity and ensure sustainability of the resource; and
  • Developing new stock enhancement and management tools and improving existing ones so as to apply genomics and best practices to enhance biodiversity protection and restocking strategies.

(c) Enhancing Resource Conversion and Processing

The natural-resource sectors are critically dependent on the efficient, economical and environmentally sound conversion and processing of natural resources. Resource-processing methods should maximize the value of the resources, reduce waste and improve the employment and economic prospects of Canadians. Though the need for research on incremental changes is recognized, proposals must focus on major improvements or fundamental changes in resource processing that are required for Canadian resource-processing industries to remain sustainable and competitive.

Research within this topic will concern the primary conversion and processing of natural resources. Applicants for proposals that focus on secondary or tertiary conversion and processing should consider priority research topics listed under the Manufacturing target area. Accepted proposals will be limited to the following:

Minerals Sector

  • Methods and technologies for processing mineral resources (including smelting, refining and recycling them) in a way that minimizes use of energy, reagents and generation of wastes while maximizing recovery of useful products.

Forest Sector

  • Linking the characteristics of Canadian forest biomass to emerging economic opportunities and to the development and production of multiple products (such as biochemicals and other biomaterials) from a diverse biomass resource (biorefinery); and
  • Adding value to the primary conversion of forest resources into solid wood and pulp and paper.

Fisheries Sector

  • Identifying and developing new value-added products and by-products from fish species (including high-abundance, low-value species) and developing new technologies for producing these products and by-products.

(d) Improving Environmental Performance

Natural-resource exploration, extraction, processing and management activities must be reconciled with the environmental changes and impacts that they can entail. The negative impacts of these activities can be minimized through modification and adaptation of the methods and technologies used to carry them out. The risks of these impacts can be assessed and strategies for mitigating or remediating them can be developed from both specific and holistic perspectives.

Conversely, natural resources may be affected by environmental and anthropogenic changes that require resource-management practices to be adapted (for instance, climate change can alter the natural distribution of certain resources, thus changing the environmental conditions under which, and the methods by which, they must be managed).

Research within this topic will be limited to:

Minerals Sector

  • Analytical tools for identifying types of mineral deposits whose extraction may result in negative environmental impacts; and
  • Assessment and reduction of the environmental impacts of mineral exploration, extraction and processing operations and of closing decommissioned mines and mining facilities.

Forest Sector

  • Impacts of climate change on forest diversity;
  • New approaches to measuring environmental risk and uncertainty, given the growing complexity of forest management; and
  • New tools and technologies for measuring the environmental costs and benefits of different land-use strategies in terms of their impact on forest diversity.

Fisheries Sector

  • Contributions to the review of sustainable resources within a historic timeframe of no less than 30 years, for a long-term environmental forecasting approach;
  • Environmental risk-assessment models for watersheds or broader ecosystems, with emphasis on invasive species, pathogens and shifts in biochemistry;
  • Environmental impact mitigation strategies, and methods for dealing with key risks to fisheries and aquaculture (such as climate change and pests); and
  • Cumulative impact assessments and their ecosystem components, with emphasis on assignment of mortality and other impact values.



Canada is fortunate to have vast energy resources, including fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) that currently meet over 80% of its primary energy demand; uranium, used for nuclear power; and renewable energy sources such as biomass, hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, wave and tidal. Canada’s energy exports are a major driver of its economy, accounting for over 50% of its primary energy production. However, serious concerns regarding the environmental footprint (air, water, land) of Canada’s energy systems threaten the future health of the sector and its important contribution to the Canadian economy.

Canadian and foreign purchasers of Canadian energy resources are demanding that Canada’s energy systems be sustainable from an environmental, economic and social standpoint. Achieving such sustainability is a major challenge that will require transformational—not incremental—changes in the approaches, technologies and policies that enable and govern energy production and use. To address this challenge, researchers are encouraged to submit proposals to generate game-changing technologies and insights that will inform investment and policy decisions in industry and government and put Canada on the path to global leadership in the exporting of clean energy and related systems, products and technologies.

Research Topics

(e) Cleaner Fossil Fuels

Though efforts to develop and deploy cleaner alternatives to fossil fuel energy continue, the scale of the energy challenge and the advantages of hydrocarbons, in terms of cost and energy density, make it extremely likely that they will continue to dominate the global energy mix for many decades to come. But the adverse environmental impacts of fossil fuel use are serious and must be addressed.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction

As the world’s conventional reserves of oil and gas continue to decline, unconventional resources such as oil sands, tight gas and shale gas are becoming more important for meeting future energy needs. A major research effort is needed to develop and implement new technologies that will limit the adverse environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas extraction.

Researchers are encouraged to focus on:

  • improved methods of managing water in upstream oil and gas production, and especially of removing salts and organics from process water;
  • new oil sands tailings-management technologies that focus on improving the consolidation rate of fine tailings and the recovery of residual bitumen and other materials that have value;
  • improved methods for reclaiming lands impacted by fossil fuel development;
  • non-water-based extraction techniques for surface-mined oil sands to reduce the need for water and the impact of tailings;
  • breakthrough technologies for in-situ recovery and upgrading of oil sands or for converting oil sands into lower-carbon or zero-carbon forms of energy (methane, hydrogen, electricity) with minimal environmental impact; and
  • technologies and management strategies to optimize the clean exploitation of shale and tight gas resources.

Researchers who are considering applying under this research topic should read the context of the Environmental Science and Technologies target area and the research topic Optimizing Water Use in Industry before selecting their target area and research topic.

Carbon Capture and Storage

Canada has vast reserves of coal that can help to meet energy needs for a very long time to come. But in order to use this resource, Canada must develop safe, cost-effective technologies to prevent the waste carbon from accumulating in the atmosphere.

Researchers are encouraged to develop transformative technologies to:

  • reduce the cost of capturing CO2 from flue gas or air and converting it into a compressed stream of near-pure CO2;
  • convert fossil carbon into a non-gaseous form with low energy content so that it can be safely stored (e.g., mineralization); and
  • measure and monitor the movement of stored CO2 so as to enhance safety, reduce monitoring costs and improve public support for deployment of carbon capture and storage.

(f) Renewable Energy

Development and large-scale implementation of renewable energy is essential if Canada is to address the challenges of climate change and eventually replace declining fossil energy resources. Canada has the forest and agricultural resources plus the expertise to be a world leader in bioenergy production and biomass processing.

Research within this topic will be limited to:


  • Developing crops that will significantly improve the cost-effective production of bioenergy feedstocks on marginal (i.e., not suitable for food production) lands in Canada;
  • Selecting or engineering new strains of cyanobacteria or algae that hold promise as a cost-effective source of biofuels under Canadian conditions;
  • Developing technologies to enhance the energy or mass-density of biomass feedstocks, thereby reducing the costs of feedstock handling and transport; and
  • Adding economic or environmental value to the by-products of bioenergy conversion processes (e.g., glycerol from biodiesel production and biochar from biomass gasification or pyrolysis).

Emerging Sources of Renewable Energy

Exploiting natural energy from the sun, wind, earth and water improves the sustainability of energy-production systems and delivers benefits to the environment. These forms of energy are renewable for future generations and do not increase levels of carbon dioxide or other pollutants in the Earth’s atmosphere. Research is needed to expand the knowledge base regarding production and use of renewable forms of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal and ocean (wave and tidal) energy and to develop a wider range of technologies for these purposes. Emphasis will be placed on opportunities where Canada can compete as a global leader or where there are particular operational challenges in the Canadian context (e.g., cold climates). Solar photovoltaics, for example, may represent a major research opportunity for Canada, given its strengths in nanotechnology and materials science.

(g) Energy Use

Canada’s cold climate and long distances between population centres present unique challenges for efficient use of its energy resources. Canada can seize economic, environmental and social opportunities by advancing and accelerating R&D efforts to move towards a low-carbon economy.

Research within this topic will be limited to:

Toward Net-Zero Buildings and Communities

Transformative technologies are needed to improve energy production, conversion and conservation in buildings under Canadian conditions, with the goal of moving toward near-net-zero energy consumption. Researchers are encouraged to focus on the building envelope, equipment, control systems and novel materials. Innovative technologies and designs are also needed for small- and medium-scale (i.e., building- and community-scale) distributed heat and power.

Improving Performance of Motive and Stationary Power Sources

Researchers are encouraged to specifically address reliability, durability and efficiency in applications of batteries, fuel cells and natural gas or biofuel internal combustion engines (including hybrid configurations of these devices) as both motive and stationary power sources. Research proposals should address improvements in systems, sub-systems or components that can reduce costs and/or enhance performance and thereby reduce life-cycle costs and environmental impacts (e.g., more cost-effective materials or system components, reduced catalyst loading, lower assembly costs, increased charging rates and cycles, alternative hydrogen sources and integration into home and urban energy systems).

(h) Energy Systems

The magnitude of the global energy challenge and the importance of energy to virtually every sector of the economy demand both a systems-engineering and a systems-analysis approach.

Systems Integration and Optimization of Renewable and Low-Carbon Energy Sources

A systems-engineering approach is needed to design and assess energy systems that better integrate renewable or low-carbon energy sources for the production and storage of heat and power while also addressing societal needs for transportation and built spaces. The integration of technologies that can be deployed in remote communities is one area of focus. Studies are also required to explore the integration of energy technologies to reduce the environmental footprint of cities and industrial processes (e.g., studies dealing with industrial ecology).

Interactive “Smart” Grid

Researchers are encouraged to develop better analytical models and explore methods of improving the efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint of the national power grid. Examples include integrating centralized and distributed energy sources, using secure technologies, active load monitoring, dispatching, fault limitation and power quality control.

Energy Storage Systems

Canada’s capacity to store energy is currently an underdeveloped component of its energy-management capabilities. Researchers are encouraged to develop transformative technologies for high-capacity, high-efficiency storage of heat, electricity, hydrogen or other energy carriers.

Assessing Transition Pathways - Energy Systems Analysis and Modelling

The transition from today’s configuration of fuels, transmission systems and end-use applications toward a sustainable energy future is a complex, long-term process. To provide a better understanding of the transformations that will be required in Canada’s energy systems, researchers are encouraged to focus on analysis of the transition pathways. This research will explore the systems-wide aspect of the technological, environmental and socio-economic policy implications, e.g., the implications of the widespread deployment of new transportation or stationary energy technologies, new energy storage technologies and zero-net energy communities. Expected research outputs will include definitions of promising transition pathways, the time dimensions of the transition, changes in market share and the predicted environmental impact of various future energy scenarios. This research will be based on energy systems modelling and may include technology assessments and life-cycle assessments of new technologies.

People Discovery Innovation