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Alexandra Tavasoli on making progress through a lockdown

March 31, 2021 By: Alexandra Tavasoli

This post is also available in: Français (French)

Mikaela Preston working on Solistra’s mini-pilot demonstrator

the demonstrator being craned into place at CanmetENERGY

Solistra’s installation on the reforming piloting rig

the full reforming piloting rig retrofitted with the Solistra reactor system

One of the big setbacks Solistra suffered as a result of the sudden COVID-19 lockdown last March was a delay in the manufacture and deployment of our first scaled demonstration unit. Solistra’s core technology, a system that uses light to drive chemical reactions instead of heat, has the potential to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of conventional processes by up to 60 percent by avoiding natural gas combustion, which normally provides heat-to-chemical reactions. Using light instead of heat to drive these reactions requires novel reactor designs, and this demonstration unit represents our first attempt at designing a scaled reactor system. Faced with supplier delays, as well as contractors with reduced capacities and their own delays, our reactor manufacturing was set back months. Αt the same time, my plan to complete the experiments required for my PhD thesis had been upended by the university lab closures, and my graduation timeline was postponed.

Eventually laboratory work resumed, suppliers resumed shipments, and the work continued. As luck would have it, when the time came that both of these endeavours looked like they could be finished, they ended up happening at exactly the same time. Back in December, my internal PhD defence ended up being scheduled for the day before we had to drive the reactor system from Toronto to Ottawa. So, that week, after a very quick celebration, the Solistra team rolled our minipilot into a U-Haul truck and drove it five hours from Toronto to Ottawa.

Solistra’s scaled demonstrator was installed into a retrofitted thermal reforming system at Natural Resources Canada’s CanmetENERGY lab. That organization’s Clean Fossil Fuels group hosts and runs experiments to get us closer to understanding the real-world operation of one of our units. This reactor system is helping us understand how our catalyst behaves at scale, for us to take our first step towards an optimized reactor design, and normalize our utility usage requirements.

Big thanks to the Women in Cleantech Challenge, Natural Resources Canada, and the Natural Gas Innovation Fund for providing funding for this first major deployment in our journey to commercialization.

Alexandra Tavasoli