Canada’s Top Energy Innovators 2015

From environmental reclamation to operational excellence, Canada’s Top Energy Innovators are pushing hard on their industry’s leading edges

March 02, 2015

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In retrospect, it almost sounded too good to be true. Toe-to-heel air injection, or THAI, was a process that combined controlled combustion with vertical and horizontal wells and promised to produce higher volumes of partially upgraded oil at a fraction of the cost of existing methods. And because it used negligible amounts of water, it was better for the environment as well. “It’s an ideal technical solution,” former Petrobank COO Chris Bloomer said. It was so ideal, in fact, that it enjoyed a place of prominence in a video on innovation that was produced in the mid-2000s, and which still plays today at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.

Unfortunately, it didn’t unfold quite the way its proponents had hoped. Rather than revolutionizing the way heavy oil is extracted in Alberta, the technology has consistently failed to even meet the results set by more traditional methods of SAGD and nearly bankrupted the company that invested so much time and money into it in the process. Despite a major corporate restructuring and a shift out of the Athabasca oil sands and into Saskatchewan, Petrobank could never translate THAI’s technological potential into meaningful production gains on its various properties and demonstration projects. Last March, after the results at its Kerrobert property continued to underwhelm, Petrobank agreed to merge with Touchstone Exploration in order to form a new company that would focus its efforts on Touchstone’s assets in Trinidad. The only mention of THAI in the press release heralding the deal was a footnote indicating that the company would be “continuing our commitment to eliminate the negative operating cash flows from the Kerrobert THAI project.”

Did Petrobank’s executives oversell the possibilities associated with THAI? Maybe. But maybe, like so many ideas that promise to move the oil and gas sector forward, it will take longer to demonstrate its value than first expected. Hydraulic fracturing, after all, was around for decades before it transformed the U.S. shale industry into a global powerhouse. Not all technologies immediately find their market, or generate the kind of return that’s needed in order to grow it. But that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily a failure either. It’s entirely possible that, one day, THAI will do for heavy oil deposits what hydraulic fracturing has done for shale.

How will the 26 innovations and technologies (yes, 26 – we can be innovative too) on our inaugural list of Canada’s Top Energy Innovators fare? To be honest, we have no idea. That’s the nature of innovation – the reward can’t come without some risk, and sometimes a product or process that seems destined to succeed ends in failure. What matters is that the people and the companies they work for continue to take those risks. In the 21st century, geology and geography are no longer enough to win. If Canada’s energy sector is going to create as much prosperity over the next 50 years as it did over the last 50, it’s going to have to continue to invest in technology and the high-wattage brains that can both put it to best uses and then make it better. That is the most important renewable resource we have.

Enerkem

Enerkem

The Innovator: Enerkem

Environment

In the energy industry, heavy focus tends to be placed on cutting back the energy and materials required to produce and refine products. Of lesser interest tends to be what to do with the waste products that result from the production and consumption of said energy – or, better yet, how to convert that waste into its very own energy source. Enerkem’s commercial facility in Edmonton, Alberta, which converts municipal waste into methanol (and eventually ethanol in 2016), does exactly that. The facility’s construction was part of a partnership between the company, the city’s municipal government and Alberta Innovates – Energy & Environment Solutions that uses a proprietary thermochemical process to produce as much as 38 million liters of renewable chemicals and biofuels per year. Since building the facility, Montreal-based Enerkem has landed three major deals with Chinese companies to build similar plants that convert waste to ethanol. Demand for ethanol has waned in recent years as investors shift their focus toward electric engines rather than those that use higher ethanol blends, and as the energy-intense process of using corn crops to produce ethanol hampers the fuel’s reputation. A process such as Enerkem’s, at least on its surface, could argue against that latter notion.

The Innovator: MEG Energy

Strategy and Operations

Plenty of mid-tier producers in Canada’s energy space are making the most of the latest available technologies to coax oil out of the ground more economically and environmentally. But it would be hard to argue such a company is doing so with a more nimble and innovative spirit than MEG Energy. The company has repeatedly shown versatility in reaching new markets, from its 2010 joint venture on the Access Pipeline, to its construction of a private pipeline connecting the Stonefell Terminal to a rail facility in Bruderheim, to its decision to ship bitumen by barge to buyers in the United States. But MEG is known for more than increasing trade optionality: its HI-Q partial upgrading technology is one of several leading attempts to ship bitumen without the need for diluent. The company’s culture of adopting technologies in their early stages has paid off. In 2009, before the company had even gone public, it was setting industry-wide records due to the pace at which it was expanding its production profile at Christina Lake, growing from zero to 25,000 barrels per day in just 10 months.

The Innovator: Linda Coady

The Innovator: Linda Coady

The Innovator: Linda Coady

Strategy and Operations

If Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline does end up getting built, it’s safe to assume that the date June 17, 2013, will figure prominently in the timeline leading up to its completion. That’s when the company hired Linda Coady, a former MacMillan Bloedel executive who helped broker a breakthrough in the impasse between it and the environmental activists that were protesting its Clayoquot Sound operations in the mid-1990s. Time will tell whether she can engineer a similar breakthrough with Enbridge’s more vocal critics, but it appears that her influence is already being felt. Gone is the high-profile advertising campaign that attempted to sell Enbridge’s virtues with generic platitudes and soothing imagery. In its place is a meaningful attempt to engage the aboriginal communities that remain the project’s biggest roadblock, one that includes substantially increased equity participation and devolution of control from Enbridge to an independent entity governed by a board that represented the interests of all of the project’s various stakeholders. It’s not clear that this new strategy will work, but the very fact that it’s being attempted in the first place speaks to Coady’s influence. And while admitting one’s mistakes and changing course might not seem like much of an innovation, in this particular case it may well be the one that produces the biggest gains.

Savanna Energy Services

Savanna Energy Services

The Innovator: Savanna Energy Services

Strategy and Operations

Finding skilled labor and establishing positive working relationships with aboriginal communities are two areas in which the energy sector has traditionally struggled. But Savanna Energy Services found a way to solve both problems at once by offering a 50 per cent equity stake in new service and drilling rigs to aboriginal communities who live where it does business. Since 2001, the company has partnered with 12 First Nations and Metis communities on the ownership and operation of 16 drilling rigs and nine service rigs, and in 2013 it formed a joint venture partnership with the Fort McKay First Nation (one that offers drilling, well servicing and oilfield equipment rentals) in which Savanna holds a 49 per cent stake. It’s also attracted significant investment in its shares by the Dene Tha’ First Nation, the Samson Cree Nation, the Saddle Lake First Nation, the Horse Lake First Nation and the Métis Nation of Alberta. As a result of these initiatives, the company has access to a local supply of labor and good working relationships with the communities they come from and whose land they’re often working on – strategic advantages that most service companies don’t always have.

Dan Themig

Dan Themig

The Innovator: Dan Themig

Exploration and Development

If there was a hall of fame for oil and gas industry innovators, Packers Plus president Dan Themig would be an inner-circle member. Along with Peter Krabben and Ken Paltzat, Themig founded Packers Plus, a company that would help revolutionize the way horizontal wells were fracked – and in turn help revolutionize the entire North American oil industry. StackFRAC, the company’s prize product and primary innovation, is an open hole ball drop completion system that’s widely credited with unlocking old resource plays that were thought to be too expensive or too technically challenging to tap. The company has continued to press ahead in the years since, adding new functions and features to its StackFRAC process along with additional tools and technologies. That, in turn, has allowed operators to dramatically increase the number of frack stages in each well – and the production that comes with them. In 2012, Themig was recognized for his work with a Sproule Innovation and Achievement Award, which are given to individuals or organizations that “have made significant contributions and accomplishments towards advancing the development of unconventional gas resources in Canada.” It’s a safe bet that it won’t be the last award he receives for his contributions to that sector.

The Innovator: COSIA

Strategy and Operations

Co-operation isn’t exactly a game-changing innovation. But co-operation between multibillion-dollar oil companies? That’s a different story. And that’s precisely the story behind Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), a union of some of the biggest players in the oil sands. They’ve agreed to share technologies that can help reduce their carbon footprint, improve their environmental performance and minimize the impact of tailings and other waste products they generate in the course of their operations. As of the end of 2014, COSIA’s 13 member companies have shared 777 technologies with each other that cost nearly $1 billion. In 2014 alone, 68 projects were initiated at a cost of more than $200 million. Sharing valuable R&D isn’t something that publicly traded companies are known for doing with each other, but Suncor CEO Steve Williams says Canada’s oil sands companies have learned to see each other as peers rather than competitors. “I don’t see it as us versus each other. It’s us versus the rest of the world.” And while trial and error might have been an acceptable way to do business in the past, it’s no longer good enough. “If you’re smart, you learn from your mistakes,” Williams says. “And if you’re really smart, you learn from other peoples’ mistakes.”

The Innovator: Titanium Corporation

Product Development

Most people see tailings ponds as a problem to be mitigated. But Calgary’s Titanium Corporation sees them as a resource to be tapped – and it’s doing just that with its suite of Creating Value from Waste technologies. They all seek to extract the valuable components found within tailings, be it heavy metals, bitumen, solvent or water, and find an outlet for them. Between 2008 and 2009 the company conducted more than 20 research projects with 12 different organizations, and in 2010 it performed a 12-month pilot for three oil sands companies. That pilot recovered 75 per cent of the bitumen and solvent in the tailings it was processing while also removing heavy mineral concentrates. Now the company is ready to move to a commercial deployment of its technologies, which would see a facility built near existing bitumen froth treatment plants that would apply a second stage of treatment. That treatment, it believes, would recover commercially attractive volumes of residual bitumen, solvents and heavy minerals like zircon and titanium while making the oil sands more environmentally friendly. Talk about a win-win.

Titanium Corporation

Titanium Corporation

The Innovator: Ferus Natural Gas Fuels

Product Development

While oil sands producers have received more than their share of global scrutiny for the carbon intensity of their operations, their peers in the Bakken shale have largely gotten a free pass to date. That’s a curious oversight given the enormous volumes of natural gas that they’re flaring into the air – gas that could be captured and reused rather than simply burned off. But Calgary’s Ferus Natural Gas Fuels, along with Statoil and GE, has developed a solution to that underreported problem. Its Last Mile Fueling Solution, which captures flare gas and uses it to power as many as six of Statoil’s drilling rigs and one of its frack fleets in the region, reduces field emissions (and will help Statoil comply with new flaring regulations) while actually reducing its operating costs.

That’s not the only innovative work that Ferus is up to these days, either. In late October, the company announced the grand opening of the first merchant LNG facility in Canada in Elmworth, Alberta. The facility produces fuel for engines used in drilling rigs, pressure pumping services and water heating as well as heavy-duty highway and off-road trucks in the region. And Ferus continues to pursue other avenues through which to build out a more robust LNG supply chain in North America, one that it hopes will lead to more widespread use of natural gas in a variety of commercial, industrial and consumer applications.

Neil Camarta

Neil Camarta

The Innovator: Neil Camarta

Exploration and Development

Whether it’s the European Union’s aborted fuel quality directive or the efforts of anti-Keystone protestors to single out oil sands crude, it’s clear that Canadian crude is under attack. These attacks share a common strategy: to effectively ­­de-commoditize oil from various sources by defining them by the emissions attached to extracting them. That’s bad news for oil sands crude, given that it tends to have marginally higher emissions profiles than some of its competing sources of supply. But Neil Camarta, an industry veteran who has run oil sands operations for Shell and Petro-Canada, has a solution that could stop those efforts dead in their tracks: DSU. The acronym stands for desulfurization and upgrading, and it’s a new upgrading process being offered by his new company, Field Upgrading, that he describes as being both simpler and more elegant than existing options.

It involves mixing molten sodium with bitumen, which takes the sulfur, heavy metals and acids out of the oil and yields a pipe-ready product (no diluent needed) with just “a fraction of the hydrogen required in conventional upgrading.” As a result, the company says, its process reduces both operating costs and carbon emissions compared to existing upgrading options. Indeed, according to Camarta, a recent test of a sample of Fort McMurray bitumen which contained five per cent sulfur, 300 ppm of heavy metals, an API under eight and an acid number of five was transformed by the DSU process into a product with 0.1 per cent sulfur content, five ppm of heavy metals and no acid at all. And because it’s fully scalable, it can be deployed in a variety of ways, from on-site upgrading of SAGD production to a full-scale permanent facility.

Petrofeed

Petrofeed

The Innovator: PetroFeed

Strategy and Operations

PetroFeed made some pretty big waves in 2014 with the launch (and subsequent adoption) of an app that allows users to see the real-time status of drilling rigs across the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin. Its informative and user-friendly interface made it a hit with users on both Apple and Android platforms, with one iTunes reviewer noting that “Everyone I know in the industry uses this.” In 2015 PetroFeed has already rolled out a new feature (the product of a partnership with operators and major service companies) that will allow users to get directions to well sites. Doing this from a single platform, rather than relying on a mish-mash of Google Map printouts and operator-sourced instructions, will allow companies to get the same set of directions out to everyone who needs them in a timely fashion. PetroFeed believes that this will increase supply chain efficiency and safety by reducing so-called “windshield time” for operators, and it will also allow companies to be more responsive when it comes to changing conditions, be it a road that’s in bad shape or a local farmer who doesn’t want traffic passing close to his home. It remains to be seen whether the app can transition from a free distribution model to a paid one, but its growing popularity among users suggests that’s more likely a question of when than if.

Cenovus

Cenovus

The Innovator: Cenovus Energy

Exploration and Development

There are almost no examples of successful CO2-EOR projects in Canada – that is, with the exception of the Weyburn, Saskatchewan, field operated by Cenovus Energy. The company has had its Weyburn project under CO2 floods since 2000. Production peaked at the field in the 1960s at around 50,000 barrels per day, and eventually dropped south of 10,000 by the 1990s. The lack of CO2-EOR projects in Canada is largely due to a shortage of natural carbon deposits; in the U.S., where such deposits are widespread, producers regularly inject CO2 into lackluster wells to stimulate production. But Cenovus managed to cut a deal with a North Dakota company that would pipe CO2 to Weyburn, which soon brought production back up to about 26,000 bpd in 2014. Since this past October, much of that supply of CO2 started coming from the nearby Boundary Dam CCS project, which is the first brown coal-fired power plant ever built with an integrated carbon capture and storage segment. Like many of the other technologies Cenovus adopted early on, other companies are now following suit.

The Innovator: Inventys

The Environment

Carbon dioxide is widely considered the main offender when it comes to greenhouse gases that cause global warming and climate change. And for reasons known only to certain environmental groups, oil and gas producers, despite leading the way in clean-energy investment, take almost all of the heat for it. It’s no wonder then that curbing the amount of CO2 that gets released into the environment whenever fossil fuels are burned is not only an industrial best practice but also the only way forward. Vancouver-based Inventys is both leading the way in Canadian carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology and taking the process one step further. In 2011, the company inked a research and development deal with Suncor Energy for trials of its proprietary VeloxoTherm technology for carbon capture, storage and eventual reuse in CO2-enhanced oil recovery. Technically a gas separation system, VeloxoTherm uses what’s called “temperature swing absorption” to capture carbon at the emission source – a flue stack for instance – resulting in a carbon capture cost of US$15 per tonne, or roughly one-third the cost of other post-combustion solutions. That carbon can then be injected underground for storage, or used either down-well for enhanced oil recovery or in chemical manufacturing.

nFluids

nFluids

The Innovator: nFluids

Product Development

Drilling fluids have many jobs, from cooling and lubricating the drill bit to removing cuttings, sealing the wellbore and maintaining hydrostatic pressure to prevent kicks or blowouts, to name just a few. The loss of drilling fluids, while part of the process, is both costly and potentially dangerous. And while there was a time when drillers would chuck graphite, walnut shells and wool down the hole in a slapdash effort to stanch the flow when seepage into or out of the well was detected, today (thanks in large part to nFluids) they have the potential to block seepage using nanoparticles. Incubated at the University of Calgary, nFluids is a private company that has been developing custom fluid additives which should soon provide a safer, greener, more efficient and cost-effective drilling operation. And while other universities and research centers have experimented with adding nanoparticles to drilling fluids, what puts nFluids’s patent-pending technology ahead of the rest is that the company doesn’t use one-size-fits-all nanoparticles off the shelf. Instead it makes them in-house, each set specifically tailored to fit the geology of a specific site. With the average well in Western Canada’s tight oil formations losing between three and five cubic meters of drilling fluid for every 100 meters drilled, that seepage can cost between $30,000 and $80,000 per well, based on average drill depths. If they can prevent even a fraction of that – and previous laboratory tests show their nanoparticle additives can cut fluid loss by as much as 90 per cent – then they’re on to something huge.

Colleen Legzdins

Colleen Legzdins

The Innovator: Colleen Legzdins

The Environment

As in the wider world, access to clean water is an increasingly important asset in the energy industry. Clean water output is no longer just a favor to the planet but a requirement for doing business that shows up on balance sheets. Treating waste from water-intensive industries like fracking, oil sands mining and SAGD is expensive, labor- and chemical-intensive and, let’s face it, not always reliable. But after cutting her teeth pioneering early-stage hydrogen fuel cells, Axine Water Technologies founder and chief engineer Colleen Legzdins set out to change all that. The result is a quick, low-cost, chemical-free, one-step technology that uses electrochemical oxidation to remove high concentrations of environmental pollutants from industrial wastewater. The cell-based system is modular and scalable, and can “plug in” to any size project without disrupting existing mining or refining processes. The water that comes out isn’t drinkable, but it is reuseable on site in various applications, creating a clean-water loop that industry won’t have to keep going back to the well for.

Sky Hunter

Sky Hunter

The Innovator: Sky Hunter

Exploration and Development

Mapping oil and gas plays is nothing new, but doing it from an airplane certainly is. And that’s what Calgary-based Sky Hunter has done by taking seismic to the skies with its proprietary technology that detects and maps micro-seeps in the ground to predict the presence of pressurized hydrocarbon reservoirs. Sky Hunter uses a small aircraft equipped with a “hydrocarbon nose” and other devices that record airborne hydrocarbon intensities and electromagnetic indicators from approximately 100 meters above the ground – or sea or ice. While one data channel measures for dry gas, two others account for rich gas and oil, filtering for vertical micro-seepage only while eliminating the “noise” of random hydrocarbons present in the atmosphere. The process is not only cheaper than traditional seismic surveying, according to the company, but it can survey areas otherwise off-limits to simple seismic sampling, all while leaving the ecosystem – whether onshore or off – undisturbed. With well over 100,000 kilometers of flight test data proving the effectiveness of Sky Hunter’s patent-pending technology, it seems the sky’s the limit for continued innovation in the airborne exploration field.

Kent Brown

Kent Brown

The Innovator: Kent Brown

Strategy and Operations

Clean Energy Canada named him 2014’s Canadian Innovator of the Year. We concur. With $730 million in operating assets expected by the end of 2015 and some key partnerships with First Nations governments, BluEarth and its president and CEO Kent Brown have created a viable renewable energy business in a country – and a city, Calgary – where many said it couldn’t be done. The independent power producer focuses on buying, building and operating wind, hydro and solar projects, with 16 projects now operating or in development across the country from B.C. to Nova Scotia. Brown, a former CEO of Canadian Hydro Developers, has put BluEarth on track to control $1 billion in spinning assets by 2017, despite the company only opening its doors four years ago. This year, BluEarth says it will target approximately $700 million in new acquisitions of development-stage projects and begin construction on a new wind project in Alberta.

Kelcie Miller-Anderson

Kelcie Miller-Anderson

The Innovator: Kelcie Miller-Anderson

The Environment

Kelcie Miller-Anderson has been experimenting with mushrooms since she was 15 years old. Today, the science-minded Calgary teen has turned that interest into a potentially game-changing approach to remediating oil sands tailings. Miller-Anderson, 20, has shown how tiny white oyster mushrooms grown in tailings samples can quickly and substantially reduce levels of residual petroleum hydrocarbons, naphthenic acids and pH levels and increase sodium absorption in both solid tailings and tailings water. Miller-Anderson began her award-winning research using soybean plants, but, given the harsh climate of northern Alberta, soon switched to the hardier oyster mushroom common to northern British Columbia with equal success. Recently named one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20, the University of Alberta student is now exploring whether there are other native species of mushroom that could also work. The theory behind tailings mycoremediation – remediation using fungi – is that the underground part of the fungus releases enzymes that break down hydrocarbons and then uses them as sugars to grow. With time on her side and industry looking closely over her shoulder, Miller-Anderson’s research may yet prove among the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly remediation options for tailings producers, both in the oil and gas industry and elsewhere.

Beaver Drilling

Beaver Drilling

The Innovator: Beaver Drilling

Exploration and Development

Everyone and everything seems to be going wireless these days, but there’s at least one company that’s moving in the other direction. Beaver Drilling will be deploying wired drill pipe on one of its rigs in 2015, and the Ethernet-like cable that it plans to use will give its employees real-time analysis of what’s happening at the drill bit. That means they can process the data the drill is sending back and adjust the drilling parameters as needed, improving efficiency and reducing costs by as much as 30 per cent. And while the technology has been used offshore for several years, theirs will be the first time it’s been deployed on a land rig in Canada. In an environment where drilling costs will be scrutinized more closely, that kind of cost-saving improvement should be of interest to just about everyone.

The Innovator: Sulvaris

Strategy and Operations

Sulfur is what puts the “sour” in sour gas and is a common waste product of many oil and gas industries, including Alberta’s. What to do with the poisonous pale-yellow powder once extracted from oil and gas has long been a question that’s answered by the chemical manufacturing industry. But last year, Calgary-based Sulvaris began to put shovels in the ground on its first production plant designed to convert sulfur into farm fertilizer. The Alberta facility is on the site of an existing gas plant operated by Keyera, which is a 50-50 partner in the project. The plant is designed to convert sour gas sulfur into 217,000 tonnes per year of a fertilizer the company is calling Vitasul. The product, which addresses the vital sulfur requirements of agricultural soil, will be marketed in the U.S., Canada and Asia. The product not only creates a competitive alternative to other sulfur fertilizers but provides a new value-added market for a Canadian oil and gas byproduct. And that market

is considerable: in 2011 Alberta produced nearly five million tonnes of sulfur (roughly two-thirds from sour gas and one-third from oil sands upgrading and refining), according to the Energy Resources Conservation Board.

The Innovator: Rocky Mountain Power

The Environment

Renewables, primarily wind, already provide approximately eight per cent of Alberta’s electricity, with two more wind farms planned near Edmonton. But taking the excess power from when the wind really blows in order to save it for when it doesn’t has always been a challenge. Calgary’s Rocky Mountain Power thinks it has found a solution by going underground – literally. By carving out caverns the size of 60-storey skyscrapers in naturally occurring salt layers underneath the Lloydminster area, Rocky Mountain believes it can store enough energy per cavern, in the form of compressed air, to power a town of 100,000 people for five days. But the caverns would be less a source of emergency power than a means of stabilizing the electrical grid by taking excess power off the grid and converting it for storage when the wind is strongest.

Oak Point Energy

Oak Point Energy

The Innovator: Oak Point Energy

Exploration and Development

To cut costs in the construction phase of steam-assisted gravity drainage projects, companies are offering increasingly modularized designs for steam generation plants. Oak Point Energy may have taken that trend a step further with its modular SAGD facilities, which it says can be assembled on site in all of 30 days. In 2011, Oak Point Energy bought KemeX, the company which designed the technology, and has plans to install the facilities at various oil sands operations, beginning with its Lewis Steepbank lease. The facilities vary in size, ranging from 1,260 barrels per day capacity to over 21,600 bpd. The economic argument for the pocket-size plants, according to the company, is that they can be constructed almost entirely from fabrication shops, making on-site assembly faster and less laborious. The modular facilities are said to shorten development cycles and use less water than larger, more conventional SAGD plants. As producers pare back their capital expenditure programs, all the while attempting to bring on new barrels, the modular technology, or others like it, is likely to have increased appeal amid low oil prices.

Westport Innovations

Westport Innovations

The Innovator: Westport Innovations

Product Development

Anyone who still thinks that alternative-power engines are too wimpy to properly power cars and trucks is likely unfamilar with the work of Westport Innovations. The Vancouver-based company’s compressed natural gas (CNG) engines provide all the torque, power and efficiency of their diesel counterparts and are already powering long-haul trucks, municipal buses and the company has even delivered LNG tenders for a Canadian National Railway test engine. Under the Ford Motor Company’s vehicle modifier program, Westport’s trademarked Westport WiNG Power System has been integrated into several lines of Ford’s lightest- to heaviest-duty pickup trucks and a school bus. The WiNG system is in use by fire departments, construction companies and delivery fleets around the U.S., and will be coming to a town near you – if it isn’t there already.

Absolute Combustion

Absolute Combustion

The Innovator: Absolute Combustion

Product Development

Heat is a “hot” commodity in the oilfield. It’s a basic requirement all the way down the line from extraction to processing to distribution. So it stands to reason that any gains in heating efficiency, no matter how slight, can quickly stack up into real dollars saved. Most fire-tube burners in the oil sands – in separators and treaters, for example – use high-pressure fuels which send flames several feet from the combustion source. That’s not only a potentially dangerous waste of heat, but more flame also means more wear and tear on downstream equipment. So Edmonton-based Absolute Combustion International developed a high-intensity burner that delivers an even and consistent heat, and a near-flameless one to boot. That advanced efficiency means not only lower fuel costs but fewer greenhouse gas emissions. So far, the burner’s applications are targeted towards smaller fire-tube jobs in the three- to five-million Btu range, but down the line the company is considering building more powerful units capable of heating fracking water or producing steam for SAGD extraction.

The Innovator: Hifi Engineering

Product Development

A pipeline leak, rupture or spill is the worst-case scenario for pipeline companies and the industry as a whole. Leak detection systems are many and varied, but for all, speed and accuracy of leak location are paramount in mounting an effective response. Calgary-based Hifi has developed a next-generation fiber optic monitoring system that can provide precise acoustic, thermal and vibration data along an entire length of pipe – and do it all simultaneously. Founded in 2007, Hifi first developed its patented technology in the upstream sector, providing drillers and operators acoustic data in more than 1,000 oil and gas wells. The new midstream technology has been refined to locate extremely low-rate leaks and even indications of pipeline strain before a leak occurs. Now, using laser light pulses through glass fiber optic cable, Hifi can “listen” for hairline cracks and even potential problems like land movement or digging near a pipeline. The company’s goal? No less than 100 per cent safe, leak-free pipelines.

GE Canada

GE Canada

The Innovator: GE Canada

The Environment

By its very nature, SAGD is a water intensive process – for now, at least. But GE Canada has made some impressive progress on reducing the amount of water the average SAGD operation uses thanks in large part to the work of Bill Heins, a chemical engineer who’s spent the last two decades trying to figure out how to minimize water use and maximize the ability to recycle it in a variety of industrial settings. Now a general manager for thermal products at GE Water & Process Technologies, he’s developed a SAGD evaporator that could, at full capacity, purify and recover as much as 98 per cent of the water used in a given SAGD operation. His invention also requires far less energy to heat the water than a comparable evaporator. As a result, one of GE’s evaporators could save as much as 500 million gallons of fresh water per year. If you scale that up to the number of SAGD operations in the province today, the number climbs easily into the billions of gallons. For a province that’s already staring at potential water shortages in the near future, that would be a major – maybe even transformative – difference.

Seven Generations Energy

Seven Generations Energy

The Innovator: Seven Generations Energy

Strategy and Operations

Despite being a relatively young company – or, perhaps, because of it – Seven Generations Energy has earned a reputation for being one of the most innovative companies in Albera. And while it stands out for its willingness to experiment with different combinations of drilling techniques, muds, completion techniques and well spacing and placements in an effort to maximize production and minimize costs, it’s the so-called Super Pads that it’s developed and deployed that are the real eyeopener. Each pad acts like a mini gas plant, with compression, dehydration and fluid-catching facilities on site that can perform a three-phase separation of the gas that’s drilled underneath them. At capacity, each pad is designed to handle 50,000 mcf of gas and 10,000 barrels of condensate per day, which it can then deliver to a central facility. And because they have the compression facilities on site, each length of pipe can handle more gas. All told, each pad adds to the company’s overall operational efficiency – no small consideration in a company that’s looking to grow as quickly as Seven Generations.

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Issue Contents

Comments

11 Responses to “Canada’s Top Energy Innovators 2015”


  1. Cody says:

    Storing compressed air in salt caverns sounds like an interesting proposition. I wonder though if the returns from the approximately $20m to mine the cavern over four to fives years would merit the ability to store the energy. Further would compressed air still allow the cavern to maintain its integrity? Salt caverns are generally full of water, oil or natural gas with a layer of oil on the roof of the cavern to prevent roof erosion. How would you prevent the roof from eroding?

    As well it would be interesting to hear what GE is doing with the evaporator blow down coming off their system. While it allows a very high recycle rate, the resulting product is very difficult to handle or dispose of.

  2. Dan Themig is a true Energy Innovator

  3. Robert says:

    A few of these nominations are excellent, such as Kent Brown with his wind power initiative, Beaver Drilling and their strategy of real time information at the drill bit, and N Fluid with its breakthrough technology.

    A few however are long past and should not be on this list of nominations. First Packers Plus and Dan Themig. This company has not delivered an innovation in 10 years. It is just old and tired. And Savanna Energy is doing nothing new by partnering with aboriginal communities.

    My suggestion is for this sort of award to be more than just another marketing campaign that is voted in by zealous employees, but a true peer driven assessment of what is truly innovative and meets the criteria of future energy value.

  4. Mabel Maxim says:

    PeterFeed will have my vote as innovative and progressive

  5. Absolute should win says:

    Darsells Karringten from Absolute Combustion hands down should win this award … The innovation and dedication to environmental causes is inspiring

  6. Melissa Salinas says:

    Dan Themig is the true epitome of Innovator.

  7. Alix Paris says:

    Absolute Combustion

  8. IP says:

    Ferus is a true innovator

  9. Re. The March 10 comment from Cody:
    The cavern integrity is maintained by never allowing the pressure of the gas in the cavern (natural gas or air) to drop lower than a minimum amount (about 750psi). This is the same for caverns used for natural gas storage and air storage. The minimum air/gas pressure required is determined by the depth of the cavern. Oil (more often now nitrogen) is used to maintain the cavern roof only when water is in the cavern during the brining or leeching process.
    CAES is economic in Alberta because the volatility of power prices provides opportunities for arbitrage revenue, because the ancillary service market also provides revenue opportunities and because the facility will be able to tie to both the Alberta and Saskatchewan providing interregional arbitrage opportunities as well. Finally, the ASISt facility, will enhance the economics of wind and solar generation thereby adding to the amount of renewable energy attached to the grid system, helping reduce reliance on hydrocarbon generation (CO2 emitting) systems.

  10. peter mare says:

    sulfur is going to be needed for batteries; maybe sulfur is better than potash and other fertilizers.

    I like the titanium techn. that would help clean tailings. 176 km2 worth of cleaning is needed because ecosystems, fauna and flora, water tables, lakes, rivers, and people are affected by those.

  11. peter mare says:

    The mushroom remediation might be a good idea as a complimentary way to treating those tailings ponds. Are those mushroom safe for consumption though?



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