When life deals a tragic blow, a person has a choice: buckle under the pressure or soldier on and become the best person you can be. The latter is what 13-year-old Mykola Makowsky did after his mother died of lymphatic cancer. He became an outstanding high school student. At university, he earned honours degrees in both economics and chemical engineering. He made a world-class athlete of himself, and just missed a spot on Canada’s speed skating team that competed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. And currently, he quarterbacks the pilot of a promising new technology for cleaner hydrogen production and improved bitumen upgrading for Western Hydrogen Ltd.
“What makes this technology unique is you can take any kind of feedstock, immerse it in a bath of water and salts, and almost like a bio-garbage can, it turns it into hydrogen and CO2,” he says. The main benefit of this reaction is that it doesn’t care where the carbon comes from. It only needs carbon and water, which provides cost and environment benefits.
Although chemists have recognized the potential of this relatively simple chemical process since the 1920s, the problem has always been the metallurgy for containing the reaction. It’s so aggressive that no material can withstand the high pressure and temperature. So Western Hydrogen’s innovation is separating the temperature from the pressure aspects.
“Almost like a Russian doll, you have an inside wall that contains the temperature aspect of the reaction and an outside wall that holds the pressure. The metallurgy exists to handle each aspect of the reaction separately,” Mykola explains.
Despite being just three years into his career, Mykola’s already fluent in more roles than most engineers encounter in a lifetime—everything from managing regulatory approvals to investor relations. After all, he got good at managing things when he was young. But his family also got some important help along the way.
“One of the things that my mom specifically asked for was that people help us out because she knew we wouldn’t ask for help,” he says. “Without the community in Regina around us—the Ukrainian community and the community at Church and the speed skating community—I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
That gratitude fuels a sense of duty to return the favour now and help others. Mykola is active in the Ukrainian community in Calgary and plans to further ramp up his involvement as his frenetic work schedule stabilizes in the coming months.
Also, while Mykola hasn’t been on the ice since hanging up his skates two years ago, he is part of a Saskatchewan-based high-performance athlete development committee focused on the promotion of speed skating.
Another area of philanthropic focus is his support of “anything related to cancer. My family has been hit pretty hard by the disease. My grandmother died of cancer. My mom died of cancer. Both grandfathers had it—one beat it twice. One didn’t.”
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