Funding program aimed at retaining sustainable energy professionals in Sask.

Matt Smith/Saskatoon StarPhoenix Gordon Wyant, Minister of Advanced Education, speaks to media at a press conference in May 2022.

by Trillian Reynoldson

Regina Leader-Post

With reports of local businesses facing labour shortages, a new four-year collaborative funding program has been formed in an effort to broaden employment opportunities in the province.

Regina-based Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC) Sustainable Energy is contributing $2.72 million to the University of Regina (U of R) and other Saskatchewan universities between 2024 and 2028, which will be matched with an additional $3.33 million by national innovation organization Mitacs.

“This particular collaboration between the PTRC and the University of Regina has been in place for four years,” Minister of Advanced Education Gordon Wyant said at the funding announcement on Tuesday. 

“Certainly, we’ve been funding Mitacs for a significant period of time. So, this relationship has gone on for four years and this is an extension of that relationship.”

The goal of the program is to develop and retain highly qualified graduate and postgraduate talent from universities in the province in cleantech and other sustainable energy research. The internships, co-ordinated through PTRC, will give students out of classroom experience, sharpening their skills and making them more marketable for future jobs.

“When we’re training people we want people to stay here,” Wyant said. “That’s very important for our province, especially given the fact that Saskatchewan is leading the nation when it comes to research in sustainable energy.”

John Hepburn, CEO of Mitacs, said the new funding signifies a very large-scale opportunity for students and faculty to engage with through PTRC over the next four years, and will help retain workers in Saskatchewan.

“The interns get connected with life outside of the university, they understand that there’s exciting work to be done in Saskatchewan,” he said.

Hepburn said the current agreement with PTRC is for 400 internships over four years.

“Our interns are very generously paid. The allocation is $15,000 for every four months and that money mostly goes to pay the interns. For post docs is $20,000 every four months,” he said, adding Tuesday’s funding announcement increases the number of interns and simplifies the process, allowing the interns to start sooner. 

“We have set aside these internships. We judged the value of the project so we can rapidly deploy the interns as the need comes up.”

The projects will cover areas such as geothermal energy, blue hydrogen, CO2 capture and storage, AI-driven integrated power systems, and eco-friendly hydrocarbon production.

Marziyeh Kamali graduated from the U of R with a doctoral degree in Petroleum Systems Engineering and has been a post doctoral intern with PTRC since 2023. Currently, she is working on a geothermal project.

“We are moving toward reducing the CO2 emissions,” she said, adding their goal is to provide cleaner technology and energy to help reduce reliance on natural gas and fossil fuels.

In the future, Kamali plans to continue studying sustainable energy in Saskatchewan and hopes to continue as a permanent employee of PTRC. She said this funding announcement is great news for students at the U of R.

“It’s going to be very great for them to do the research and not be worried about the supportive funding and leaving Saskatchewan.”