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Funding agreement to increase opportunities in innovation sector

Mitacs partnering with Petroleum Technology Research Centre to place top student talent in internships aimed at sustainability and Cleantech.

REGINA - A funding agreement has been announced aimed at providing more opportunities for university students to seek opportunities in Saskatchewan's innovation sector.

Mitacs has teamed up with Petroleum Technology Research Centre - Sustainable Energy of Regina on a new new four-year collaborative funding program, aimed at developing and retaining highly qualified personnel at the University of Regina and other universities. 

According to their news release, there is $6.05 million being committed by the two organizations to connect students to opportunities aimed at sustainability and  “cleantech” research and development. 

PTRC will contribute $2.72 million to universities between 2024 and 2028, and that will be matched by $3.33 million from the national not-for-profit organization Mitacs to fund graduate and post-graduate researchers in the area of sustainable energy.

It is an extension of an existing relationship between the two organizations. 75 students and post-docs will be trained within Saskatchewan over the next four years under this agreement, an amount equal to the 75 trained since 2018.

According to a news release, the projects will include areas such as geothermal energy, blue hydrogen, CO2 capture and storage, integrated power systems incorporating the use of AI, and the reduction of environmental impacts in hydrocarbon production.

What this latest agreement will accomplish is produce more opportunities for those looking to pursue careers in the innovation sector.

“It increases the overall amount of interns; it also basically simplifies the process so that the interns can get started faster. So we have set aside these internships, we’ve judged the value of the project, and so we can rapidly deploy the interns as the need comes up,” said John Hepburn, CEO of Mitacs.

Hepburn said the funding signals to students and faculty “that there is an opportunity, and the opportunity is big opportunity. Otherwise we wait for projects to arise. as they arise. This signals that for four years there is a very large scale opportunity for students and faculty to engage with PTRC.”

In terms of placements, Hepburn said most of the students — 94 per cent — will work in the sector in which they are trained.

For PTRC, their goal is support for clean energy research and development. Ranjith Narayanasamy, CEO and President of PTRC, told the audience at the announcement that “we want to make sure we make a meaningful impact. So the very important impact is creating opportunities for the students.”

Narayanasamy pointed to Saskatchewan being the “world leaders when in cleantech and clean sustainable energy."

The Saskatchewan government has been involved as a funding partner with the organizations involved. Gord Wyant, Minister of Advanced Education, noted the province provided an increase of $1.15 million in 2024 to Mitacs programs.

For the Saskatchewan government, this latest agreement helps towards the goal of attracting and retaining highly qualified people in Saskatchewan after they graduate university. Those at the announcement Tuesday pointed to the crunch in finding talent, with more positions available than numbers of people qualified to fill them. 

“It’s very important when we’re training people that we want people to stay here,” said Wyant. He pointed to the numbers cited by Mitacs at the event that 35 percent of international students who come to Saskatchewan to study stay in the province.

“That’s very, very important to our province, especially given that Saskatchewan is leading the nation when it comes to researching sustainable energy. So things like blue hydrogen, carbon capture, these are very important in terms of sustainability when it comes to energy production. So to ensure that we have some people that stay, interns working with industry, it’s very, very important to the future of Saskatchewan because this is vital to the economy of the province to ensure that we continue to do our work in terms of sustainable energy development, to sustain our development of our industries as we move forward.”

One of those students is Marziyeh Kamali, a post-doctorate working in an internship with PTRC and University of Regina, in a position funded by PTRC and Mitecs. She sees the benefit of the internship in helping her get a career off the ground in Saskatchewan.

“I definitely am planning to stay for studying the sustainable energy in Saskatchewan, and basically geothermal,” said Kamali. “Hopefully, I continue as a permanent employee of the PTRC.”

She sees the project she is working on as something that will help towards reducing CO2 emissions.

“It’s something that we are doing for not only the province, but the people in the province, to provide the cleaner technology and the cleaner energy to live on, and not (do) too much relying on the natural gases or fossil fuels.”