The Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternative Resources, ICFAR (pron. “I See Far”), is a research institute within the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Western Ontario. ICFAR was established in January 2008. In March of 2008, Ontario invested $5 million to support the design, construction and initial start-up operation of ICFAR’s new 20,000-square-foot research centre, located just a few minutes north of the City of London which officially opened on October 16, 2009.
As its name suggests, the aim of ICFAR is to be a leader in the development of technologies and processes for the production of chemicals and fuels from alternative resources, with an emphasis on green engineering and environmental sustainability, an identified “signature area” of research in Western’s Strategic Research Plan. The goal is to quickly move research from the laboratory to large demonstration projects at ICFAR, paving the way for Canada’s fuel and chemical innovations to get to the global marketplace – fast.
Canadian “alternative resources” include both renewables (particularly residual biomass from the agricultural and forestry industries, organic municipal solid waste, organic industrial residues, and wastewater treatment sludges and biosolids) as well as non-renewables (especially heavy oils extracted from the oil sands). ICFAR is focusing its R&D on developing the most efficient and environmentally acceptable technologies for the valorization of both types of resources.
Two faculty members from Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Western, Drs. Franco Berruti and Cedric Briens, are the co-founders of ICFAR. As a team, they have raised significant research and contract funding for the important ICFAR activities, bringing researchers from across Canada and the world together to enhance and accelerate productivity, bringing results to market. Cedric Briens holds the NSERC/Syncrude/ExxonMobil Senior Industrial Research Chair in Fluid Coking Technologies. Dr. Charles Xu has joined ICFAR as the NSERC-FPInnovations Industrial Research Chair in Forestry Biorefinery. In addition, several members of the University community are Associate Members of ICFAR and carry out research projects within the ICFAR facilities.
ICFAR researchers are working closely with many industry partners on project that include the development and testing of the next generation bio-fuel technologies, the investigation and optimization of fluid coking technologies for the primary upgrading of heavy oils, the development processes for the transformation of low value residual materials into higher value chemical products, and the development of innovative multiphase reactor technologies and ancillary equipments for performing such processes.
ICFAR is operating nationally and internationally. Past national projects include the $8.7 million Agricultural Biorefinery Innovation Network (ABIN), funded through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Agricultural Bioproduct Innovation Program and led by ICFAR. Currently, ICFAR leads LIGNOWORKS, a NSERC Strategic Network focussed on the valorization of lignin derived from pulp and paper operations. Moreover, ICFAR leads a major hub of BioFuel Net, a national Network of Centres of Excellence and is a key player in the UK-Canada Biochar for Carbon Capture Network.
Supported totally from external (non-operating) funds, ICFAR already accommodates approximately 50 researchers, including Masters and Ph.D. students, undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellows. There are 3 full-time administrative personnel on-site, 1 contracted technical employee and a part-time IT consultant. In addition, the institute provides workspace for visiting scientists and students from Canada and abroad.
Technology transfer and commercialization initiatives are of primary importance to ICFAR. As an example, Agri-Therm Inc., is an ICFAR spin-off company that is in the early stages of bringing new bio-fuel technology to market. Agri-Therm makes a patented, mobile pyrolysis unit, and has begun to market its technology.