Our history

Working toward sustainable energy systems since 1989

From powering our vehicles to heating our homes, we need energy for every activity we do. With diminishing fossil fuel resources, it is now widely accepted that finding safe, clean and sustainable energy sources is critically important.

Dr. David Scott, IESVic founder, recognized this need more than 20 years ago. In 1989, he created the institute to chart feasible paths toward sustainable energy systems.

But if you ask Dr. Scott what drove him to create IESVic, he won’t launch into an explanation about the need for change in the energy field – although as winner of the International Association for Hydrogen Energy’s Jules Verne Award for his “outstanding contributions" in the hydrogen energy field he would certainly be well-entitled.

Rather, when asked to name the catalyst behind IESVic’s establishment Dr. Scott offers a humble response: “Luck.”

“The driving force in life is luck,” Dr. Scott goes on to explain, “but you have to have the courage to exploit it.”

IESVic landmarks

A federal report stirs up hydrogen energy interest in British Columbia

As Dr. Scott tells it, the journey to IESVic’s creation began in 1985. The federal government commissioned a report from the Federal Advisory Group on Hydrogen Opportunities – a panel of scientists, academics and industrialists brought together to study the possible applications of hydrogen.

Dr. Scott, then a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Toronto, chaired the group. In 1987, they produced a report entitled “Hydrogen – A National Mission for Canada.”

The report, still considered the definitive analysis of how hydrogen can replace carbon-based fuels, predicted the world would move to the major use of hydrogen over the next several decades, first in upgrading fossil fuels and later as an environmentally clean energy commodity in its own right.

That caught the attention of a provincial advisory committee on science and technology in British Columbia who invited Dr. Scott to meet with them. Luckily for IESVic, Dr. John Hayward, a UVic biology professor, was on this committee.

UVic launches an ambitious program of energy systems research

Stemming from this chance meeting, Dr. Scott was invited first to present a Lansdowne Lecture at UVic and then, in 1989, to formally join the university.

As Dr. Scott puts it: “They offered me a position to come out and stir things up.”

With Dr. Holger Rogner, Dr. Scott embarked on a program of energy systems analysis research and worked to engage others to consider energy research.

“He was really working to create something,” says Gary Schubak, one of IESVic’s earliest graduates and now a Market Manager at Ballard Power Systems. “It was instantly clear how this work could have a big impact on how we use energy and fuel.”

During this time, another “lucky” opportunity for IESVic presented itself: the ongoing competition to build a natural gas pipeline from BC’s mainland to Vancouver Island. The winning bid would come from a company called Centra Gas (now Terasen Gas).

In its bid was a proposal that if successful they would fund a chair at UVic. In 1992, with Centra Gas’s sponsorship, a NSERC Industrial Chair in Cryofuels was created. Dr. John Barclay was recruited and started a vigorous research program into hydrogen storage systems.

IESVic establishes itself as a leader in energy systems research

Finally, as luck would have it, British Gas purchased a big gas company in Ontario. As part of the deal, they agreed to invest money in Canadian research on next generation fuel cells for transportation. IESVic seized the opportunity and in 1994 launched Canada’s first major university-industry research partnership focused on fuel cells and hydrogen systems with support from NSERC, Ballard and British Gas Canada.

With this investment, IESVic cemented its place as a leader in energy systems research. Many novel concepts for fuel cell architecture were created, new avenues for fuel cell diagnostics were developed and world-leading expertise in computational modeling of fuel cell process was established. Valuable knowledge and technology, including 18 patents, were transferred to industrial partners and two next companies Cellex Power (now part of Plug Power) and Angstrom Power have their roots in that program.

Today, IESvic members eagerly continue this exciting work. Research activities have broadened beyond hydrogen, fuel cells and integrated energy systems to encompass a number of emerging solutions towards low carbon energy systems, including renewable energy.

Learn more about what IESVic researchers are currently working on by visiting the Research section of this site.