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Majid Bahrami (right) and Farshid Bagheri (left) are honoured with a 2017 Canada Clean50 Award for new technology that harvests clean drinking water from the atmosphere.

It may seem like the stuff of magicians, but pulling water out of the air is what Simon Fraser University professor Majid Bahrami does. He aims to solve the growing problem of water shortages across the globe through his work at the university's School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering.

For his work, Dr. Bahrami and PhD student Farshid Bagheri received a 2017 Canada Clean50 Award.

The Hybrid Atmospheric Water Generator (HAWgen) harvests clean drinking water from the atmosphere through the integration of a novel adsorption system, a refrigeration unit and a water filtration system. It works in hot and dry conditions, such as those in the desert, where other technologies fail to operate. The HAWgen works using only waste heat from solar panels and renewable energy sources, which means it has no environmental impact or byproduct. The system can generate up to five times more water than conventional atmospheric water-generation systems.

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Ocean evaporation helps make the system sustainable, which is important for Dr. Bahrami, whose school's focus is to be sustainable. His earlier research focused on improving the efficiency of heating and cooling systems for use in vehicles, electronics, cooling and fuel cell systems.

"Our vision is to not only make a difference as we face the ongoing issue of global water shortage, but to do so sustainably for future generations," Dr. Bahrami says.

The School of Mechatronics, located in the city of Surrey, is aligned with the city in its efforts toward sustainability. To that end, it has joined Surrey's "BioPod Initiative," a hub for agri-tech innovation where researchers will test high-tech solutions for improving the efficiency of year-round food production. The HAWgen will provide the facility's sustainable source of water for plant growth. This project aims to grow food in a greenhouse using only sustainable energy and atmospheric water, to showcase technologies being developed in Bahrami's lab.

The school's focus is on sustainable energy systems, says Farid Golnaraghi, professor and director of School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering.

"About a third of our faculty members work in sustainable energy systems, and we partner with companies like Ballard, BC Hydro, PowerTech and Siemens – working with fuel cell technologies, solar energy and wind energy," Dr. Golnaraghi says. "We also work with companies on unmanned vehicles, batteries and electric cars. Tesla is hiring a lot of our students."

Surrey is a natural partner because one of its prime directives is to focus on energy systems, biomedical engineering and sustainable manufacturing.

"The city of Surrey is gearing towards reinventing itself — to become a leading technological hub in Canada," Dr. Golnaraghi says. "They've focused on health technologies to create an atmosphere for startups. Sustainable manufacturing systems are a focus, and because of all the greenhouses, they are working with the John Volken Academy to establish a self-sustainable greenhouse."

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The field of mechatronics dates to the late 1980s, but is gaining ground now.

"Mechatronics brings together mechanical, electrical and computer expertise," Dr. Golnaraghi explained. "The traditional way of teaching was to have engineering departments that didn't collaborate. We are a bridge in all of that. Our expertise is sustainable energy systems. Our researchers work with solar power and wind, and we even have research done on extracting power from suspensions systems to charge the battery. It's exciting times."

A large influx of funding from government and industry has recently founded the energy systems program.

"After seven or eight years of lobbying, a new building is being built for us," Dr. Golnaraghi said. "And the focus of the program is on sustainable energy system technologies. The program will bring around 22 faculty members to us, in mechatronics, which would allow us to focus better in key areas of importance."

The students and faculty in the energy systems program will also work closely with industry. The program already has relationships with BC Hydro, PowerTech Labs and Schneider Electric, and it has just signed a memorandum of understanding with Siemens Canada.


This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation

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