Majid Bahrami collaborates with industry to develop greener solutions for our planet's urgent energy and water needs.
The UN predicts that the world’s population will surpass 10 billion by 2030, a sobering reality that will significantly stress the planet’s natural resources. This challenge propelled clean technology into Canada’s fastest growing sector, and galvanized SFU researchers like Majid Bahrami to create new solutions for a planet in flux.
“My research team works on a number of exciting sustainable research projects that are central to global strategic priorities,” says Bahrami. “They include reducing primary energy consumption in buildings, mitigating the impact of water scarcity, and increasing efficient clean food production in closed greenhouses.”
Prior to entering academia, Bahrami worked as a thermal engineer and consultant in the heating, ventilation/air conditioning and refrigeration industries. Now a professor at SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, his research focuses on developing novel clean technologies that provide drinkable water, air conditioning and energy storage, and which are powered by waste-heat or solar and geothermal energy sources. A Canada Research Chair in Alternative Energy Conversion Systems in 2013, Bahrami has earned more than $10 million from funding agencies for his cutting-edge research. He was also named one of Canada’s Clean50 sustainability leaders for 2016.
Explaining his motivations, he says, “I’d like my work to have an impact on people’s lives, especially in developing countries where people are struggling with basic needs such potable water and clean food."
In 2013, Bahrami and his team at the Laboratory for Alternative Energy Conversion (LAEC) at SFU’s Surrey Campus received a collective $4 million from Automotive Partnership Canada and government and industry partners to develop an alternative clean solution to power commercial vehicle refrigeration systems. Instead of drawing power from a running engine, Bahrami’s technology uses waste heat from engines and brakes to power air conditioning and refrigeration systems through a process called adsorption. The technology promises to significantly reduce fuel consumption and harmful emissions in long-haul and refrigerated trucks, heavy- and light-duty vans, tourist buses and emergency vehicles. Next, Bahrami aims to develop a next-generation air conditioning system that is compact enough to be widely adopted by the car industry.
Industry again sought out Bahrami’s and his lab’s research and developmental expertise in 2015. With funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s College and Community Innovation Program, LAEC partnered with researchers from Ontario’s Sheridan College to accelerate the development and commercialization of new graphite products that will have a competitive edge in the thermal management products market. Graphite is an advanced engineering material with key properties that have potential applications in green energy systems, automotive components and heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.
And, this year, Bahrami made headlines for taking his knowledge of adsorption systems and applying it to atmospheric water generation systems, and integrating solar thermal and industrial waste heat as a source of cooling power. With help from PhD candidate Farshid Bagheri, he built the Hybrid Atmospheric Water Generator (HAWgen), a machine which generates clean drinking water seemingly from thin air. The device employs an amalgamation of existing adsorption (concentrates water in the air), refrigeration (condenses it) and water filtration (makes it safe to drink) systems, and can be powered by sustainable energy sources. The system is unique in that its air preprocessing unit can generate water—even in desert climates where conventional atmospheric water generation systems fail—by increasing the humidity and heat of incoming air to boost its water-carrying capacity during the absorption phase.
Currently under negotiation to being commercialized through SFU spinoff company Watergenics Inc. (shortlisted for a BC Technology Industry Association Technology Impact Award this year), Bahrami is seeking investors to help target the product for applications in various resource industries, such as agriculture, mining, oil and gas, as well as disaster relief and consumer use, by the end of 2017.
Says Bahrami, “I’m driven to develop sustainable technologies so that we can minimize our environmental impact, and so we can leave a livable planet for our children."
Dr. Majid Bahrami is a professor in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering and a Canada Research Chair in Alternative Energy Conversion Systems. His research group studies transport phenomena in emerging microstructured materials and porous media, fuel cell technologies, new refrigeration, and microelectronics cooling with a focus on sustainable energy conversion systems. This multifaceted research area requires combined expertise from heat transfer, fluid flow, material science, and contact mechanics and has a focus both on fundamentals and on contemporary industrial applications. He is an ASME Fellow and a member AIAA, ASHRAE, SAE and CSME.
Q & A with Majid Bahrami
If you could sum up the value of university research in one word, what would it be?
What motivates you as a researcher?
I love doing research. Being able to work on new topics that can have a positive impact on others life and well-being is a privilege that I am grateful to have.
How important is collaboration in advancing research?
It’s truly essential to research, especially with engineering projects. Being "multi-disciplinary" is one common element in most emerging and disruptive technologies, which requires expertise and collaboration from a range of areas. In addition to academic collaboration, industrial collaboration is essential and has been at the core of all my research projects. In the last 8 years, I have established more than 18 very productive collaborations with industrial partners on a wide array of topics such as emerging materials and advanced energy conversion systems. Some examples include: Ballard Power Systems, Analytic Systems, Mercedes Benz, Future Vehicle Technologies, Alpha Technologies, Cool-It Hi-Way Services, vi) Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation, and Delta-Q.
SFU bills itself as “Canada’s most engaged research university.” How does your own work exemplify this spirit of engagement?
A true statement. Engagement is at the core of all our activities at SFU from teaching undergraduate students, to training highly qualified personnel to collaborate with local, national and international companies and research institutes.
What advice would you give your younger self regarding challenges you've faced as a researcher?
Hang in there! It takes time to build a meaningful research program. “Overnight success” usually takes 10-15 years in academia.