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Thursday, July 25, 2002

  • Multi-million dollar think tank to open
  • Methane fuels UW research
  • Thursday news and notes
Chris Redmond

Commonwealth Games open in Manchester

Multi-million dollar think tank to open

[CIGI logo] Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of Research In Motion (RIM), announced a donation of $30 million for the establishment of a new global research centre this week -- the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). Deputy Prime Minister John Manley was also on hand at the event, announcing the federal government's intention to match the donation.

John English, faculty member in UW's history department, and a former Member of Parliament, is the CIGI's acting executive director. According to a news release, the CIGI's mandate will be "to produce expert analysis on international governance, as well as national and international policy recommendations." It will be the only such centre in Canada.

The CIGI will bring together international scholars, policy makers, and experts to study the global political economy, focussing on the restructuring of international governance, with particular emphasis on financial and economic institutions. It will draw on the academic expertise of UW and Wilfrid Laurier University, and on the region's expertise in information technology.

Of the reason for his donation, Balsillie said, "We are living in a knowledge-based economy, where the most successful individuals, companies, and nations are those able to capitalize on the right information. Our centre will help Canadians, and the world, make better sense of the global political and economic changes, and discover the best ways to manage those changes."

The CIGI will be housed in the former Seagram museum on Erb street in Waterloo.

Methane fuels UW research -- by Bob Whitton

There is no proof to date, but some scientists are speculating that an energy resource far in excess of all known alternatives -- petroleum, natural gas and coal combined -- may become available in the not too distant future.

It's there just waiting to be used, and some contend it is so vast it could take care of all our energy needs for hundreds of years in the future.

[ESQ bridge]
Photo by Barbara Elve
Campers' construction
Nikaya Snell, seven, navigates a suspension bridge which she and her fellow Engineering Science Quest campers built outside the Physics building. ESQ is a summer camp program that gives children the opportunity to explore science, math, and engineering.
That resource is methane, and while the total supply has not yet been measured, it seems almost limitless. Huge amounts in a stable form (methane hydrates) underlie the oceans and are found in coastal trenches and polar permafrost.

Methane is more environmentally benign than gasoline and other petroleum fuels burned in cars, trucks and aircraft -- or for that matter, the coal burned to generate electricity. If methane were used instead, the by-products would merely be water and carbon dioxide (CO2), neither of which is hugely harmful to the environment, although CO2 is a greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming.

A team of UW physicists is studying gas hydrates, the form in which the methane is most readily available. Team members include Bruce Torrie, a solid state physicist who has been working "at the boundary between physics and chemistry" for many years; Jamie Forrest, who has been using a quartz crystal "microbalance" to study polymers and more recently to probe the formation and dissociation of hydrate structures that are formed with xenon in ice films; Stefan Idziak, who is involved in X-ray spectrometry studies into what is happening at the surface of hydrate structures; and James Chan, a recent graduate of the chemical physics program.

Methane-related research is also being conducted by scientists in other countries, including Americans and Japanese, both of whom are doing studies with Canadians in the Mackenzie River Delta. A recent international conference on gas hydrates in Japan attracted 300 participants.

"The Japanese seem particularly interested in methane as a potential energy source," says Torrie. "Of course Japan has little alternative; it has almost no coal, petroleum or natural gas of its own."

It is known that methane gas (CH4) is generated when vegetation breaks down in compost or manure piles, for example. When such a breakdown occurs at the bottom of the ocean, high pressures and low temperatures are also involved. Methane hydrate looks like white ice but when hauled it to the surface of the ocean it bubbles as the methane is released, and some have called it "the ice that burns."

The methane can be released from this "ice" by bringing it to the surface of the ocean, or it can also be heated while it is still on the ocean floor, with the methane to be trapped and then pumped up. Still another alternative could be to pump carbon dioxide down to the ocean floor where it undergoes an exchange process with the methane. It is also possible to form the carbon dioxide hydrate directly from CO2 gas and water, so there are two ways of removing CO2 gas from the atmosphere and sequestering it at the bottom of the ocean.

Mapping of undersea methane resources throughout the world is currently under way using sonar techniques.

Torrie anticipates the cost of producing and shipping large quantities of methane could be fairly high, so it may be difficult to compete with existing energy sources such as petroleum at the moment. However, if petroleum, coal and natural gas prices continue to rise, and nuclear waste disposal problems continue to haunt us, methane could become an increasingly attractive alternative -- particularly if research underway at UW and elsewhere results in more efficient ways of collecting, transporting, or dissociating the methane hydrates.

Thursday news and notes

The interdisciplinary coffee talk society is hosting a discussion today on water quality and safety at 5 p.m. at the Grad House. The event is free. More information is available on the society's website.

Also this evening, a talk entitled World Peace: A Spiritual Issue by Rev. Paul Ellingham, chaplain at UW and WLU, and minister of Bloomingdale United Church. The event takes place in MC 4021 at 7 p.m., and is hosted by the Spiritual Heritage Education Network and Waterloo India Linkage.

Tomorrow night is Open Mic Night at the Grad House. The event begins at 9:30 p.m., and there is no cover charge. The announcement from the GSA says "bring your talents... bring your friends!"

The Maple Summer Workshop 2002 will be held in Waterloo from July 28-30. The conference program will include interactive tutorials, presentations, and sessions "that will appeal to Maple users of all experience levels and disciplines." Register online or contact Helene Chatterton for more information at hchatterton@maplesoft.com. UW faculty are eligible for a 25 percent discount off registration fees, by indicating their eligibility in the 'special requests' section of the registration form.

Avvey Peters


July 25, 1994: UW and the Bank of Montreal announce a "partnership" for research and training in software technology.

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