Virtual Bioenergy Symposium: June 10, 2020

Building on the momentum of our first two Virtual Bioenergy Symposium sessions in May, we are pleased to present our third Virtual Bioenergy Symposium on June 10 from 12:00-1:00pm MDT. The purpose of these sessions is to:

  1. Facilitate the transfer of research knowledge in the bioindustrial space
  2. Create networking and collaboration opportunities
  3. Keep graduate students and postdocs engaged during times of isolation

Sessions will be hosted on Zoom, and you receive the link to join once you register on Eventbrite. See you in June!

Register here.

For information on past sessions, visit our symposium archive page.



José Carlos Velasco Calderón
Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering
University of Alberta






“Investigating the Influence of DMSO on Brønsted Acid-Catalyzed, Condensed Phase Biomass Reactions Using Molecular Dynamics and Well-tempered Metadynamics”

It has been identified that solvent environment modifies the kinetics and thermodynamics of biomass reactions, and hence the formation of by-products. The objective of this research is to investigate the role of the aprotic co-solvent in the presence of a Bronsted acid catalyst in inhibiting the formation of humins. The reaction model is the dehydration of fructose to 5-HMF. The simulation systems consisted on fructose or 5-HMF in water-DMSO acid solutions. Molecular dynamics simulations were performed to analyze the preferential configuration of hydronium ion, DMSO and water molecules solvating fructose or 5-HMF. Additionally, well-tempered metadynamics (WT-metaD) simulations were performed to evaluate the relative stability of hydronium ion in the first solvation shell of the substrates compared to being in the bulk as a function of solvent composition. While for 5-HMF systems, DMSO inhibits the interaction between 5-HMF and hydronium ion. Free energy surfaces (FES) show that increasing DMSO concentration provides higher stability to the hydronium ion near fructose than in the bulk. Conversely, DMSO destabilizes the hydronium ion in the vicinity of 5-HMF molecules, as compared to the bulk. This is the first research that quantitatively compares the relative stability of the hydronium ion in bulk and near the functional groups in fructose and 5-HMF, as a function of solvent composition.

José Carlos Velasco Calderón obtained his B.E. (Hons.) Chemical Engineering at UNAM, Mexico. He completed an academic exchange semester at University of Stuttgart, Germany in 2018. He is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Alberta, Canada, and president of the Graduate Students Association of Chemical and Materials Engineering (CMEGSA) 2019-20.

José has previously worked in waste treatment by regenerating used lubricating oil by liquid mixtures extraction. Currently, his research area is computational catalysis & reaction engineering. He is studying the formation of by-products in the conversion of condensed acid catalyzed biomass to chemicals using force field based molecular dynamic, well-tempered metadynamics and density functional theory (DFT) calculations. The distinguished awards he has received during his undergraduate and graduate studies are Mitacs Globalink Scholarship 2017, ExxonMobil Scholarship for Research BEI 2018, Mitacs Globalink Graduate Fellowship Award 2019, Captain Thomas Farrell Greenhalgh Memorial Graduate Scholarship 2019 and BAL-UNAM Earth Sciences Award 2019. He is interested in being part of a positive social change and finding solutions to environmental and energy challenges.

Link to presentation (PDF format)



Dr. Mohd Adnan Khan
Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering
University of Calgary






“Coproduction of hydrogen and Value-Added Chemicals via Electrocatalytic biomass oxidation: Techno-Economic Investigations”

With the effects of climate change visible to us, governments around the world continue to transition away from fossil fuels. Biomass conversion into commodity chemicals is a promising strategy to reduce society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Electrochemical oxidation of biomass to value added chemicals with coproduction of hydrogen represents a new and promising approach to achieve a higher grade of sustainability in chemical processes. While the development of catalysts and reactor systems is still in its infancy, it is important to analyze the economic feasibility of such a process. In this study, we present the detailed techno-economic analysis (TEA) of a potential bio-based process to produce glucaric acid (GRA) from glucose. GRA is recognized by the US Department of Energy as a “top value-added compound”, because it is a key intermediate to produce biodegradable polymers, biodegradable detergents, and metal complexation agents. Using the TEA study, we discuss the effect of various economic parameters on the minimum selling price of GRA and establish performance targets such that if these targets are achieved, electrochemical oxidation of biomass can become a profitable option as part of the growing renewable energy infrastructure.

Dr. Mohd Adnan Khan is a materials scientist, currently working as a Research Associate at University of Calgary. He has over 9 years of R&D experience in academia and industry, working in areas of renewable fuels, photovoltaics and flexible electronics. He received his PhD degree in 2013 from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, specializing in developing polymer-based memory devices for flexible electronics application. Upon finishing his PhD, he joined Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), working in Corporate R&D, where he developed expertise in the areas of light harvesting, surface reactions, electrocatalysis and plasmonics. Prior to joining University of Calgary, he was a team leader at SABIC, where his group focused on developing photoelectrochemical devices and reactors for sustainable solar H2 production. He has published his research work as author/co-author of 24 publications in reputed journals and has 7 granted patents.

Link to presentation (via YouTube)

Virtual Bioenergy Symposium: May 27, 2020

While COVID may have changed the way we work and share research, it hasn’t stopped innovation in the virtual space – if anything, it has actually accelerated it! Our first session last week had attendees from all over the world, including Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East! This virtual format has made connecting with each other easier than ever, and we look forward to continuing the momentum with this recurring symposium series. 

As such, we are pleased to host our second Virtual Bioenergy Symposium on May 27 from 12:00-1:00pm MDT. The purpose of these sessions is to:

  1. Facilitate the transfer of research knowledge in the bioindustrial space
  2. Create networking and collaboration opportunities
  3. Keep graduate students and postdocs engaged during times of isolation

Sessions will be hosted on Zoom, with registration via Eventbrite to receive the link to join. We look forward to “seeing” you again at our next session!

Register here.



Kunbi Adetona
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary






“Diverting Residual Biomass to Energy Use: Quantifying the Global Warming Potential (GWPbio)”

When residual agricultural, forestry, or landfill biomass is diverted to a bioenergy use, the decision alters the CO2 load on the atmosphere compared to a ‘business-as-usual’ strategy that allows the biomass to decompose over time. To calculate the global warming potential of diverting residual biomass to energy (GWPbio), this study compared the atmospheric load associated with biomass decomposition versus combustion and calculated the atmospheric decay of annual pulses over a 100-year period. The calculated GWPbio ranged from 0.003 to 0.029 for agricultural residues which tend to decompose quickly. Diverting forestry residues to energy use were associated with higher GWPbio values (0.084 to 0.625) since their natural decomposition was much slower than agricultural biomass. In the case of lignocellulosic biomass diverted from landfills, calculated GWPbio values for their use as a bioenergy resource ranged from 0.058 to 0.971, in the latter case, approximating the GWP for fossil carbon emissions (1.0). The methodology described here highlights the need to consider the ‘business-as-usual’ decomposition rate for residual biomass when quantifying the climate change impact associated with diverting that biomass to bioenergy use. Of course, not included in these calculations are the methane emissions from anaerobic digestion that could be avoided by diverting biomass to energy use and the fossil fuel emissions that would be prevented from the use of biomass as an energy resource. A full accounting of the greenhouse gas implications of residual biomass diversion to bioenergy use would include these parameters as well as the product of bio-carbon emissions times the GWPbio.

Kunbi Adetona is a PhD candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary. Prior to commencing the PhD program, she worked as an Environmental Scientist with Tetra Tech EBA Inc. Kunbi is a Professional Agrologist with three years of experience, working on soil and environmental management projects, including Phase 1 and 2 Environmental Site Assessments and Greenhouse Verifications.

Kunbi has a Master of Science degree from the University of Saskatchewan. Her PhD research is examining biological solutions for energy and greenhouse gas management in Canada, she works under the supervision of Dr. David Layzell. She hopes that the implementation of strategic combination of biological solutions will significantly reduce GHG emissions, thereby minimizing the impacts of climate change.

Link to presentation (via YouTube)



Curtis McKnight
Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology
University of Alberta






“Price Considerations for a Second-Generation Biofuel Industry in Canada”

Prospects for a second-generation (i.e. cellulosic) biofuel industry in Canada are dependent on future prices. Because wheat straw could be an important feedstock for biofuel production in Canada, we use econometric time series models to explore Canadian wheat prices from 2008 to 2018. We investigate how Canadian wheat prices are related to three prices of importance to the existing first-generation ethanol sector: US corn, ethanol, and gasoline prices. There are several important results from our analysis. First, a stable relationship exists between all prices. A change to this relationship will have a lasting effect on wheat and ethanol price returns but will not affect corn and gasoline price returns. This result implies that second generation ethanol production from wheat straw could be subject to price changes in other related markets. Second, the historical relationship between wheat and ethanol price returns is small, positive, and stable. This result suggests that the economic viability of a second-generation biofuel industry in Canada will depend to some extent on the market performance of the existing first-generation ethanol industry. Furthermore, the link between wheat and ethanol markets is likely to become stronger if a second-generation ethanol industry develops. Third, a shock from events like economic crises and changes in agricultural production creates price return volatility in each market. Moreover, the volatility is transmitted between select markets. This result suggests that the financial success of second-generation ethanol production from wheat straw is likely to depend on price return volatility in related markets. The results from our analysis will inform investors looking to establish ethanol operations in Canada, and policymakers wanting to understand challenges that ethanol investors face.

Curtis McKnight is a MSc candidate in the Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. His current research focuses on applying economic models to investigate feedstock and product prices that are related to biofuel production in Canada. Curtis holds a BA (Honours) degree in Applied Economics from Queen’s University.

Link to presentation (via YouTube)

Virtual Bioenergy Symposium: May 13, 2020

The COVID crisis has certainly changed the world and driven people into isolation. However, the Biomass Energy Network believes that it is very important to keep the established momentum going despite these challenging times, and will continue to promote networking among stakeholders in the biomass-to-bioenergy space.

As such, we are pleased to announce our Virtual Bioenergy Symposium, occurring every 2 weeks starting on May 13 from 12:00-1:00pm MDT. The purpose of these sessions is to:

  1. Facilitate the transfer of research knowledge in the bioindustrial space
  2. Create networking and collaboration opportunities
  3. Keep graduate students and postdocs engaged during times of isolation

Sessions will be hosted on Zoom. We hope you will join us to continue these important conversations in this new virtual age!

Register here.



Dr. Jie Wang
Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science
University of Alberta






“Improving bioethanol productivities through the development of a self-cycling fermentation approach”

The development and use of biofuels can help secure energy supplies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ethanol is currently the most common commodity in biofuels. Cellulosic ethanol is the ethanol produced from lignocellulosic materials, the most abundant feedstock on the planet. Despite technological breakthroughs, worldwide, the cellulosic ethanol industry is faced with economic challenges. One of the bottlenecks we identified is the low ethanol productivity resulting from the current fermentation process that is operated in a batch mode.

To reduce production costs, a self-cycling fermentation (SCF) strategy was developed for ethanol production. SCF is a semi-continuous fermentation technique, where a real-time parameter is used to monitor the fermentation process; when stationary phase arrives, the system automatically harvests half of the culture volume for downstream processing, and refills the bioreactor with fresh medium to start the next fermentation cycle. In this work, an SCF system was successfully set up for ethanol production in a 5-L bioreactor. Under the automatic control of a gas flow meter, the fermentation process was operated for over 20 cycles. This results in a stable and robust ethanol production pattern, and more importantly, an improvement in ethanol volumetric productivity (the amount of ethanol produced by a cycle per working volume per cycle time) by over 35%, compared to batch fermentation performed under similar conditions. The increased productivity implies reduced operational and capital costs, which will help the cellulosic ethanol industry reduce production costs.

Dr. Jie Wang is a postdoc fellow in the Bressler lab. She is working closely with Cvictus Inc. to produce high-value animal feed through fermentation. This project integrates a coal gasification technology with industrial fermentation to produce single-cell protein. In the meantime, she has been actively training and mentoring students in the Bressler lab.

Dr. Wang received her PhD in 2020 January from Bressler lab. During the PhD study, she collaborated with experts from various fields, including microbiology, engineering, bioprocessing, electrical engineering, analytical chemistry, etc. This multi-disciplinary training enabled her to successfully build up an advanced fermentation strategy (self-cycling fermentation) using a 5-L bioreactor. As a result, a remarkable improvement in ethanol productivities was achieved, which has great potential to help reduce the capital and operational cost for ethanol production. In addition, her communication skills were recognized by several awards at local and International conferences.

Link to presentation (via YouTube)



Dr. Heng Zhao
Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering
University of Calgary






“Solar-driven Coproduction of Hydrogen and Value-added Chemicals from Biomass Photoreforming”

Concerns about increasing levels of carbon emissions, global warming and energy security have encouraged governments around the world to pursue alternative, clean energy strategies. Photocatalysis is a promising approach due to its renewable and sustainable energy input and mild reaction condition, and it has already demonstrated great potential for hydrogen production, carbon dioxide reduction, nitrogen fixation and biomass utilization. Direct photoreforming of biomass could enable valorization of various locally biomass wastes into high-value fuels including H2 and sustainable chemical feedstock, however, it has been challenged by the recalcitrant nature of biomass structure and the less-orientated photo-conversion pathways. Herein, simultaneously unveil biomass photoreforming mechanism and fine designing photocatalyst via rational design of light harvesting, charge separation and surface redox reaction all play crucial roles. In this talk, we will discuss our recent progress of band-gap engineering and p-n heterojunction photocatalysts design for biomass photoreforming.

Heng Zhao received his Ph.D. degree from Wuhan University of Technology majored in Material Science and Engineering in 2019. He is currently a GRI CFREF funded post-doctoral researcher in the department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at University of Calgary under the guidance of Dr. Jinguang Hu, Dr. Md Kibria and Dr. Stephen Larter. His research mainly focuses on the design and synthesis of functional catalysts for sustainable hydrogen and value-added bio-products co-production from biomass photoreforming.

Link to presentation (PDF format)

SPARK 2019: October 28-30, 2019

Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is hosting SPARK 2019: Carbon Positive at the Edmonton Convention Centre from October 28-30, 2019.

The Biomass Energy Network is excited to announce that our Scientific Director, Dr. David Bressler, will be moderating a breakout session on Tuesday, October 29 called Sustainability in Action: A Case Study in Collaboration. If you cannot attend in person, we will be webcasting the session live between 1:00-2:15pm MDT at the following link:

We will also be using the app to take questions from the audience. You can join the discussion by going to the Slido website or downloading the app, and entering #SPARK as the event code and selecting Salon 9/10 as the room. For detailed instructions to access, please check out this document.

This virtual conference is made possible by support from Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) and WestJet, in collaboration with the Biomass Conversion Division at the Mexican Petroleum Institute.


[YOU’RE INVITED] BEN Launch Event: May 23, 2019

Join us on Thursday, May 23, 2019 for the official launch of the Biomass Energy Network at the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel.

We will kick off with two expert panels followed by dinner and a social networking event in the evening. We look forward to bringing together many members of academia, government, and industry in the bioenergy community at this exciting event! Tickets available via Eventbrite.


Advanced Fuels and Biojet:

    Candice Paton – Executive Director, Clean Technology, Alberta Innovates (Moderator)

    Chris Tindal – Assistant Director, Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative

    Geoff Tauvette – Director, Fuel & Environment, Westjet

    Doug Hooper – Director, Policy & Regulation, Advanced Biofuels Canada 

    Dave Meyer – Senior Business Development Manager, LanzaTech

System Enablers for the Emergence of Biomass Energy Pathways:

    John Brown – ADM, Alberta Economic Development, Trade, and Tourism (Moderator)

    Steve MacDonald – CEO, Emissions Reduction Alberta

    Cécile Siewe – Director General, CanmetENERGY Devon

    Brett Purdy – Executive Director, CCITF Programs at Alberta Innovates

    Brian Ahearn – Vice President, Western Division, Canadian Fuels Association


12:30pm Registration

1:00-1:30pm Welcome

1:30-3:00pm Panel: Advanced Fuels and Biojet

3:00-3:30pm Coffee Break

3:30-5:00pm Panel: System Enablers for the Emergence of Biomass Energy Pathways

5:00-5:30pm Cocktails

5:30-7:00pm Dinner

7:00-9:00pm Social Networking Event


To get your tickets via Eventbrite, click here.

To book your hotel room at the Renaissance under our corporate rate, click here.

For information on the Route 747 bus service from Century Park to the airport, click here.

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