Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

A photo of a two researchers looking at composite materials they are studying

UBCO professor Abbas Milani and doctoral student Tina Olfatbakhsh use X-ray computed tomography to capture high-resolution 3D images of composite materials to study their internal structure.

Researchers at UBC Okanagan have come up with an easier way to examine the complex structure of fibres and multiscale materials, helping to ensure newly developed composites won’t fail under excessive loads.

Using materials informatics and machine learning, the team has uncovered a new way to analyze the effectiveness of state-of-the-art fabric composites used in aerospace, construction, automotive and sports industries.

The complex structures and configurations of these composites—while making them more durable and functional—are challenging to analyze, explains Dr. Abas Milani, a Professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering and founding Director of the Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute.

Fabric composites are interwoven materials that provide a lightweight, stronger and often more formable alternative to simpler one-dimensional composite materials, he explains. Understanding the relationship between the geometry of these materials and their microstructural properties helps engineers to build a composite based on how they want the material to perform in the real world.

“For example, if we want the wings of an aircraft to resist specific high shear forces, building a composite material with a particular microstructure will help us achieve that,” he explains.

The UBC research team, including doctoral student Tina Olfatbakhsh, was able to connect the images of the fabric material structure to its mechanical property through the use of smart technologies and machine learning.

“Experimental or numerical modelling techniques are effective tools, but they are time-consuming and require expensive devices or high-power computers,” says Olfatbakhsh, co-author of the study. “They also often assume the material geometry to be perfect, although, in the actual manufacturing process, textile composites can have many different internal complexities like waviness, voids and even fibre misalignment. This complicates matters significantly.”

The proposed method enables researchers to capture the details in the material microstructure by advanced X-ray imaging techniques and making predictions about the material property only based on the images. This information can also be fed into a large materials database.

This database is a good opportunity to exchange knowledge with scientists around the world to prevent doing repetitive tests and analysis, explains Olfatbakhsh. Now, whenever they need a specific performance, they know which material arrangement to choose using this database.

Olfatbakhsh is the lab manager of the Composite Research Network’s (CRN) Okanagan Node. CRN is a collaboration of academic and industry partners that support the composites industry in Canada and beyond.

“As manufacturers develop more innovative composite materials that are formulated at the micro-scale, our testing needs to keep pace so we can ensure the integrity and strength of these new microstructures,” says Dr. Milani, principal researcher at CRN’s Okanagan Node. “Here at CRN, we are using X-ray computed tomography to non-destructively capture high-resolution 3D images of composite specimens to study their internal structure.”

Olfatbakhsh says the new approach is accurate, effective and applicable to existing manufacturing processes.

“By streamlining the analysis using machine learning techniques, we are making great strides towards a framework for smart, data-driven design and optimization of woven fabric composites,” she adds. “Our findings are a promising step forward for the smart design of next-generation tactile composites, especially in prominent industries like aerospace and transportation.”

The research was published in Composites Science and Technology, and funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Batteries on display

A bank of lithium-tellurium batteries is tested at UBCO’s Advanced Materials for Energy Storage Lab.

UBC Okanagan researchers have teamed up with a BC company to create a smaller, more powerful battery than what’s currently available. The collaboration with Fenix Advanced Materials of Trail, BC, is helping researchers in UBCO’s Advanced Materials for Energy Storage Lab design and develop much improved state-of-the-art batteries. The latest published research is part of a $2-million initiative between Fenix, Mitacs and UBC Okanagan. The research investment strengthens Canada’s position in emerging solid-state battery innovation and accelerates electric vehicle (EV) deployment and renewable energy opportunities, says Dr. Jian Liu, an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering. “Advancements in solid-state batteries are propelling the EV industry forward along with the added benefit of advancing emerging devices in medicine and communications,” explains Dr. Liu. “All-solid-state, lithium-tellurium batteries enable higher energy output with an improved safety rating inside a smaller form-factor, thereby expanding its possible applications.” In order for a battery to work, it needs to store chemical energy and convert it into electrical energy. The process involves an electrochemical reaction that transfers electrons from one electrode to the other through an external circuit, while ions move inside the battery. While rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the most popular on the market, Dr. Liu and his research team are confident they can make one that is smaller and more powerful than current existing battery technologies. The key ingredient for this research is tellurium, a by-product of copper, iron and other base-metal-rich ore bodies. It has attracted the attention of researchers because it has high electrical conductivity and a high volumetric capacity. The collaboration with Fenix will ensure Dr. Liu and his team have the materials to conduct their research. “Fenix is very excited and fully committed to this collaboration by committing $1-million over the five-year project. We will also contribute many of the critical high purity metal by-products, like the tellurium and indium needed for this research,” says Don Freschi, Fenix Advanced Materials CEO. “The ultimate goal will be to commercialize these new batteries and continue collaborating with UBCO on many new clean technologies.” It’s not just about making a better battery, it’s also about helping the planet, says Dr. Liu. Transportation accounts for 25 per cent of greenhouse gases emissions in Canada. The adoption of EVs along with improved batteries could have a profound impact on reducing those emissions. “The added benefit of using tellurium is that manufacturers are reusing a mining waste product,” says Dr. Liu. “The BC Interior has a wealth of these raw materials which bodes well for developing and manufacturing of next-generation lithium-tellurium batteries within a circular economy.” The latest test battery includes a flexible gel polymer electrolyte that allows lithium ions to move between lithium anode and tellurium cathode. This results in a quasi-solid-state lithium-tellurium battery that has improved performance compared to lithium-sulphur and lithium-selenium batteries. “The high purity of the tellurium along with the mineral’s overall attributes makes it ideal as a rechargeable battery material,” says Dr. Liu. Dr. Liu holds a Principal’s Research Chair in Energy Storage Technology at UBC Okanagan where he leads the Advanced Materials for Energy Storage Lab. He and his research team continue to fine-tune the lithium-tellurium battery configuration to fully develop safe and high-performance solid-state lithium-tellurium batteries. The latest research was published in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science. It was supported by the Mitacs Accelerate Program, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation, BC Knowledge Development Fund and Fenix Advanced Materials.
Two researchers are holding up a battery sample

UBCO doctoral student Yue Zhang holds up a sample of tellurium, while Dr. Jian Liu shows a tiny and powerful disc battery that uses the mining waste product.

A graphic that says Life Raft Debate What: Fourth annual Life Raft Debate Who: UBC professors debate to win a seat in a time machine and change history When: Wednesday, January 26, beginning at 7 pm Venue: Online, virtual event Once again, UBC Okanagan professors are being called upon to share their expertise and help save the world. But this year, it involves going back in time to right the wrongs of humanity. The annual Life Raft Debate is a fun way to showcase the talents of professors by using an “end-of-the-world” premise, explains Lyndsey Chesham, Society of Scholars Program Assistant and a fourth-year microbiology student. The professors must do their best to sway the audience to earn the last seat on the life raft. However, this year it’s a seat in a time machine. “For this year’s debate, humans have made an irrevocable mistake leading to our demise,” Chesham says. “Our only option is an experimental time machine capable of sending someone on a one-way trip to the first known human civilization.” The catch? There is only one seat in the time machine. Not only must the time traveller win the debate, they must—without any modern technology—be able to influence society to not make the same mistakes. It’s up to them to prevent the downfall of the human race. “Our traveller must assert the importance of their discipline in order to lead the ancient society, fix the mistakes of the past, and lead us to a brighter, more promising future,” adds Chesham. “But we must also question if it is even worth sending anyone back at all. It’s up to our audience to decide who we send, or if we even bother.” Competing for the chance to time travel include chemistry’s Dr. Tamara Freeman, creative writing’s Michael V. Smith, engineering’s Dr. Vicki Komisar, psychology’s Dr. Liane Gabora and management’s Tamara Ebl. Associate Dean of Research Dr. Dean Greg Garrard will play the role of devil’s advocate, suggesting no one deserves to go back in time. After all the words are spoken, the audience—using Zoom technology—will decide if someone does go back and restart society. And who it will be. “The Society of Scholars brought this student-led event to UBCO to give students a chance to get to know their professors through the scope of a light-hearted and fun event,” adds Chesham. “Our debaters get very passionate and it is wonderful to see the professors speak about their life’s work so enthusiastically.” New this year will be opening remarks from UBC President Santa Ono and closing remarks from UBCO’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal Lesley Cormack. The Life Raft Debate takes place Wednesday, January 26 at 7 pm. It is a free, virtual presentation and follows with a question and answer session. To register or find out more, visit: students.ok.ubc.ca/life-raft
Researchers examining a sample

UBC Okanagan Assistant Professor Dr. Sepideh Pakpour, along with student researchers Enrique Calderon and Rita Lam, examine a sample beside the natural light experimentation chamber. Their research suggests light through smart windows can work as a natural disinfectant against many illnesses including E.Coli and methicillin-resistance Staphylococcus aureus.

Daylight passing through smart windows results in almost complete disinfection of surfaces within 24 hours while still blocking harmful ultraviolet (UV) light, according to new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus. Dr. Sepideh Pakpour is an Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. For this research, she tested four strains of hazardous bacteria—methicillin-resistance Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa—using a mini-living lab set-up. The lab had smart windows, which tint dynamically based on outdoor conditions, and traditional windows with blinds. The researchers found that, compared to windows with blinds, the smart windows significantly reduce bacterial growth rate and their viability. In their darkest tint state, Dr. Pakpour says smart windows blocked more than 99.9 per cent of UV light, but still let in short-wavelength, high-energy daylight which acts as a disinfectant. This shorter wavelength light effectively eliminated contamination on glass, plastic and fabric surfaces. In contrast, traditional window blinds blocked almost all daylight, preventing surfaces from being disinfected. Blinds also collect dust and germs that get resuspended into the air whenever adjusted, with Dr. Pakpour noting previous research has shown 92 per cent of hospital curtains can get contaminated within a week of being cleaned. “We know that daylight kills bacteria and fungi,” she says. “But the question is, are there ways to harness that benefit in buildings, while still protecting us from glare and UV radiation? Our findings demonstrate the benefits of smart windows for disinfection, and have implications for infectious disease transmission in laboratories, health-care facilities and the buildings in which we live and work.” The pandemic has elevated concerns about how buildings might influence the health of the people inside. While particular attention has been paid to ventilation, cleaning and filtration, the importance of daylight has been ignored. According to research shared in a recent Harvard Business Review, office workers are pushing for “healthy buildings” as part of the return to work and consistently rank access to daylight and views among their most desired amenities. “Our buildings need to go beyond sustainable and smart to become healthy and safe environments first and foremost,” says Dr. Rao Mulpuri, Chairman and CEO at View, the company partnering with UBC for this research. “Companies are grappling with how to bring their people back to the office in a safe way. This research provides yet another reason why increased access to natural light needs to be part of the equation.” The research was sponsored with joint funding from View Inc. and the Canadian government through MITACS, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. The results of the research are particularly important for laboratories and health-care facilities. Sterile spaces are critical in labs, where sensitive materials must be protected from UV radiation and environmental contamination. Extensive studies have shown that pathogenic bacteria and fungi can persist on inanimate surfaces for prolonged periods, leading to disease transmission. This is especially concerning in health-care settings, says Dr. Pakpour, where health-care-associated infections and outbreaks are often linked to contamination of curtains, windows, medical devices and other high touch surfaces despite current cleaning protocols. “With the rise of antimicrobial resistance, antibiotics are no longer a silver bullet in treating health-care-associated infections, which cause tens of thousands of deaths in the US each year,” says Dr. Tex Kissoon, Vice Chair of the Global Sepsis Alliance, UBC Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair in Acute and Critical Care for Global Child Health. “The potential for daylight to sterilize surfaces and avoid these infections altogether is promising and should be factored into health-care facility design.” Dr. Pakpour presented her findings earlier today at the international Healthy Buildings Conference, organized by the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate. The research paper will be published shortly in Life Sciences and can be accessed at: biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.01.14.476401v1 “Passive environmental strategies, like allowing daylight through windows without blinds, can help keep the risk of infections down,” says Dr. Pakpour. “Our findings demonstrate the benefits of smart windows for disinfection, and have implications for infectious disease transmission in laboratories, health care facilities and the buildings in which we live and work.”

About Mitacs

Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

About View

View is the leader in smart building technologies that transform buildings to improve human health and experience, reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, and generate additional revenue for building owners. View Smart Windows use artificial intelligence to automatically adjust in response to the sun, increasing access to natural light and unobstructed views while eliminating the need for blinds and minimizing heat and glare. Every View installation includes a cloud-connected smart building platform that can be extended to reimagine the occupant experience. View is installed and designed in over 90 million square feet of buildings including offices, hospitals, airports, educational facilities, hotels and multifamily residences. For more information, please visit view.com.
A woman enters her bank details while shopping online.

UBCO research has determined that during the pandemic, online grocery shopping habits have changed considerably, but only for certain demographics. Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

It’s mid-January, it’s cold and blustery outdoors, but the kitchen cupboards are bare. And new research from UBC Okanagan suggests instead of braving the cold, this year’s consumer is going to fill an online grocery cart instead. Indeed, Dr. Mahmudur Fatmi, an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering, says online shopping habits spiked across the globe during the pandemic—mostly as a result of social distancing measures, business closures and travel restrictions. But he also wonders if the online trend will continue. “Prior to COVID-19, online shopping was largely done by young, well-educated and high-income individuals,” explains Dr. Fatmi, who is the principal investigator at UBC Okanagan’s Centre for Transportation and Land Use Research (CeTLUR). “We decided to look into a crystal ball to investigate how shopping habits will evolve as a result of the increase in online activities since the pandemic began.” The crystal ball is, in fact, an empirical analysis to understand the future of online and in-store grocery shopping and meal consumption activities post-pandemic. For example, are consumers likely to return to the pre-COVID era of more in-store shopping and eating-out activities? Or will they continue the pandemic trend by shopping and ordering meals online? Or perhaps newer behaviours will evolve as people prefer to do both? Dr. Fatmi wanted to explore how in-person and online activities for a particular purpose, such as grocery shopping, complement or perhaps substitute each other. To answer these questions, he used data from a transportation survey conducted between November 2020 and January 2021. He tested the effects of population demographics, their access to different travel modes, and then built environment attributes of their neighbourhoods such as land use pattern and accessibility to different destinations such as workplace and urban cores. He then compared online and in-store shopping and meal consumption activities. It turns out, urban dwellers are more likely to do in-store grocery shopping compared to those in the suburbs. People with a driver’s licence and access to a vehicle are less likely to use an online grocery service or take out meal ordering. The research also determined that frequent transit users are more likely to order online groceries and they mostly prefer going out for meals. Lower-income people were found to continue in-store grocery shopping and eating out activities. “So many things have changed with the way we lead our lives since the start of the pandemic,” says Dr. Fatmi. “Our findings suggested that the ‘new normal’ when it comes to shopping will likely look a bit different than pre-pandemic.” “Our model showed that people who frequently order food online are also likely to dine-in at the restaurants at a higher frequency, meaning they simply prepare fewer meals at home. And people who frequently purchase their groceries online, are likely to visit grocery stores less frequently.” According to Dr. Fatmi, these findings pointed to what he called complementary and substitution effects for grocery shopping and meal consumption activities. He says the behaviour in the way people go about their day-to-day life has undoubtedly changed during the course of the pandemic and he plans to monitor whether these shifts will be permanent. “Although these are early estimates, the findings suggest that increased online shopping might not indicate a general decrease in travel. Rather, it might increase travel demand, congestion and associated emissions by increased passenger and freight vehicles on the road,” he explains. “It also indicates the need for better data collection and the updating of transportation planning models with the explicit incorporation of different types of online and in-person activities for developing equitable and sustainable transportation policies post-pandemic.” The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and was presented last week at the Transportation Research Board Conference in Washington, DC.
Female student working with a robot

UBCO doctoral student Debasmita Mukherjee, with the School of Engineering’s Advanced Control and Intelligent Systems Laboratory, is looking at ways to program robots so they can work safely alongside people.

Using autonomous vehicle guidelines, a team of UBC Okanagan researchers has developed a system to improve interactions between people and robots. The way people interact safely with robots is at the forefront of today’s research related to automation and manufacturing, explains Debasmita Mukherjee, a doctoral student and lead author of a recently published study. She is one of several researchers at UBC’s Advanced Control and Intelligent Systems Laboratory who are working to develop systems that allow humans and robots to interact safely and efficiently. “It is incredibly important for robots in manufacturing to perform their tasks in the safest and most efficient method possible,” Mukherjee says. “In order to make these automated machines as smart as possible, we are developing systems that perceive their environments and carry out tasks in a similar manner as their human partners.” To develop such systems, researchers are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help guide the machines. Mechanical Engineering Professor Homayoun Najjaran says the process is not as straightforward as it seems. “Robots don’t think or feel, so they need systems that capture and analyze their environment enabling them to respond,” says Dr. Najjaran. “Often those responses need to be in hundredths of a second to ensure the safety of humans in their vicinity.” Traditionally, industrial robots have been fixed and programmed to operate at high speeds and perform tasks such as welding, painting, assembly, pick-and-place and material handling. Social robots, on the other hand, are built to assist people in service industries. They are typically mobile, lightweight and programmed to work in a variety of environments. The field of research taking place at UBCO’s School of Engineering is called human-robot collaboration (HRC), and it is gaining steam in manufacturing. Owing to the complementary nature of robot and human capabilities, there is an increased interest towards a shared workspace for people and robots to work together collaboratively, forming the motivation behind HRC. HRC in an industrial setting blends the requirements of both domains in building intelligent, mobile robots that are aware of their surroundings and the human partner. The researchers are working with several organizations around the world to assimilate autonomous systems and machine learning technologies into HRC-focused robotics. However, Mukherjee says adapting to uncertainty within an industrial setting is the biggest hurdle. Using autonomous vehicle guidelines, she introduces some rules for functionality between humans and robots in industrial settings and tests their effectiveness. “Increasing automation levels is standardized and accepted by the automotive industry, but other industrial settings, while relatively static, don’t have the same standards,” she says. “In the future, not only will industrial automated systems continue to use sensors to enable perception and communication similar to human capabilities, but they will also be adapting and communicating in real-time with their surroundings.” Mukherjee says this means robots will be able to predict what humans and other robots will do and can then respond accordingly. As a next step, the researchers are turning their attention to developing systems that can enable robots to function and respond outside of a prescribed environment like a factory. The endgame is to achieve the seamless team dynamics and communication fluency of an all-human team while using robots. “In an ‘open-world,’ robots will need to deal with unexpected variables like people, structures, machines, and wildlife,” she adds. “We need to ensure they can do this correctly, efficiently and safely.” The research was published recently in Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing.
A photo of a woman walking along a row of e-scooters

A UBC Okanagan study created a demand model for e-scooter use in the City of Kelowna, determining the most popular times and areas for their use. Photo by Vince Jacob on Unsplash.

Depending on your age and where you live, you might think of the emerging electric scooter trend as a fun way to get around. Or an invitation for a quick trip to the emergency room.

The introduction of shared e-scooters in Kelowna has been received by a mixture of enthusiasm and derision over the past few years.

While the City of Kelowna embarked on a provincial e-scooter pilot project in April, a UBC Okanagan study indicates they are as popular as ever. But only in certain parts of the city and at certain times of the day.

“Despite the ongoing popularity of shared e-scooter services globally, there hasn’t been a lot of research into their actual demand—specifically how the demand varies over different times of the day and week across a city,” explains Muntahith Mehadil Orvin, a doctoral student at UBCO’s School of Engineering.

The shared e-scooter service is a comparatively fast and convenient mode for travelling shorter distances. Dockless, the e-scooters can be picked up or dropped off at any location in permitted service areas.

“These shared services have gained huge popularity recently for their convenience, sustainability, affordability and efficiency,” says Orvin.

The study developed a forecasting model by exploring key predictors such as time of day, week, season and weather characteristics, as well as transportation infrastructure, land use and neighbourhood features. Not surprisingly, the researchers found usage was likely to be higher when the weather was nice, with rentals dropping with inclement weather. The study also determined that demand is likely to be higher in e-scooter-friendly areas including those with a higher density, higher ratio of cycle lanes to vehicle lanes and higher mixed-land use.

Users tended to be younger and active in the urban or downtown zones, spending time in areas with a high density of hotels.

Rentable e-scooters were introduced in Kelowna on a trial basis in July 2019. Orvin examined data from July to October that year noting more than 22,700 shared trips were logged during those four months, with most taking place on the weekends in July and August. Scooters were available in several areas of town including Rutland, Capri Landmark and South Pandosy, but more than 90 per cent of the trips took place near Okanagan Lake and the downtown area.

Most trips were in the early afternoon and evenings, especially on weekends, with very few taking place in the early morning.

Mahmudur Fatmi, assistant professor and principal investigator of the Centre for Transportation and Land Use Research at UBC, is not surprised the e-scooters proved popular. He says a smaller-sized city like Kelowna attracts many visitors and is an ideal location for micro-mobility solutions.

“Kelowna’s bike infrastructure—combined with its parks and lake access in the flatter portion of the city—are critical elements to attract e-scooter users,” he says. “Such innovative micro-mobility options could be the affordable, equitable and sustainable way to go for short distance travel.”

The study did not look at the safety of e-scooters, a hot topic in Kelowna earlier this year.  However, Orvin says his findings provide important insights into when and where the demand is higher, which will assist in effective policy-making to support e-scooter use.

“Our data clearly illustrates that there is a call for micro-mobility solutions like e-scooters in Kelowna,” says Orvin. “Other similar-sized municipalities considering these type of transportation solutions could benefit by transferring the developed model to their settings to help predict demand over time and space.”

The research was published in the Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board with data supplied by the City of Kelowna and funding from a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant.

a photo of a flame

A droplet of fuel mixed with nanomaterials is ignited during an experiment in UBCO’s Combustion for Propulsion and Power Lab.

The goal of creating a cleaner fuel for aircraft engines is creating a spark at UBC Okanagan.

A team of researchers studying the burning rate of nanomaterials in liquid fuels believe they have created a recipe for clean-burning, power-boosting aircraft fuel. The project is a collaboration between the School of Engineering’s Combustion for Propulsion and Power Laboratory (CPPL) and its Nanomaterials and Polymer Nanocomposites Laboratory.

Inside the CPPL, researchers watch a bright consistent flame as it dances over wires containing droplets of liquid fuel enriched with nanomaterials. The team is investigating the combustion characteristics of microscopic graphene oxide inside fuel.

Their experiment measures the ignition delay, burn rate and speed by which the graphene particles and fuel separate into smaller particles.

“Working with our industry partner, ZEN Graphene Solutions, we are assessing how the burn rate of this mixture can potentially improve its combustion properties,” explains lead author and doctoral student Sepehr Mosadegh.

Mosadegh and his supervisor, Assistant Professor Dr. Sina Kheirkhah, develop technology, tools and knowledge for next-generation energy and aerospace-related applications. In this case, they hope their results will lead to a future of cleaner and more powerful aircraft.

“When it comes to fuel, we are always searching for a consistent response of the fuel within key parameters as they relate to how it ignites, burns and maintains strength,” says Mosadegh. “Most people have a general understanding of the composition of gasoline and jet fuel, and that it is a mixture of many hydrocarbons. But they may not think about how combining these with nanomaterials and burning them can result in dramatically more powerful and cleaner engines.”

Using ultrafast and intensified cameras and microscopy analysis, the researchers were able to study the combustion rate of the doped fuel. They found that the addition of graphene oxide nanomaterials into ethanol improved the burn rate by about eight per cent. This improvement in combustion, the researchers explain, can help reduce the carbon footprint of aircraft. And at the same time, make aircraft more powerful.

“The recipe for cooking the nanomaterials was developed by the co-author of this study Ahmad Ghaffarkhah, who works in our partner lab,” says Dr. Kheirkhah. “We have published the results for doped ethanol, and we have promising results for other liquid fuels such as jet A and diesel.”

The addition of nanomaterials to liquid fuels alters the heat transfer and the fuel’s evaporation rate, impacting the overall burning rate.

“However, getting just the right mixture of nanomaterials and liquid fuel is key to improving combustion. Particularly in aircraft engines,” Dr. Kheirkhah adds.

The research appears in Combustion and Flame and is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Canada through a Collaborative Research and Development Grant awarded to Dr. Kheirkhah and Dr. Mohammad Arjmand, Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Advanced Materials and Polymer Engineering.

A photo of a researcher

UBCO researcher Sepehr Mosadegh tests the ignition delay and burn rate of fuel mixed with graphene oxide with the hopes of creating a greener, but more powerful, aircraft fuel.

Three researchers looking at plastic and rubber waste

UBCO School of Engineering researchers Mohammad Arjmand, Jian Liu and Amir Ahmadian examine a conductive polymer nanocomposite sample, created from non-recyclable plastic and rubber waste, that can be used for electrical applications.

The life cycle of bright, bouncy tennis balls isn’t long. Depending on the level of play, a tennis ball might be used for three to four hours or even less in professional circuits. And while the ball is only used on a court for a short time, it can sit in a landfill for decades.

Now, researchers at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering are collaborating to develop an innovative use for non-recyclable plastic and rubber waste. In fact, these materials, mostly from cars and sporting goods, are emerging as key components in batteries and other energy storage solutions.

“Reusing plastics and rubber waste not only means diverting these products from landfills, but it also creates value-added nanocomposites at a lower cost,” explains Amir Ahmadian, a doctoral student in the Nanomaterials and Polymer Nanocomposites Laboratory at UBC Okanagan.

Tires and many sporting goods are some of the most challenging sources of waste on the planet because not only are they cumbersome, but they take more than 50 to 80 years to decompose.

While researchers at UBC and other universities around the world have been investigating extracting components like carbon from tires, Arjmand and Liu are turning their attention to breaking the materials down into crumbs and developing conductive polymer nanocomposites for electrical applications.

These microscopic materials serve as a filler in polymers that have the added benefit of building a structure that could respond well within energy storage solutions like batteries.

Arjmand, a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Advanced Materials and Polymer Engineering, says the reused waste creates a more efficient product as the crumbled material can be used for the development of electromagnetic shields.

“Even when working at the nanoscale, we still require bonding agents and filler to complete the composite configuration, and these vulcanized crumbs provide a multi-functional foundation,” he says. “Due to the improved conductivity of these materials, they have applications both in batteries and electromagnetic shields.”

From an energy storage perspective, Liu explains, these recycled materials might find potential applications in lithium-ion batteries.

“Previous research has shown that composite filler materials in batteries, specifically lithium-ion batteries, can greatly improve power output,” says Liu, a Principal’s Research Chair in Energy Storage Technologies. “Finding just the right filler attributes has long been the hurdle, and these new recycled nanocomposites offer so many possibilities because their composition can be easily manipulated.”

By using the plastic waste material, Liu says not only are the researchers turning a waste into a value-added product but they can also decrease the amount of polymeric matrix needed to obtain a specific level of electrical conductivity, which has a huge impact on the final cost of the nanocomposite.

“Looking to the future, we may one day see an affordable, reusable, recyclable battery that uses plastic waste material as a value-added product empowering the concept of circular economics,” he adds.

The research was funded through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant and published in the journal Polymers.

A photo of a starfish and oil spill

UBC Okanagan researcher Saeed Mohammadiun’s work involves reviewing marine oil spill management including how computational techniques based on real-time data can be applied to an effective oil spill response.

The eyes of the world turned to a California beach recently as an underwater pipeline ruptured, leaking more than 550,000 litres of oil into the waters off the coast.

A large oil spill is one of the worst nightmares for environmentalists and local people living in an affected area, says UBC Okanagan researcher Saeed Mohammadiun. His work at UBC Okanagan’s Life Cycle Management Lab involves reviewing marine oil spill management. The School of Engineering doctoral student examined a decade of past management responses to oil spills. His most recent research looks at computational techniques based on real-time data and how they can be applied to an effective oil spill response.

What are some of the key takeaways from your latest paper when considering the recent marine oil spill in California?

Oil spills are tragic events and may have catastrophic environmental, human health, and socio-economic consequences; in California, local authorities are calling it an “environmental catastrophe.”

Even small-scale incidents may concern stakeholders, such as the recent incident in Bella Bella, BC, which has greatly affected the socio-economic status of the local indigenous community. The spilled oil may cause drastic consequences for local economies such as tourism and fisheries.

One essential step to minimize consequences of oil spills is to enhance the response preparedness by employing advanced scientific techniques such as remote sensing and data mining. Intelligent computational techniques can be used along with advanced detection and monitoring methods, such as remote sensing, to facilitate an effective and timely oil spill response. We have critically reviewed recent articles in this field and suggested a holistic framework for effective management of oil spills.

How does marine oil spill management (MOSM) minimize the impacts of oil spills?

MOSM can broadly cover multiple components such as oil spill detection and monitoring, risk assessment, response method selection and process optimization, and waste management.

An effective MOSM, based on appropriate computational-technique-based tools, can consider both proactive and reactive practices for oil spill prevention and also mitigate adverse impacts of an oil spill if it happens.

The three major benefits of an effective MOSM are the ability to detect oil spills in a timely manner, conduct the most appropriate oil spill response and reduce amounts of oily waste generated from response operations. An effective MOSM ultimately leads to minimizing the impacts of spilled oil.

Describe the role of robust computation techniques based on real-time data in reducing oil spill impacts

One important component of MOSM is the response operation, which aims to contain and clean up the spilled oil and contaminated area before any significant adverse environmental and economic impacts can occur. Response to an oil spill is a time-sensitive and complex task that is significantly reliant on available data, resources and decisions made.

Another significant challenge is the fact that collected oily wastes can be up to 10 times more than the original oil spill volume. Oily waste management is usually the bottleneck of all clean-up operations due to limitations in local resources including storage infrastructure and transportation facilities.

Inappropriate management of generated oily waste may exacerbate the situation because of secondary contamination. The application of intelligent computational techniques is essential to help stakeholders make timely and suitable decisions based on limited data. A real-time computational-based tool should be able to systematically find the most appropriate management practices by taking a considerable number of influential factors into account.

You reviewed similar research for the past 10 years. What reoccurring themes did you discover?

The risk of oil spills has increased by growing marine oil exploration and transportation activities. This trend can also be seen in arctic and sub-arctic waters under the effect of climate change, such as the Canadian Arctic, which has seen a significant increase in ship traffic and oil exploration activities in recent years. It is estimated that about two million tons of oil enter the marine environment every year around the world.

Application of artificial intelligence and soft computing techniques in oil spill management has been a new trend in this research area due to better data availability and advancement in computational techniques. Better meteorological and oceanic data, better satellite image access, advances in oil spill trajectory simulators as well as progress in artificial intelligence and soft computing techniques have collectively increased the number of studies in this field. There is still a dire need for better real-world oil spill data to enhance the performance of intelligent decision-making tools.

What role can artificial intelligence and machine learning play in minimizing the impacts of oil spills or improve oil spill response?

Both can play an important role concerning various components of oil spill management—from timely detection in remote areas to optimal response selection and waste management. An appropriate oil spill management strategy should be determined based on a significant number of factors, such as the dynamic characteristics of spilled oil and environmental conditions. Remote sensing methods can be integrated with artificial intelligence techniques, analyzing features of images, to accurately detect and monitor oil spills in offshore and onshore regions.

After the detection, it is usually necessary to respond to an oil spill immediately. To this end, artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques can considerably facilitate the decision-making process by analyzing previous oil spill data and subtle patterns that are often hidden in the data.

These intelligent tools facilitate the instant selection of the most suitable response method and its operational process.

In other words, machine learning can use previous oil spills to help manage future incidents. Also, the volume of generated oily waste can be minimized by the application of intelligent computational techniques, because the optimal oil spill response also takes waste management into the consideration.

Mohammadiun’s research was published recently in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. The paper is part of the Multi-Partner Research Initiative (MPRI), supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The MPRI aims to help the oil spill response industry and regulators to enhance response preparedness in Canadian waters.