Evidence of meeting #23 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was innovation.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Geoff Munro  Chief Scientist and Assistant Deputy Minister, Innovation and Energy Technology Sector, Department of Natural Resources
  • Ian Potter  Vice-President, Engineering, National Research Council Canada
  • Paul Treboutat  Director General, Centre for Surface Transportation Technology, National Research Council Canada

8:50 a.m.


The Chair Merv Tweed

I call the meeting to order.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. This is meeting number 23.

Our orders of the day are, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), a study of innovative transportation technologies.

Joining us today from the Department of Natural Resources is Mr. Geoff Munro. He is the chief scientist and assistant deputy minister, innovation and energy technology sector. From the National Research Council Canada we have Mr. Ian Potter, vice-president of engineering, and Mr. Paul Treboutat, director general, Centre for Surface Transportation Technology.

Thank you for being here. I'm sure you have been advised as to the process: you'll make your presentations, and then we'll go for rounds of questions from the committee.

Whoever wants to go first may do so.

Go ahead, Mr. Munro.

8:50 a.m.

Geoff Munro Chief Scientist and Assistant Deputy Minister, Innovation and Energy Technology Sector, Department of Natural Resources

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this topic with the committee.

I am joined here today by two colleagues who may come to the microphone if the opportunity calls for it. One is Mr. Marc D'Iorio, who is the director general of our Office of Energy, Research and Development. The other is Ms. Paula Vieira, who is the director of alternative fuels policy and programs from our Office of Energy Efficiency.

I have distributed a deck and I will walk through it quickly. Then, as suggested, I am more than willing to respond to questions.

Natural Resources Canada is obviously not the transportation organization of the Government of Canada. On the second slide, you see a number of drivers, and the one for us is the environmental driver. It is the third bullet down, and highlighted.

Reduction in energy consumption has a direct effect on emissions of traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, which of course make up a large majority of the current fleet. As such, innovations targeted to improve fuel efficiency continue to be importantin that they achieve emission reductions. Also, the transition to an electric fleet has a strong positive impact on emissions over traditional internal combustion engine vehicles and will become increasingly important in meeting emissions targets. The challenge, of course, is the cold weather in Canada. There are some specific challenges associated with it that are part of the innovation challenge.

On the next slide, slide 3, you get a picture of why transportation innovation is necessary from an energy R and D perspective. The transportation sector is the second-largest consumer, after industry, and represents close to 30% of total energy demand. I will also point out that transportation is, at the tailpipe, the largest contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions, representing about 37% of Canada's contribution to emissions.

The technology that can help reduce both of those generally falls into three categories. There are game changers, and I would categorize the electric vehicle as a game changer; there are new vehicles that are already in the pipe—things such as gas direct injection, lightweighting of vehicles—and then there's the legacy fleet. There are things we can do there as well. The innovation around tires and tire tread, tire design, tire pressure, the aerodynamics of vehicles, driver training, and intelligent traffic systems can all help with the current fleet.

One of the questions we were asked is what federal programs there are to support research, development, and demonstration of transportation technologies. They are listed on slide 4. The six sub-bullets under Natural Resources Canada are programs that, through a period of time, we have delivered. They add up over a five-year average to an investment of about $70.5 million. There are other federal programs listed below those. I'm not sure I have captured them all, but they're all windows to innovation identified through other federal programs.

The next slide, slide 5, speaks to the investment levels, and governments are identified at the top left of the slide as having invested $118 million over the period of 2009-2010, whereas industry has spent almost $180 million. Again, you can see the breakdown at the bottom left of the departments that have been involved on the federal side. The slide gives you on the right a bit of a breakdown on fundamental research, applied research, and pre-commercialization, and then the technology development and demonstration, which is the way we break the innovation system up into its component parts.

If anybody wants to do the math, you'll recognize quickly that the $42 million in the bottom left of the chart doesn't add up to the $62 million in the top right. That's because of a $20-million investment by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation that is not captured in the R and D expenditures in the bottom left.

From an NRCan perspective, I want to open the door today to a conversation in three areas: the electrification of vehicles, technology options for the integration of lightweight materials, and how we can get natural gas to serve as a fuel that can be deployed into the heavy and medium-weight vehicle fleet, which is an exercise we have under way.

The first is the electric vehicle technology road map. I will be speaking to road maps. I'll open the door to it now, but I'm happy to answer more questions.

We found this to be a very effective tool. It brings the whole system together. By system, in this case, I mean the value chain right from the producers of electricity through to the automakers through to people who have to deal with things such as charging stations—what the codes and standards would have to be in your house in order to plug in a car, etc. By bringing the whole community together, you get a road map that says what the barriers are to achieving that objective. As you can see on the slide, we did it through the process of four workshops that were pulled together.

I brought a document called “The Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap”. I'll leave copies for all members of the committee.

The recommendations from that particular road map fall into the four categories listed on slide 8. They are technology, codes and standards, studies and assessments, and education and outreach. I want to stress at this point that these recommendations are not aimed at government exclusively; they are aimed at that full community that gets together. There is a role for industry, a role for government, a role for the purchaser, etc.

Integration of lightweight materials is slide 9. As the slide states, the pathway to achieve vehicle fuel consumption and emissions reduction involves a number of things, but lightweighting is a very important one, particularly if we are going to make a move to electric vehicles, because there is a weight compensation issue associated with the heavy batteries that are necessary to have those various forms of electric vehicles work. The challenges with new materials are also real in the case of corrosion protection, or being able to join different metals together and not have a crash test that is inferior to the standards that have been set for the country, or understanding how the materials affect vehicle performance, etc.

The technology themes for integration of lightweight materials, on slide 10, fall into those three categories. You can see the sub-bullets underneath. The goal is to end up with a vehicle that is lighter, obviously, and it's done through the various efficiencies that can be generated through those various components.

Moving on, the third area is natural gas. We basically understand the technology; the issue is deployment in the Canadian situation. We took a road map approach there as well and brought the whole community together, but there it's geared to understanding the barriers to deploying natural gas in an operational way. The road map focuses on heavy vehicles in heavily used corridors and on return-to-base vehicles such as municipal vehicles, garbage trucks, delivery vehicles, postal vehicles, etc.—things that can go back to a central place to be refuelled when necessary.

The targeted recommendations on slide 12 basically break down into the four areas that are identified. The four key recommendations include de-risking investments and early adoption, addressing information gaps, increasing capacity to sustain markets, and ensuring ongoing competitiveness.

In the case of both the electric and the natural gas vehicles, harmonization of standards across the country and with the U.S. is critical to making sure that fleet users aren't limited by either interprovincial or international barriers in terms of the codes and standards associated with their use.

We also work in an international context. I've identified three international collaborations: with the International Energy Agency, Canada is quite active not only in transportation but also in other energy areas; we are quite active with the Canada-U.S. clean energy dialogue, which has a transportation component; and we're in the process of developing a collaboration with China in the joint S and T committee. That has not been confirmed in terms of the transportation piece yet, but it is under negotiation.

In conclusion, research, development, and demonstration programs have already contributed to the advancement of Canadian transportation technologies right through from concept to commercialization. Road maps, both the deployment style and the technology approach, have been very useful policy instruments for us in making sure that the full community is aware and involved and owns the results. We're starting to see implementation in both those cases as efforts are being made by the industry, by our colleagues in the provincial governments, and naturally by our own departments.

Thanks very much.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Go ahead, Mr. Potter.

8:55 a.m.

Dr. Ian Potter Vice-President, Engineering, National Research Council Canada

Good morning, Mr. Chair. Thank you for inviting me to address the committee today.

Joining me is my colleague, Paul Treboutat. As was mentioned earlier, Paul is the director general for our Centre for Surface Transportation Technology. To give that a context, that is what I would call the heavy goods types of vehicles, such as trucking, the rail fleet, military types of vehicles, as well as other vehicles such as first responders—police, fire, ambulance, and that sort of area—as opposed to automotive, which is a separate group.

I welcome the opportunity to inform you about some of the technology innovations being developed at the National Research Council of Canada to improve the safety, energy efficiency, productivity, and sustainability of our country’s air, surface, and marine transportation systems, both in urban areas and in remote communities such as those in the north, and even further north into the Arctic.

As you may be aware, the NRC is an agency of the Government of Canada. Its mandate is set out in the National Research Council Act. Under the NRC Act, the NRC is responsible, amongst other things, for undertaking, assisting, and promoting scientific and industrial-based research in different fields of importance to Canada.

To that end, NRC's research and development capabilities span a wide spectrum of disciplines from aerospace and construction to information communications technologies and ocean engineering. We work with our private and public clients and collaborators to develop and deploy business-based solutions that address national science and technology priority areas and help Canadian businesses tackle critical issues that affect our future prosperity, such as economic growth and industrial competitiveness, urban and rural community infrastructure, natural resources, the environment, health, and security.

Our programs are designed and executed in terms of strong value propositions, unique positioning in the value chain, market pull, and timely deployment paths. We have clearly targeted outcomes within our program timeframes of three to eight years, hence delivering in a scale of time that is relevant both to our clients and to our collaborators.

Part of NRC is the industrial research assistance program, or IRAP, as it's colloquially called. This is a very important mechanism for economic development and prosperity for Canadian small and medium enterprises. Delivering technological and business advisory services as well as financial contributions, at the moment the program supports approximately 8,600 companies per year in all of Canada’s industrial sectors, including the transportation industry.

How, then, does NRC address the complexities of our national transportation infrastructure and lead to a safer and more environmentally responsible transportation environment for Canadians?

As you're aware, transportation-related research and technology development permeates many of our activities specifically at NRC. We're actively engaging with industry in the air, on the surface, and in the marine transportation areas to develop technology-based solutions to meet current and future challenges.

Moreover, we occupy a unique and privileged position between the regulatory bodies, such as Transport Canada and the Department of National Defence, by providing objective scientific, technological, and engineering expertise in support of their policy decision-making.

In the area of air transportation, for example, NRC, in conjunction with industry, conducts approximately $55 million worth of research per year and works with more than 300 companies per year to find solutions to increase the safety and the environmental performance of aircraft and reduce the weight and cost of aircraft and their components.

We also work with the original equipment manufacturers and small and medium enterprises, often forging links between them and offering them access to scientific expertise across multiple disciplines and to unparalleled infrastructure, including world-class testing and validation facilities such as the recently opened Global Aerospace Centre for Icing and Environmental Research, or GLACIER, a new cold-weather aircraft engine testing facility in Thompson, Manitoba.

We are also exploring sustainable, cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels. We think that algae could efficiently and profitably convert carbon dioxide emissions at the source and recycle those emissions into valuable products—especially biofuels, including jet fuel—without consuming fresh water or displacing food crop resources.

In the area of surface transportation, NRC works to ensure that the Canadian road and rail transportation systems are safer and cleaner, as well as more secure and cost-efficient.

Operating on a full cost recovery basis—for example, earning an average of $22 million a year for the past three years—we work with world-class domestic and international clients to develop and test products and services for the rail and road transportation industries, the Department of National Defence, Transport Canada, and a wide range of vehicle and equipment manufacturers.

We develop and deliver vehicle mobility technologies to reduce the incidence of rail track derailment in the freight rail transportation system and to improve the operational capability of heavy-duty vehicles under all environmental conditions.

In addition to addressing challenges in wheel and track performance, our current technology priorities include silent watch and idle reduction in heavy-duty, specialty, and rail vehicles; off-road mobility; and heavy-duty and rail vehicle body dynamics and durability.

NRC is also developing, validating, and deploying lightweight and advanced materials technologies and innovative design solutions to build more effective fuel-efficient vehicles for both the automotive and the passenger rail industries.

In collaboration with industry stakeholders all along the supply chain, we expect to achieve a 10% weight reduction in vehicles by 2025 with the introduction of innovative lightweight components based on aluminum and composite materials—these can be biocomposite, by the way—in cars and in other ground transportation vehicles. This reduction should lead to approximately a 7% decrease in fuel consumption, an average saving of about 1.5 billion litres of gasoline per year.

NRC is also investigating the use of the lightweight materials in terms of their potential benefits to the aerospace industry.

Finally, NRC is investing to help find safer, more effective, and less environmentally damaging methods for shipping durable cargo to Canada’s northern regions. NRC will lead the development of an integrated system of technologies, including performance-based navigation decision tools that will work to reduce the cost per tonne of shipping to communities by about 20% and double the frequency of shipments without increasing the assessed risks to society or the environment.

The prospect of alternative technologies such as heavy-lift airships is also an intriguing possibility for some cargo, such as super-sized mining equipment, for locations that are inaccessible by road or water.

I welcome your questions. I thank you for your time this morning. It has been my pleasure to share a little bit of the NRC work and the initiatives that are under way in looking into Canada's transportation infrastructure.

Thank you.

9:05 a.m.


The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you very much.

Mr. Sullivan, you have seven minutes.

9:05 a.m.


Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, all of you, for such wonderful presentations.

I note that both of you talked of lightening the load, as it were, and making the manufacture of lightweight materials a focus of much of the way to reduce the energy consumption of vehicles. Are you working with the Department of Transport in regard to the rail industry, and the passenger rail industry in particular, with regard to the FRA compliance rules as to whether there will be some kind of direction to reduce the weight load on passenger rail vehicles?

As you may know, FRA compliance requires huge, expensive, and very bulky transportation vehicles, because they have to be able to withstand a crash. It's a safety issue that is not used in Europe; it's used in Canada and in the United States. As a result, our manufacturers have difficulty competing for the manufacture of these vehicles because they're set up for Europe. We don't have that here.

Is there some discussion going on with Transport Canada about these regulations?

9:05 a.m.


The Chair Merv Tweed

Go ahead, Mr. Treboutat.

9:05 a.m.

Paul Treboutat Director General, Centre for Surface Transportation Technology, National Research Council Canada

Mr. Sullivan, regarding your question on the lightweighting of rail vehicles, I can tell you that in terms of NRC's role and how we fit within the innovation chain within the government framework, my technology centre has been operating as a full cost recovery organization for 16 years. Typically, our role has been to work with Transport Canada as a trusted technology partner in assisting that department in moving forward a number of policy areas where they feel that they can improve safety for public transportation systems in Canada and, as well, that they can advance other initiatives related to S and T priorities in Canada.

Therefore, although we do participate with Transport Canada to the best of our ability on such meetings, frameworks, or arrangements—such as the Railway Research Advisory Board, for example, where we understand what the industry needs are and we also understand where policy is going—in the end our role tends to be more in the realm of an enabler of technology. We go to great pains to identify different approaches, options, and analyses. As well, we have the engineering know-how to be able to bring solutions into what we would call a TRL 5 or TRL 6 level, a technology readiness level, which is a protocol that is widely used in R and D circles.

However, typically we do not get ourselves involved in working to influence policy. That's not a role that we see ourselves playing, because we have to continue to preserve ourselves as a trusted technology partner that brings scientific and engineering rigour to the forefront. We purposely stay out of the policy domain.

9:10 a.m.


Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

We've talked a bit about some of the barriers to implementing new technologies. One that I've been made aware of is the lack of a national building code with respect to charging stations for electric vehicles.

If the hype from the manufacturers is to be believed, there's going to be an electric car in every garage and two chickens in every pot very soon.

9:10 a.m.


Oh, oh!

9:10 a.m.


Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

What are we doing, from both perspectives, to ensure that not only are we going to have natural gas refilling stations where necessary, but we're also going to have a system in place that can safely keep electric home vehicles charged and ready?

9:10 a.m.

Chief Scientist and Assistant Deputy Minister, Innovation and Energy Technology Sector, Department of Natural Resources

Geoff Munro

The technology road map I described gives you the flavour of all of the partners playing. We've taken the same approach on trying to figure out how we implement the recommendations that come from the road map. You've actually picked on one that's quite specific, the codes and standards. They're not unique to the building, although that's certainly part of it. There are other codes and standards needed as well, so we're working quite closely with CSA, the Canadian Standards Association, to develop the understanding of the technology and what is required in the various cases.

Charging at home will most likely end up being a 220 volt charge, the same as the dryer or the stove in your house now. The standard will be very similar to the standard for the kinds of electric infrastructure that's already there for wiring it appropriately to the garage and taking into account the temperature differences, etc.

The public charging stations are much more likely to be at a much higher level, stage 3, which can charge much faster, and there will be a higher voltage associated with that. Again, we're working with the Canadian Standards Association to ensure that those codes and standards are developed.

When I say “we”, I'm certainly speaking on behalf of NRCan, because we do participate in those processes, but again it's the community that's involved, so we're talking to utilities and we're talking to the original equipment manufacturers, the people who are actually going to build the cars. We're talking to the full spectrum of the innovation chain to make sure that CSA has everything it needs to fashion those codes appropriately.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Merv Tweed

I'll have to stop you there, Mr. Sullivan.

Go ahead, Monsieur Coderre.

9:10 a.m.


Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Munro, I have a practical question for you.

My honest opinion is that the public investment figures are very low. You will probably like my question. If it is true that the transportation sector is the largest consumer of energy and that reality will make us change technology, is spending only 20% on fundamental research and 38% on applied research justified by the fact that you have to deal with the current budgets and that more investments are needed?

The reality is that

it's an ongoing issue, and you will truly need more resources to make sure of the “doability” of what we'll provide afterward.

As legislators—and we will make some recommendations, so I'm very pragmatic here—we are in a kind of pre-budget, and I believe we should invest more in R and D.

Do you truly have what it needs right now? What more do you need to be even more efficient? I ask because this is the future.

9:10 a.m.

Chief Scientist and Assistant Deputy Minister, Innovation and Energy Technology Sector, Department of Natural Resources

Geoff Munro

I can't give you a specific dollar value on each of the items in the road map by example, but I would point out that the Government of Canada is certainly one of the investors. The chart that I gave you talks about the federal government investments, as you point out, but there are moneys in academia and there are moneys in industry. That's why I keep pushing the road map approach: it's because it not only pools the ideas and the knowledge associated with what the barriers are, but it also pools the money. You get an investment that's collaborative between NRCan, potentially NRC, Transport Canada, and whoever the right partners are within the federal government. However, we also link very effectively with industry, with academia, and, on many occasions, with provincial governments.

To answer your question properly, we'd have to go back and look at the full scale of investment that is going on—and I don't have that with me—in order to look at what the investments really are in the country in regard to what this committee is trying to achieve.