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20 September 2016

Canada’s Distinguished Dissertation Award: Fuelling a Sustainable Future


A young chemical engineer conducting groundbreaking research into fuel cell technology has won the 2016 Canada’s Distinguished Dissertation Award in the category of Engineering/Medical Science/Natural Science.

Drew Higgins ( PhD,Chemical Engineering, University of Waterloo) developed a fuel cell catalyst that was 7 times more effective than current state of the art technology. But because that process used expensive platinum he also sought to develop precious metal-free catalysts. The result of his work exceeded performance of similar models done in other labs.

“My work is partially driven by the knowledge that fuel cells can provide an alternative to society’s dependence on fossil fuels,” Higgins says from the Stanford University lab where he is conducting research through a Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowship. “A sustainable energy economy requires sources of fuel for the transportation sector – one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters.”

Currently, the cost of platinum makes the technology expensive.“The Holy Grail of this type of fuel cell technology is finding an alternative to platinum – both to reduce costs and create long-lasting, stable cells,” he says. His eventual goal is to create a fuel cell that will last 5,000 hours of operation and be competitive with typical internal combustion engines.


The judges were unanimous in their choice and noting that his papers have been cited more than 2,800 times in his short career.

“It is no overstatement to say that Dr. Higgins’ work is critical to Canada and to the world,” says CAGS President Dr. Brenda Brouwer. “His originality, perseverance, and ability to think outside the box to create impactful solutions is everything we look for in our graduate students. He is an inspiration in demonstrating the application of his research to make the world a better and a more sustainable place.”

The CAGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Awards have been recognizing outstanding Canadian doctoral dissertations for more than 20 years. The judges look for work that makes significant, original contributions to the academic community and to Canadian society. There are two awards: one for engineering, medical sciences and natural sciences; and one for fine arts, humanities and social sciences. They include a $1,500 prize and an invitation to speak to the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies conference to be held this November in Toronto.

For more information: Gail Dugas, CAGS Communications. 613.334.5658