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Energy and the Environment Collaboration Between Rice University and Alberta Province

Days after President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met in the Oval Office to discuss mutual concerns, including energy and the environment, Rice University and the province of Alberta are moving forward with plans to collaborate on those very issues.

Rice President David Leebron and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in Edmonton, Alberta, today that will lead to greener energy production through advances in nanotechnology.

A research collaboration between nanoAlberta, part of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology, and Rice's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology will address issues surrounding the production of petrochemicals from Alberta's oil sands, one of the world's largest reserves of recoverable oil.

"The extraordinary scholars and researchers of the Smalley Institute of Rice University are developing advanced nanoscale technologies to solve some of the world's most pressing problems," said Leebron. "Collaborating with nanoAlberta of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology has great potential to benefit North America and the rest of the world with new solutions to energy and related environmental challenges.

"The Houston area and the cities of Alberta have much in common, and we believe this relationship will lead to important joint projects and deep research relationships."

The MOU grew out of Stelmach's missions to Texas in 2008 and 2009, where he met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and business leaders and visited Rice and the Smalley Institute. During these missions, the premier discussed Alberta's commitment to clean technologies, like carbon capture and sequestration and the role other technologies, like nanotechnology, can play in the greater energy equation.

"In both Alberta and Texas, energy is our foundation, and technology and innovation are our future," said Stelmach. "Combining the energy and nanotechnology expertise of teams in Alberta and Texas could help bring about energy technology solutions that haven't even been considered yet."

Earlier this year Stelmach addressed Rice students and faculty as well as energy executives at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business, telling them, "The best legacy we could leave for the next generation is a cleaner environment based on science and research."

Wade Adams, director of the Smalley Institute, said the interests of nanoAlberta and those of his team at Rice are perfectly aligned. "We want to help them figure out how to extract oil from their resources in a more environmentally friendly way, a more efficient way and one that will cause less damage to their own territory as well as provide oil for the needs of the human race, as they become a more important source of it."

Adams noted America is the biggest market for Canadian oil, and he said Rice is also eager to work with nanoAlberta on applications for health care, another area of common interest. "It makes sense that we help them in any way we can," he said.

Adams accompanied Leebron to the signing ceremony. Emil Peña, executive director of the university's Energy and Environmental Systems Institute, will help coordinate Rice's efforts.

NanoAlberta works with industry, researchers and investors to help build the province's nanotechnology industry and apply the benefits of nano research to the energy, environmental, medical, agriculture and forestry sectors. Alberta aims to generate $20 billion in nanotechnology commerce by 2020.

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