Dr. Phil De Luna of Canada works at the intersection of the public sector, the private sector and academia. De Luna considers himself a “research capitalist,” working to uncover, develop and invest in technologies helping to solve climate change. In the public sector, De Luna is the youngest director ever at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), which is the country’s largest federal R&D organization. At NRC, De Luna leads a Can$ 57 million collaborative research program on Canadian clean energy technologies.
De Luna also serves on the board of directors at Carbon Management Canada, a carbontech non-profit. As a member of the advanced materials steering committee at the intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, better known as OECD, he works with leaders from around the world on collaborative research policy. And as an Action Canada Fellow, De Luna has developed policy recommendations for the future of work in the agricultural sector.
In the private sector, De Luna is an innovator and entrepreneur. As co-founder of a carbontech startup, he raised Can$2 million in non-dilutive funding and was one of 10 global finalists for the Carbon XPRIZE, a high-profile competition encouraging technological breakthroughs that benefit humanity. In 2019, he was named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” list for the energy sector.
In academia, De Luna’s own research on CO2 conversion and new materials has been published in influential academic journals like Science and Nature; over the past five years, his work has been cited more than 8,000 times.
Can you tell us more about your organization?
The National Research Council of Canada is the Government of Canada’s federal research and development organization. The NRC partners with Canadian industry to take research impacts from the lab to the marketplace, where people can experience the benefits. This market-driven focus delivers innovation faster, enhances peoples’ lives and addresses some of the world’s most pressing problems.
I am currently leading the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge Program, a Can$57 million collaborative research program focused on developing breakthrough technologies to decarbonize Canada. With a portfolio of more than 30 projects across four countries – Canada, Germany, the UK and the U.S. – this program advances R&D in CO2 conversion, hydrogen production and artificial intelligence for materials discovery.
I am based in Toronto, where the NRC is building a new research lab focused on developing materials acceleration platforms (MAPs) – AI-driven robotic labs that are helping our research scientists accelerate discovery and reduce the time to market.
How have you leveraged being an MI Champion?
Being a Mission Innovation Champion has helped me develop international collaborations and partnerships with industry and other research institutions across the world. Climate change is a complex problem that impacts us all. It will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and technological co-development to solve. As an MI Champion, I can more easily establish international collaborations and work with other leading scientists and innovators around the world. This recognition has also contributed to raising my profile and as a result I have been asked to provide talks and appear in documentaries on clean technology.
Do you have any upcoming plans or announcements that you would like to share with the MI community? Achievements so far?
The NRC has recently opened a new advanced materials research facility near Toronto focused on building AI-driven self-driving labs. An initial focus area will be materials enabling conversion of carbon dioxide to fuels and other high-value industrial products. I was recently inducted into the Royal Society of Canada for my work in discovering new catalysts for the electrosynthesis of renewable fuels and chemicals from CO2.