Named to the 2021 Clean50 Emerging Leaders List

Phil was recently named to the 2021 Clean50 Emerging Leaders List. Canada’s Clean50 Awards are announced annually by Delta Management Group and the Clean50 organization to recognize individuals and small teams who have done the most to advance the cause of sustainability in Canada over the past 2 years.

Phil joins 20 other young leaders and changemakers in research, finance, advocacy, public sector, and non-profit spaces that are making a difference in sustainability.

See the entire list here:

Essay published in Science, “Choosing from the heart”

Phil’s essay, “Choosing from the heart” was just published in Science Magazine. This essay chronicles Phil’s decision to leave academia to stay with his partner. You can read an excerpt from the piece below:

After I returned from a months long research trip, my partner sat me down to talk. We’d moved in together shortly before my departure and, in my absence, she’d been pondering our future. “I don’t want to leave Toronto. I love it here and so do you,” she said. I was in the third year of my Ph.D., and she worried my career plans would lead us elsewhere, first for a postdoc and then for a faculty position. Deep down, I knew this conversation was coming. Until then I hadn’t given the issue much thought, but I knew she was right. I wanted to be with her more than I wanted to be a professor.

Check out the full essay here.

Why Canada Needs a Shared Urban and Rural Response to the Clean Energy Transition

The challenge we face

Canada’s reliance on inexpensive sources of energy has rapidly and consistently grown since the Industrial Revolution. This cheap energy has fueled our economy, increased our standard of living, and made Canada a prosperous and wealthy nation. However, with increasing energy usage comes a far greater cost — an intensification of rising CO2 emissions and anthropogenic climate change. The world has been aggressively warming over recent years with 2019 as the 2nd hottest year on record, behind only 2016.1 Moreover, Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.2 The economic, societal, and health implications of climate change are massive — impacting every facet of Canadian life.

To combat this, the Canadian federal government has made clean energy and low-carbon technologies a priority through the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, a plan to transition Canada to a low-carbon economy.3 However, projections from the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources suggest that by 2030, without disruption in the form of an economically viable alternative technology that encourages early adoption, Canada will achieve only a 2% reduction from 2005 levels.4 Comparison with the Paris Climate Accord commitment of 30% reduction by 2030 reveals the stark reality and demonstrates just how important and urgent the need for a disruptive solution to fossil fuel alternatives really is.

Because Canada’s energy mix differs from many other developed economies, the mix of opportunities for impact on emissions reduction also differs. For example, the replacement of coal- and gas-fired power grids with renewables provide easy emissions reductions but introduces intermittency and seasonality problems.

Urban and rural emissions

The contrast between rural and urban emissions is also stark. Energy needs are much different from the rural or urban perspective. Rural emissions are dominated primarily by the agriculture industry, transportation emissions due to sparse population densities, and personal electricity consumption. For example, 10% of Canada’s GHG emissions are from crop and livestock production.5 In contrast, urban emissions are dominated by buildings, manufacturing, and industrial emissions. Approximately 8% of the world’s GHG emissions come from the production of concrete — the most abundant man-made material on earth.6 As cities grow and skyscrapers rise these emissions will only increase.

Despite these differences in sectoral emissions across rural and urban jurisdictions, both are intricately linked as part of Canada’s energy system. As the population of Canada continues to urbanize, rural Canada feeds these populations. Transportation of food from rural Canada is crucial. In fact, transportation emissions have increased 19% from 2000 to 2017.7 Taken together, transportation, buildings, and agriculture account for 47% of Canada’s GHG emissions in 2017.

Interestingly, one would expect that an increase in urbanization would also translate into lower GHG emissions as more would rely on public transportation and travel shorter distances. However, this increase is due primarily to a greater number of vehicles on the road. There are many factors for this — amplified trade and globalization, the growth of online shopping and shipping, and the increase in the Canadian population.

Canada’s energy infrastructure also skews towards urban rather than rural by the nature of electricity generation. Electricity generation requires massive power plants that are either powered by fossil fuels (such as oil and natural gas), hydroelectricity, or by nuclear power. These plants are localized near urban population centers, with the need for the extensive transmission to rural areas — leading to increased costs for rural populations.

Remote communities have especially difficult energy challenges as they are located in areas where power lines do not exist. For example, many northern indigenous communities rely on diesel-powered generators– which themselves lead to GHG emissions.

Regional problems need regional solutions

To add to the complexity of the situation, technological solutions for climate change and the energy transition are highly dependent on location. As an illustrative example — Manitoba, Quebec, and British Columbia have an abundance of emissions-free hydroelectricity generation whereas Alberta and Saskatchewan rely mainly on natural gas and coal power plants.

Rural communities have the space to implement renewable energies such as wind and solar whereas urban locations will undoubtedly need to rely on nuclear and hydroelectricity. The largest wind (the 300 MW Lac Alfred Wind Farm in Quebec)8 and solar installations (the 100 MW Grand Renewable Energy Park in Haldimand County, Ontario)9 in Canada are located in rural communities. This highlights the critical role that rural Canada will play in the energy transition.

The largest barrier to widespread renewable energy is intermittency. What do you do when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow? Energy storage is the missing link, especially long-term seasonal scale storage. Batteries are useful from a day-to-day perspective, but their energy density is far too low for long-term seasonal storage. Any renewable energy installations will also need local energy storage which again will require space and land.

Interestingly, the Canadian energy transition from fossil fuel-based to solar or wind-based energy would shift the paradigm in power transmission. Rather than localized energy production close to urban centers — one could expect delocalized renewable electricity production at the wind and solar farms across rural Canada. These renewable electrons would then flow towards city centers rather than electrons from power plants flowing outwards.

Agriculture, as mentioned is also another massive emitter of CO2 emissions. These emissions come from livestock, the disturbance of carbon sinks in soil, and manure management. Emissions reductions in this sector could be accomplished by advances in regenerative farming and more efficient agriculture technologies. Furthermore, advances in urban vertical farming and plant-based meats (which are primarily produced in urban factories) could also reduce emissions of the agriculture sector. Interestingly, similar to how renewable electricity could see a shift to the rural, agriculture and the production of foods we eat could see a shift towards the urban.

Ensuring a fair transition for all Canadians

Clearly, there are many technologies that promise to combat climate change — renewable energy, carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), bioenergy, batteries, hydrogen, electric vehicles, etc. What is important to note is that it is a combination of all of these technologies bespoke to the region and needs of a local population that will make an impact. There is no silver bullet to fight climate change.

The first step is to move to clean emissions-free electricity as fast as possible. Canada’s energy grid is relatively clean with an abundance of hydroelectricity, but more needs to be done to increase renewable capacity. This can be done by building more solar and wind capacity and by retrofitting existing fossil-fuel power plants with carbon capture to ensure that CO2 does not reach the atmosphere. Second, with an abundance of clean electricity — we need to electrify everything. This includes electrifying transportation with electric vehicles and moving from thermal or fossil-fuel-based processes to electrically driven processes. Lastly, we need to tackle the emissions that are not easily electrified. This includes the emissions from buildings, agriculture, and industry.

We, as a society, need to ensure that the technological solutions that are being developed by scientists and engineers across Canada are done so with the context of the jurisdictions and populations that they serve. That they are supported by rational policies that ensures a fair energy transition for both rural and urban populations. That all Canadians, from coast to coast to coast, can participate and accelerate the clean energy transition.

Note: The views expressed here are entirely those of the author and do not reflect that of his employer.

Action Canada Task Force Report Released

10 months ago Phil started the Action Canada Fellowship alongside 11 other young leaders and changemakers. Today his task force policy report, “Growing the Next Crop of Canadian Farmers” has been published online!

Along with Chardaye BueckertJean-Sébastien Blais, and Melana Roberts, they asked how can Canada create a more sustainable and resilient agricultural sector by reducing barriers for new-entrant farmers, particularly for under-represented groups – women, visible minorities, immigrants, youth and Indigenous Peoples?

Their 6 recommendations:
1. Increase accessibility of programs and services.
2. Lower barriers to capital to stimulate growth.
3. Protect land to increase affordability for new entrants.
4. Transfer knowledge to build capacity.
5. Improve farmer work to retain and attract skilled labour.
6. Invest in local sustainable food systems to revitalize rural economies.

Check out the full report here.

Special thanks to Filipino-Canadian artist Bert Monterona who produced this original painting for the report cover. Check out his work here:

New op-ed in Corporate Knights, “How COVID-19 innovation can teach us to build back greener”

Phil recently co-authored an op-ed with David Winickoff from the OECD that was published in Corporate Knights.

This op-ed was inspired by the OECD Report by David that Phil contributed to, “Collaborative platforms for innovation in advanced materials” that was released in December 2020.

The op-ed describes the lessons learned from innovation to rapidly produce COVID19 vaccines and how we can use those lessons to tackle climate change.

You can read the entire op-ed here.

TEDxToronto Talk

Phil recently gave a live virtual TEDxToronto talk as part of the TEDxToronto Uncharted Series.

Hosted on cutting-edge live event platform Venue, TEDxToronto’s new format was a runaway success in Fall 2020 with almost 1,900 registrants, making for standout events in a digitally dominated calendar. The innovative, interactive virtual experiences put community-building first, featuring exclusive access to breakout sessions with the speakers where conversation amongst fellow curious souls continues.

“Our first speaker slate explored deep themes such as issues in our food and childcare systems, how to become a better ally and live an authentic life, humanizing AI and economics, and the effects of COVID-19 on our communities and globally,” co-hosts Gillian Cameron and Kapil Khimdas explain. “Our next group of speakers – made up of some of our community’s brightest change-makers – will continue the essential discussion around how we can continue to navigate the Uncharted waters we all find ourselves in.”

The speakers for TEDxToronto’s Winter digital event series are as follows:

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Actor & Comedian (February 4th)

  •  Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is a two-time Canadian Screen Award winner for Best Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as family patriarch Appa in Kim’s Convenience. A self-professed nerd, he is a collector of movies, all things Star Wars, and an avid replica prop builder and cosplayer. Most recently, Paul has appeared in The Mandalorian and as a voice actor for Abby Hatcher, Fuzzly Catcher.

Phil De Luna, Clean Energy Innovator (February 4th)

  • Phil De Luna leads a $57M collaborative research program to develop disruptive technologies to decarbonize Canada at the National Research Council of Canada. Phil’s mission is to help Canada achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 by making renewable fuels from air and water. Listed on Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30, Phil is the youngest-ever director in NRC’s over 100-year history.

Lydia-Joi Marshall, Researcher & Health Equity Champion (February 4th) 

  • Lydia-Joi Marshall is a passionate health care professional and researcher endeavouring to foster healthy business relationships and continuously serve as a bridge between the scientific community and the general public. Lydia-Joi is the Vice President of the Black Health Alliance and a Research Associate for #TheActionProject at University Health Network.

Chenny Xia, Entrepreneur & Experience Designer (February 4th)

  • Chenny Xia is an experience designer, technologist, and serial entrepreneur focused on creating a more equitable healthcare system through decolonization. As the co-founder of Gotcare, she’s transforming how home health is delivered across Canada by leveraging emerging technologies and design thinking methods to reduce the cost of care delivery.

Keynote Speech at the People Around the World Conference – University of Saskatchewan

Phil recently gave a keynote address, “Is Net-Zero by 2050 Possible?” at the People Around the World (PAW) conference in Saskatchewan.

The focus of the 4th annual People Around the World (PAW) Conference was on how to meet the UN 2030 agenda. This year’s online event promises an exchange of innovative ideas, strategies, and collaborative efforts focused on re-examining the solutions required to address the Decade of Action and implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Bay Street Bull Op-Ed on Cleantech

Phil recently published an opinion editorial on Bay Street Bull, “The Cleantech Opportunity in a Post-COVID-19 World” about cleantech and our potential for a green recovery.

You can read the entire piece below:

COVID-19 is the ultimate short-term shock, shuttering economies overnight and claiming hundreds of thousands of lives over the past year. In less than a year we went from sequencing the genome of a novel coronavirus to developing vaccines with >90% efficacy. Governments sprang into action, spending billions to ensure that economies and societies did not collapse. Science has come to the rescue, with the countries that relied and acted on the advice of public health officials faring better than others. 

Many have suffered and some more than others, especially women, youth, and other minority groups, but things could have been so much worse if we had not acted. The response has been nothing short of incredible.

Another shock is coming, and this one is a drawn-out slow burn. Inevitably every country will be impacted by the perilous effects of climate change, with the most vulnerable having the most to lose. As wealthy countries have a moral obligation to share vaccines with those less fortunate, they too have a moral obligation to decarbonize their economies to mitigate negative global climate impacts.  

While the pandemic has temporarily decreased emissions as the world stayed home under quarantine, these gains are only temporary and there are already signs that emissions may come roaring back when the pandemic is over.  

To address climate change and reach our net-zero by 2050 goals, we need to rapidly develop and scale technologies that will help us decarbonize our economies. Half the emissions reductions need to reach these goals rely on technologies that are not yet commercial. We have a lot of work to do and the scale is massive, but so is the opportunity. 

Developing clean technologies is not only good for our planet, but it’s great business too. In 2020 cleantech outperformed other sectors and doubled its worth on the TSX. In contrast, stocks of fossil fuel-based companies plummeted as demand for oil and gas dried up. Shell’s CEO has said that oil demand has already peaked and is focusing on transitioning the company towards low-carbon energy. Large investors and venture capitalists are taking note. BlackRock, with $7 trillion under management, altered their 2021 stewardship principles to focus on environmental and social priorities as core to its investment approach. The Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Ventures just raised another $1 billion to invest in high-risk cleantech companies. 

Even with the immediate threat of a pandemic, governments around the world have announced ambitious climate plans and targets with a strong emphasis to build back greener and better. In December, the Government of Canada released its much anticipated national hydrogen strategy to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors like transportation and heavy industry. They also announced a rise in the carbon price from $30 per tonne today to $170 per tonne by 2030. US President Joe Biden has also made addressing climate change core to his agenda with an ambitious $1.7 trillion climate plan that includes carbon-free electricity by 2035, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord on day one, and appointing John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. 

Canada already has many advantages that could give us a head start in the cleantech revolution. Our electricity is already relatively emissions-free with 60 percent coming from hydroelectricity—Canada has the most lakes of any country after all. We have strong post-secondary institutions and national labs that develop innovative breakthroughs in clean technology. Our problem has always been getting these innovations to scale. 

The swell of momentum around taking action on climate change is palpable. To capitalize on this, Canadian companies and investors need to be more willing to adopt new clean technologies into their existing supply chains and operations. Every company in every sector needs to develop a serious plan for lowering emissions meaningfully or contributing to the transition we are share. The private sector needs to lengthen their time horizons and increase their patience for return. Cleantech is capital intensive and requires big machines and materials to build. In contrast, you only need a laptop, a talented programmer, and a killer idea to make the next digital technology unicorn. We need to create demand and a robust Canadian market for the made-in-Canada cleantech innovations we develop. The government can have a role to jump-start this with procurement, but industry and the private sector need to step up for these technologies to really scale.

Eventually, COVID-19 will be behind us. We’ll be rejoicing in the streets, the bars, and concert halls that we’ve all missed so dearly. However, we cannot be complacent with our victory and instead double down on the science and innovation that we need to address the challenges ahead. Another shock is coming, in fact, it’s already here, are we ready to meet it?