Helmholtz-Alberta partnership takes next step

(Edmonton) University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera signed off on an agreement in Germany April 8 that paves the way for future collaboration in the research fields of energy, the environment and possibly health care.

Samarasekera is in Berlin with German representatives of the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative—a collaborative research program developed to look at more sustainable technologies for Alberta’s oilsands—to sign a research consortium agreement that formalizes the partnership. Helmholtz is an umbrella organization representing 16 research centres across Germany. The Germans are combining their long history of developing coal-mining technology with the U of A’s oilsands expertise. The U of A has close to 50 oilsands research programs in play.

“With the legal framework of the agreement now in place, industry partners in the Canadian oilsands that have been watching our developing collaboration with interest will begin to add to the collaboration—heightening possibilities even further,” said Samarasekera.

Jürgen Mlynek, president of the Helmholtz Association, says Alberta offers geological conditions that are very interesting for German researchers. “Our specialists will test new methods for the temporary storage of greenhouse gases and for generating power from geothermal energy,” he said.

Since the HAI agreement first took form in 2009, there has already been a lot of sharing between U of A research teams and their German counterparts. Stefan Scherer, the U of A’s HAI liaison, says 45 researchers from the university met with their counterparts at the Helmholtz Centre in Potsdam, Germany in March.

“The particular focuses of their joint research will include carbon-capture sequestering technology, deep geothermal energy, tailings-pond reclamation and improving water quality,” said Scherer. 

The U of A and Helmholtz are also looking closely at expanding their collaboration into medical research. Scherer says the HAI partners are a good fit for future study of infectious diseases and virology. “The U of A’s Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology has been up and running for almost a year now. That puts us at the forefront in that field of research in North America and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig holds the same status in Europe,” he said.

In the wrap-up to her Berlin visit, Samarasekera looked beyond the breakthrough technologies she expects from the current teams of researchers working hard in Germany and at the U of A.

“Together, we will train future generations of engineers, scientists, business leaders, policy makers and technologists who will be needed to put these discoveries and innovations into practice,” she said.