Oct. 25, 2017

New partnership with Mitacs and Kerui Group expands energy research opportunities in China

Postdocs and graduate students will intern at joint UCalgary – Kerui Group training site in Beijing

The University of Calgary is joining Mitacs — a national not-for-profit research and training organization — and China-based oil and gas company Kerui Group in a $1.35-million research partnership aimed at driving energy innovation in China and around the world.

The Mitacs Accelerate project on unconventional hydrocarbon research, announced this week in Beijing, expands on the university’s partnership with Kerui Group. It will provide hands-on research opportunities for 20 University of Calgary postdoctoral scholars and graduate students and advance the university’s priorities in both internationalization and energy innovation.

“We are facing many of the same challenges in Alberta and in China with regard to the responsible development of unconventional hydrocarbon resources,” says Ian Gates, professor in the Schulich School of Engineering and internship supervisor on the Mitacs-Kerui Group project. “This award provides our postdoctoral scholars and graduate students the opportunity to work in China, to share their expertise and learn from our partners there, and to train at our collaborative research site in Beijing.”

The project is Mitacs' largest Alberta-based project to date. “Mitacs’ partnership with the University of Calgary and Kerui Group emphasizes the importance of building global research networks to drive innovation,” says Oba Harding, director of business development at Mitacs. “Researchers at the University of Calgary will have opportunities to receive professional experience while tackling R&D challenges in the field of unconventional oil and gas.”

Deepening ties to collaborative Beijing research site 

The 20 Mitacs-Kerui Group postdocs and graduate students will be taking part in research over the next two years at the university’s training site in Beijing, first launched in 2014 in partnership with the Kerui Group. The collaborative site is part of the university’s Global Research Initiative in Sustainable Low Carbon Unconventional Resources, and it includes 4,000 square meters of lab space housing specialized state-of-the-art equipment. They will also have the opportunity to interact with our academic or industry partners in China.

Huaizhen Chen is one of the postdoctoral scholars chosen to participate in the Mitacs-Kerui Group project. Along with Ian Gates and other researchers, Chen has just returned from Beijing where they held workshops and launched the new Mitacs initiative. Chen received his PhD in geophysics from the China University of Petroleum, and joined the university’s Consortium for Research in Elastic Wave Exploration Seismology (CREWES) shortly thereafter to continue his research. 

From left: Yi Su, postdoc; Qian Sang, postdoc; Jing Yi (Jacky) Wang, research associate; Ran (Ron) Luo, PhD student; Ian Gates; Qinnan Chong, PhD student; Peter Deng, Sinopec.

Yi Su, Qian Sang, Jing Yi (Jacky) Wang, Ran (Ron) Luo, Ian Gates, Qinnan Chong, and Peter Deng.

University of Calgary

“The Mitacs-Kerui Group project provides me a good chance to continue my work, and to meet people from industry in Beijing,” Chen says. “I am looking forward to sharing my research. When we want to apply our methods to the real world, we should seek the comments and suggestions from the industry, and that’s what we have exposure to in Beijing.” 

Hongliang Zhang is in his fourth year of his PhD in the Geoscience Department, and is one of the 10 graduate students selected to participate in the project. He has also recently returned from the lab in Beijing, and he is looking forward to his three-month internship there in the new year. “I am looking forward to the collaboration with the new partner in China,” Zhang says. “As well, because the lab there is brand new, I am looking forward to having access to the equipment that relates to my research work.”

'International collaboration opens our eyes to different ways of doing research'

Gates has been to China twice in just the last month, laying the groundwork for the Mitacs-Kerui Group project. He is the internship supervisor, but there are 10 PIs in total who are among university’s top energy researchers: Steve Larter, David Eaton, ZhangXing John Chen, Kristopher Innanen, Cathy Ryan, Bernhard Mayer, Shengnan Nancy Chen, Steven Bryant and Hossein Hejazi.

“This is a great opportunity for our postdocs and our students to go beyond Canada, to meet folks who have the same challenges doing similar work; international collaboration is important because it opens our eyes to different ways of doing research, allowing for richer insights,” Gates says. “For the university, collaborating internationally highlights our energy expertise on a bigger stage and positions us alongside the other world leaders in energy research.”

As strong as the University of Calgary and Canada is in terms of unconventional hydrocarbon resources research, Gates says the flow of expertise certainly goes both ways. “I visited pilot studies they are conducting in China, and they are very advanced, using state-of-the-art instrumentation,” Gates says. “In fact these are some of the most efficient operations I’ve ever seen, so we also have a lot to learn.”


Located in the heart of Canada’s energy sector, the University of Calgary has built a reputation as a global leader in energy research and innovation. With a focus on our low-carbon future, diverse teams are also assessing the effects of energy-related processes while harnessing unconventional hydrocarbon resources through the Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow research strategy.