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UNB partnership with NB Power recognized with national innovation award

Author: Jeremy Elder-Jubelin

Posted on Nov 1, 2023

Category: UNB Fredericton , UNB Saint John

An ongoing, decade-long research collaboration supporting the future of New Brunswick’s primary hydroelectric facility has been recognized with a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Synergy Award for Innovation.

Among this year’s recipients are Dr. Allen Curry, a professor of biology, forestry and environmental management at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), and NB Power, who are receiving the award in recognition of the success of the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study (MAES).

“Congratulations to Dr. Curry, to the CRI team and to NB Power on this recognition,” said Dr. David MaGee, UNB vice-president (research). “MAES stands as a testament to the value and impact of university, industry and community collaborations on our world. Together, not only has this project provided valuable information, but it has transformed strategies and perspectives at home and around the world.”

The Synergy Awards for Innovation were established in 1995 to recognize Canadian university-industry research and development partnerships in natural sciences and engineering. These awards honour the most outstanding achievements of these collaborations.

Ten years ago, NB Power approached researchers at UNB with a growing concern: the province’s primary hydroelectric facility, the Mactaquac Generating Station, would reach the end of its service life significantly earlier than planned. A chemical reaction in the concrete was causing swelling and cracking to occur at an accelerated rate, moving the dam’s projected end-of-life date to 2030, 40 years sooner than intended.

To make the most effective decisions about the facility’s future, NB Power officials knew they needed more information than they had available and that they would need new research to generate that knowledge. It would be the largest dam and hydroelectric facility in the world to undergo such a renewal decision and process.

What they needed most immediately was a comprehensive understanding of the aquatic environment surrounding the dam.

The Canadian Rivers Institute at UNB was well-positioned to provide that expertise and agreed to take on the work. Curry would take on the academic lead for the resulting MAES collaborative project.

The resulting partnership has enabled, and continues to enable, NB Power to make well-informed decisions about the dam. Beyond that, it also encouraged a change in perspective that considered a broader and longer-term horizon for the utility’s future sustainability. It fostered the creation of a centre of excellence in dam-renewal expertise, generating new precedent-setting insights, approaches and processes.

“I am very humbled and excited to receive this recognition by NSERC alongside our long-term partners at NB Power,” said Dr. Curry. “Together, we have been able to accomplish incredible things, both in academic research and in addressing a major societal question with an impact on all New Brunswickers. In doing so, we have also been able to grow the CRI into the active centre of excellence in river sciences and engineering that it is today.”

Two decades later, the MAES project continues to be a highly productive partnership responsible for completing more than $14 million worth of research work. It is one of UNB's most successful ongoing research programs and it offers staff and trainees unparalleled opportunities to participate in aquatic sciences research that has significant, real-world impact. More than 200 early-career professionals have contributed to and learned from this project to date.

The project team has produced more than 250 reports, peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations around the world and their work has received global media attention. MAES project findings have been highlighted in two United Nations University reports and the project has provided a leading case study for other hydroelectric renewal projects around the world.