Innovator Spotlight

Innovator Spotlight: David Bressler

David Bressler is turning garbage into liquid gold — so to speak.

  • March 31, 2021
  • By Kate Black

David Bressler is turning garbage into liquid gold — so to speak. 

Since 2003, his lab has worked with industry and government partners to convert waste fats and oils into biofuels—and they’ve recently received a big boost. David’s project to create jet fuel from products like restaurant grease and tallow has received $2.89 million from Natural Resources Canada. These biofuels will have a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels and will be compatible with existing jet engines. 

David is associate dean of research in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, where he’s drawing on his own experience to help other academics develop industry partnerships. 

We’re excited to introduce you to David in this week’s Innovator Spotlight.

What do you research? 

My program develops technologies that turn carbohydrates, fats and proteins left over from the agricultural and forestry industry into renewable fuels, chemicals and bio-based materials. Our end goal is to create a sustainable circular economy—one where no materials go to waste and we get the best economic bang for our buck. 

What’s one big problem you want to solve through your work?

Our lab develops new and better economically viable technologies that reduce our carbon footprint, as opposed to relying on reducing economic activities alone. We provide sustainable solutions that eliminate carbon emissions while creating new markets and income for our renewable resource sectors.

In the biojet initiative, we’re using agricultural byproducts—that are of low value or disposed of—to create very low-carbon transportation solutions. Our work is based on decades of insight and learnings from Alberta’s oilsands industry.

What does the word ‘innovation’ mean to you?

To me, innovation comes after invention. It’s the act of applying newly created knowledge to society to create value, solve problems and generally improve our best practices, productivity and overall quality of life. Innovations can be technological, but they can also be social. 

What’s been your biggest aha moment in life or work so far?

Having worked in industry, government and academia, I realized that our entire society works on a system of interpersonal trust relationships at all levels. Where there is trust, amazing connectivity, networking and partnerships flourish. Without trust, we are reduced to legal documentation, micromanagement and regulation, and innovation languishes or “dies on the vine.”

How do you or your team come up with your best ideas?

A key focus of my group has always been to engage with industry and government. Members of my team are given every opportunity to listen and learn from these important partners. Identifying problems, limitations and obstacles that others are facing is the first step to meaningful thought, reflection and identification of opportunities for innovation.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Innovator Spotlight is a weekly feature that introduces you to a faculty or staff member whose big ideas are making a big difference.

Do you know someone who’s breaking boundaries at the U of A? (Maybe it’s you!) We’re interested in hearing from people who are creating new solutions to make our world better. We want to feature people working across all disciplines, whether they’re championing bold ways of thinking, driving discovery or translating insights from the lab into the market

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