Innovator Spotlight: Amit Kumar

Amit Kumar models how different energy technologies will impact society and the environment.


When industries and governments want to predict the impact of new energy technologies, Amit Kumar is their go-to guy.

The deputy director of the U of A’s Future Energy Systems network, Amit was recently listed by  Reuters as one of the world’s most influential climate scientists and has served on expert advisory panels across Canada, the United States and Europe. His research group has worked on several projects to support Alberta’s energy industry, from proposing cost-effective strategies to reduce the oil sands' greenhouse gas emissions, to exploring how renewable energy, including biofuels and hydrogen, could be integrated into the energy system.

In this week’s Innovator Spotlight, Amit tells us how he gleans inspiration from current students.

How do you describe your work to people who don’t work in your field?

My team develops computer models to determine the life-cycle environmental impacts and costs of different energy pathways. So, we’ll look at something like producing power from the wind or solar, or turning natural gas and biomass into fuels. Then, we determine what the long-term impact will be all the way from extracting the resource to utilizing it as a fuel. We might ask, for example, how many tonnes of greenhouse gases will be saved from producing something or what the cost to society will be between now and 2050.

 After we develop computer models to help us evaluate these factors, decision-makers will look at this information and use it to inform their business or new policies.

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

Right now, the world is really interested in understanding what energy pathways and technologies will help us reduce our environmental footprint and people want to know what type of technologies will be the most cost-effective. So, we are trying to develop information which helps answer these questions across the renewable energy system.

What does the word “innovation” mean to you?

To me, innovation is creating something for the betterment of mankind. It could be a technology, or it could be information — any of those noble contributions that make society better.

What’s been your biggest a-ha moment — in life or work — so far?

I work with a large group of students who come from around the world. Each comes from a different background and different kind of expertise. As a result, each brings a unique perspective to addressing a problem. The key thing that I have learned from this is that we need perspectives from different places to address global challenges in a more cohesive way. It means that you always have something to learn from people, especially when you are looking at larger societal problems.

Another big learning for me has been that the keys to success are continuous hard work and persistence. You can be smart, but hard work and persistent work is what helps you achieve big things. And I've seen that so many times with these different researchers in my group.

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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