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A battery charge/discharge unit in an EV battery testing lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax on Jan. 30.Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Canadian scientists who are developing new materials for electric vehicle batteries have a problem: Once they get their ideas past the lab bench they have to go outside of the country to access resources to build and test a full-scale prototype.

Now that barrier is set to be removed with the unveiling of the Canadian Battery Innovation Centre, a new facility to be housed at Dalhousie University in Halifax that is expected to produce scores of prototypes per week.

The centre is one of more than 100 projects at 32 universities and research hospitals to receive a green light on Wednesday from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the federal organization through which Ottawa equips science labs across the country.

As a rule, CFI funds do not include individual grants for researchers and graduate students, which are awarded through other means. They are aimed at the nuts and bolts of science, including facilities, specialized hardware and the technicians that are needed to keep a research project moving.

“What we’re doing is building possibility,” said Roseann Runte, the CFI’s president and chief executive. “We always say we’re at the basement, we’re the foundation of the whole thing.”

The projects named by CFI on Wednesday will share in close to $515-million, including $107-million in operating funds. The funding was allocated as part of the 2019 federal budget and so does not represent an increase in Canada’s science budget. But the announcement reveals which research teams have come out on top after a lengthy competitive process.

The battery innovation centre, which is slated to open in the fall of 2025, is good example of the projects CFI supports, Dr. Runte said, because it adds capabilities that are currently not available to university-based researchers in Canada. It promises to augment the work of Jeff Dahn, a pioneer in the development of lithium ion batteries, and the research hub he has built at Dalhousie.

Once open, the centre will have its own operations manager and two process engineers who can take science experiments conducted with mere grams of specially developed material and turn them into working prototypes large enough to be relevant to industry. To operate at such scales requires not only a large “dry room” – a space with extremely low humidity for handling battery materials – but chemical mixers, furnaces and calender machines for producing battery ingredients in sufficient quantity.

Like other CFI supported projects, the $20-million centre will receive only a portion of its funding – about $5 million – from the federal organization. Energy company Emera Inc. and Tesla, which already supports Dr. Dahn, will add $350,000 and $200,000 to the centre respectively, with the remaining funders already on board but not yet named, the university said.

Michael Metzger, a battery researcher who moved to Dalhousie from Germany in 2021 to work with Dr. Dahn, said the centre would also be supported by earnings from resource companies or battery developers with materials they wish to asses for their electrochemical properties.

“That’s how this facility can be self-sustaining and really help Canadian companies that are positioned along this battery value chain,” Dr. Metzger said.

Not all the CFI grants are as hardware-focused. At Toronto’s Sinai Health System, researchers have received a CFI award plus funding from three provinces to support the $7.4-million Canadian Genomic Data Commons initiative. The goal of the initiative it to create digital resources for mining the country’s growing trove of human genomes and finding clues that can lead to treatments for a range of cancers and rare genetic diseases.

For years, clinicians have used DNA to screen for specific genetic variants that are associated with known health risks. In contrast, whole genome sequencing provides a read out of an individual’s entire genetic code. As the cost of sequencing falls, scientists anticipate the arrival of millions of whole genomes that can illuminate human variation as never before. But the data, which is mainly collected in the clinical setting, will remain fragmented and under utilized without new computational tools to enable scientific study while protecting privacy.

The genomic data commons is aimed at developing those tools, said Jordan Lerner-Ellis, a lab director and molecular geneticist at Mount Sinai Hospital who will co-lead the project in partnership with the University of Ottawa, University of Alberta and University of Manitoba.

“We want to develop methods that allow researchers across the country to generate data in the locations where they reside and the methodologies for combining those data without any risk to participants,” Dr. Lerner-Ellis said.

The largest grant to make CFI’s list in this funding round is a $17.5-million award to the University of Saskatchewan where researchers are working on Canada’s contribution to a NASA satellite duo known as HAWC (High-altitude Aerosols, Water vapour and Clouds), slated for launch in 2031.

The sensors that Canada is building will simultaneously probe the atmosphere at different wavelengths and viewing angles to shed light on some of the least understood processes in the global climate system.

“From a technical point of view, nothing like them exists in space right now,” said Adam Bourassa, a professor and remote sensing specialist who is co-leading Canada’s portion of the mission.

Dr. Bourassa added that while the detectors are primarily being paid for by the Canadian Space Agency, the additional CFI funding will be used to develop systems for processing the data once the two satellites are in orbit.

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