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Concordia receives $123M for decarbonization initiative

The funding is the largest research award in the university's history

IMAGE: Karim Zaghib
Karim Zaghib, Concordia professor and new CEO of the Electrifying Society initiative. (Courtesy Concordia University)

Concordia University has received the largest research award in its history: $123 million over seven years from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) toward its decarbonization initiative touching on many levels of the economy.

The initiative, named Electrifying Society: Towards Decarbonized Resilient Communities, involves Concordia researchers from all faculties, as well as partner universities and private, public and not-for-profit sector experts.

They will focus on building decarbonization solutions through technologies such as energy systems and storage, transportation and smart buildings, deployment of digital twin technology, cybersecurity and the internet of things.

Karim Zaghib, a professor in Concordia’s department of chemical and materials engineering and president of the International Meeting on Lithium Batteries 2026, has been appointed CEO of the initiative.

“Behind this research and development it is going to create IP (intellectual property) that we're going to license, a technology that we’re (going to use) to create jobs here in Canada,” Zaghib told SustainableBiz.

“My aim, or what I want to see is, really to create as soon as possible a stable green supply chain for North America, with the circular economy.”

The Montreal-based university has a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040.

Electrifying Society

Partner universities include the University of Calgary, Toronto Metropolitan University, Dalhousie University, Université de Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal, École de technologie supérieure and Carleton University. 

The initiative is consulting with First Nations groups.

Other members of the executive committee from Concordia are: Andreas Athienitis, a professor of building, civil and environmental engineering; Carmela Cucuzzella, Concordia’s research chair in integrated design and sustainability for the built environment; and Ursula Eicker, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in smart, sustainable and resilient cities and communities.

It will involve all levels of students at Concordia, including post-doctorate students.

The technologies to be developed via the initiative are as yet undefined. However, the research program will follow three key themes:

  • smart, sustainable and healthy built environment;
  • resilient community energy and transportation systems based on renewables; and
  • planning and governance for social equity and citizen engagement.

“I have been working on lithium batteries and education of transportation for 37 years . . . Concordia, they have a lot of research going on (in) decarbonization,” Zaghib said. “It's research and development, it’s training. It's a creation of IP. I believe commercialization is really important . . . All jobs are the key.”

The over 30 private and public collaborators include Indigenous Clean Energy, Power Corporation, The Lion Electric Company, Alstom, Lightning Energy, Siemens, CanmetEnergy, Nouveau Monde Graphite, s2e Technologies, Hydro-Québec, the National Research Council of Canada, Québec’s Ministère de l’Économie, de l’Innovation et de l’Énergie, the Fonds de recherche du Québec, and the cities of Montreal, Shawinigan, Varennes, Halifax and Calgary.

This coalition was pulled together from Concordia and via Zaghib’s networking efforts.

It plans to hire 10 research chairs, 700 PhD students, 200 post-doc students and 1,000 masters of applied sciences students by the end of the seven years, with the aim of creating 5,000 jobs.

Plans for the initiative

Zaghib outlined how the initiative will start.

“Usually what you do for this kind of initiative as soon as possible, you must create the governance,” Zaghib said. “So, the governance is the No. 1, and then of course, we are working on the proposals.”

He promised updates on some of the proposals before the end of the year. Zaghib also sees the initiative having a far longer life span than the seven years the funding provides, citing the ongoing electrification of transportation as one of the long-running developments the initiative could support.

“Many of the companies like Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes Benz for GM, Stellantis and so on, all these companies are smart,” he said. “Any OEM (that) is not going to switch to electrification of transportation, this is my opinion, (in) the next five years they will disappear.”

In fact, he sees it going at least as far as 2050, when Canada aims to achieve net-zero emissions.

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