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Professor Aimy Bazylak is this year’s winner of the McLean Award from the Connaught Fund and the McLean endowment. (Photo: Roberta Baker)

Zero-emission sources of power harvested from solar and wind are less costly and more widely available than ever before. But what happens when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow? Professor Aimy Bazylak (MIE) may have an answer.

Bazylak holds the Canada Research Chair in Thermofluidics for Clean Energy. Her research program focuses on two complementary technologies: electrolyzers and fuel cells.

Electrolyzers use electricity to drive a chemical reaction, such as splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. Fuel cells reverse this process, turning stored chemical energy back into electricity.

“When fed hydrogen, fuel cells can produce zero-emission power on demand,” says Bazylak. “I’m excited and driven by the vital role that clean energy technology must play for a sustainable future.”

Another application of electrolyzers is the electro-reduction of carbon dioxide. This chemical reaction is the first step in a complex process that can upgrade waste carbon into valuable products, such as plastics or fuels. This process increases the economic incentives for carbon capture and storage.

Whether they are upgrading captured carbon or producing hydrogen to store renewable electricity, electrolyzers rely on the efficient transport of flows through porous materials. Bazylak and her team study ways to optimize these components.

Leveraging their expertise in microfluidics, they are designing better fuel cell and electrolyzer materials and architectures to increase overall efficiency or reduce undesirable side effects, such as water buildup that degrades performance.

For her contributions to fuel cell and electrolyzer technology, Bazylak was named this year’s winner of the McLean Award. The $125,000 award, jointly funded by the Connaught Fund and the McLean endowment, recognizes early career researchers and supports outstanding basic research in the fields of computer science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering sciences and the theory and methods of statistics.

“I feel deep gratitude for receiving the McLean Award,” says Bazylak. “I’m tremendously excited about the privilege this provides to both advance clean energy with my team as well as support the growth and development of junior researchers.”

Bazylak says that the funding will also support efforts to further increase diversity in scholarship and research.

“The scientific community lacks diversity, and barriers and discrimination are systemic issues,” she says. “The McLean Award will help me and my team to grow allyship for equity, diversity, and inclusivity in clean energy, and thereby embrace a certainly tremendous untapped potential of up and coming leaders of tomorrow.”

“On behalf of the Faculty, my warmest congratulations to Professor Bazylak on this well-deserved award,” says Ramin Farnood, Vice-Dean, Research at U of T Engineering. “Her dynamic team is at the forefront of innovation in sustainable energy, and she has demonstrated a strong commitment to building a more inclusive community.”

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