Canada’s Top Energy Innovators 2016

Alberta Oil is highlighting the people, companies and technologies that are taking an unconventional approach to solving the energy industry’s biggest problems

April 01, 2016

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There is an old cliché that says, when faced with failure, “try, try again.” That advice certainly applies to innovators in the energy sector, often with a few hundred more “tries” required. That’s because, when it comes to innovation, failure is equally as important a lesson as success.

Innovation is about solving a problem with uncon­ventional thinking. This year, Alberta Oil is highlighting the people, companies and technologies that are taking an unconventional approach to solving the energy industry’s biggest problems. The energy sector has never been more in need of innovation than it is today. In a low-price environment, and with more focus than ever on environ­mental stewardship, operators are under immense pressure to cut costs and lower carbon emissions in order to stay competitive. From small upstart companies with bold ideas to large corporations with billions in revenues, the one trait that this year’s Top Energy Innovators all share is that they can’t afford to fail as they reach for these goals.

Neil Camarta’s work at Suncor and Shell gained him a powerful reputation in the industry. His upgrading technology aims at reducing sulfur and metals content with a secondary goal of raising its API

Neil Camarta’s work at Suncor and Shell gained him a powerful reputation in the industry. His upgrading technology aims at reducing sulfur and metals content with a secondary goal of raising its API

The Innovation: Making oil into marine fuel in landlocked Alberta

Product Development

The flat, dry Alberta landscape is the last place you would expect to find a technology that turns heavy oil into marine fuel. But Field Upgrading is doing exactly that with its pilot project based in Fort Saskatchewan, located just north of Edmonton—and 800 kilometers from the nearest coastline. It’s an idea that is often met with raised eyebrows. “People don’t immediately understand the connection to ships,” says Neil Camarta, the CEO of Calgary-based Field Upgrading. And yet, despite how unlikely it might sound, he has a plan to ship 10,000 barrels per day (b/d) of marine fuel to the market by 2019.

Camarta believes he can achieve this goal in part because of the mobility of his technology. The upgrading facility will be skid-mounted, allowing the company to position it in ports all across the world. The project is a homegrown operation for now, but Camarta says it could theoretically be built near a refinery in any country, and he’s eyeing the world’s major marine fuel hubs of Singapore, Rotterdam and Fujairah as potential locations. The company is also considering Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, just north of Edmonton, as a jumping-off point. From Alberta, heavy oil would be upgraded into marine fuel and then shipped to ports in Vancouver, Seattle or Los Angeles by rail.

Camarta’s model is different from other upgrading technologies in that it doesn’t focus on getting bitumen into pipelines—indeed, Camarta doesn’t want the fuel he produces to ever see the inside of a pipeline, as the journey would contaminate the product with sulfur. Instead, once the pilot plant is complete, Field Upgrading’s end-product will be sent directly to seaport fueling stations instead of to a refinery. As an added bonus, refineries’ heavy ends could even one day provide some of the feedstock for the process.

Bitumen comes into Camarta’s pilot plant with a gravity of eight API and leaves at 18 API, with nearly all metals and sulfur removed. On a basic level, the technology works by replacing heavy sulfur atoms with lighter hydrogen atoms, which in turn raises the API. Field Upgrading is now raising money through private investors to design a full-scale facility.

Camarta says the process involves “taking the dirty out of dirty oil” by lowering the sulfur content from five percent to 0.1 percent. That should give Camarta’s technology a boost considering recent pushes to make marine fuel less sulfur intensive. In 2015, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) reduced the maximum permitted sulfur content for marine fuels from one percent to 0.1 percent, and tightened specifications for vessels in ports and close to coastlines. Farther out to sea, the sulfur content limit is 3.5 percent, but that is expected to be reduced to 0.5 percent by 2020. To meet the new specification, the only thing most ships can burn instead is marine diesel, which is more environmentally friendly than lower-cost marine fuel.

Camarta says the shift toward marine diesel could provide a decent margin, as shippers currently pay high prices for the relatively cleaner product. It will be some time yet before Field Upgrading’s pilot project is scaled up—he’s eyeing front-end engineering by 2017 for a 2019 startup. Nonetheless, it seems like the next big step in marine fuel innovation could come from an unlikely development in the Canadian prairies.

09-innovators-Neil-Camarta-story-01b

The Innovation: Taking Carbon Out of the Barrel

The Environment

Horizon Oilfield Solutions’ hybrid LED-solar-diesel flood lighting system—the Cleantek light tower—reflects the oil services industry’s focus on environmental and cost-cutting technology

Horizon Oilfield Solutions’ hybrid LED-solar-diesel flood lighting system—the Cleantek light tower—reflects the oil services industry’s focus on environmental and cost-cutting technology
Photo Courtesy Horizion Oil Field Solutions

Horizon Oilfield Solutions, a Calgary-based company, has invented two back-to-back carbon-slashing technologies—a hybrid LED-solar-diesel flood lighting system, and a soot-scrubbing waste water evaporator that’s powered by waste heat from rig engines. Both provide real-world savings.

ZeroE (for zero emissions), Horizon Oilfield’s latest innovation, evaporates wastewater with no fuel input required.  It is 100 percent powered by the waste heat from the engines on the rig. Further, the design of the ZeroE scrubs the diesel emissions of carbon soot, particulate matter and combustion chemicals, sending only cooled, cleaned exhaust into the atmosphere.

Solar-hybrid lighting combines powerful LED light panels with solar panels, Lithium batteries and a diesel-powered generator to reduce costs as well as carbon footprint. It is currently used throughout the oil patch—typically in the first two months of a field being developed, before more permanent forms of power and lighting can be brought to play. It can reduce lighting fuel costs by up to 95 percent on a single project. In addition to significant reductions in CO2 and sulfur oxides, LED lighting uses 75 percent less energy than incandescent lighting, its bulbs last 25 times longer and produce more directional, higher consistency light, so LED slashes maintenance hours spent changing bulbs, while also cutting power costs.

Photo courtesy Carbon Engineering

Photo courtesy Carbon Engineering

The Innovation: Carbon Capture

The Environment

At first glance, Calgary-based Carbon Engineering’s plan to grab carbon from the air and turn it into synthetic gasoline might not receive a warm welcome in Alberta’s oil patch. But this ultra-low carbon fuel could be blended in Albertan refineries to lower their carbon footprints, saving billions of dollars otherwise needed to upgrade them.

The Bill Gates-backed firm’s pilot plant in Squamish, B.C., captures one ton of atmospheric CO2 per day. Carbon Engineering is now studying a plant to synthesize hydrocarbons by combining CO2 and electrolysis-produced hydrogen from water, using renewable energy. Geoffrey Holmes, Carbon Engineering’s Business Development Manager says it “potentially could be producing synthetic fuels by 2017.” It would produce syngas (synthesis gas) and methanol, as intermediaries within the plant. Syngas can produce diesel or jet fuel and methanol can produce gasoline. The challenge is finding a business model that can sustain it, so an ongoing feasibility and engineering study are working out how to apply it to local industry.

In the commodity CO2 market, there’s not much differentiation based on where the CO2 comes from. By contrast, many jurisdictions, including California and B.C., have low-carbon fuel standards in place that do differentiate fuels based on lifecycle carbon intensity and allow low-carbon fuels to generate high-value credits. “So that’s our target market,” Holmes says.

Photo courtesy Saltworks Technologies

Photo courtesy Saltworks Technologies

The Innovation: Zero liquid water disposal

The Enviornment

Oil sands operators are deeply invested in reducing costs for steam generation in the steam-assisted gravity drainage process. But there is a secondary challenge after the oil has been pumped to surface: how to dispose of the leftover wastewater that can’t be re-injected back into the cycle. Saltworks Technologies, a Vancouver-based company, is advancing a technology that could make that disposal significantly cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

The company has developed the SaltMaker Evaporator Crystallizer, a mobile facility that can reduce blowdown water to its basic elements, leaving behind only a solid waste product and distilled water. The “zero liquid” technology operates at a relatively low temperature between 60°C and 90°C, and theoretically eliminates the cost of trucking wastewater to a designated disposal area. Saltworks has tested its water separation technology on several SAGD projects, where the company was able to recover high volumes of freshwater below a threshold of 500 milligrams per liter of total dissolved solids (TDS), according to a case study by the company. Its technologies can also be used in fracking operations or enhanced oil recovery. In an industry where low cost per-barrel production is paramount, the low-temperature technology could vastly alter companies’ water disposal methods.

Photo courtesy Osprey informatics

Photo courtesy Osprey informatics

The Innovation: Well monitoring

Exploration and Development

Intelligent visual monitoring (IMV) of oil installations improves security and productivity, optimizes personnel-hours, and can head off environmental trouble. And at $2 per hour operating cost—compared to up to $60 per hour to send an inspector out—it boosts the bottom line during this time of cost cutting. Slashing inspector visits has the added benefit of reducing an operators’ carbon footprint.

Osprey Informatics’ contribution to this technological conversation is Osprey Reach—a cloud-based IMV, delivered software-free over cellular networks and accessible online. Its bandwidth efficiency and low-power cameras are designed for remote sites. IMV allows visual validation of security alarms and checks for leaks and spills—this means faster response times and less environmental or property damage, lower clean-up costs, and responders knowing exactly what they will face on arrival. Operators receive site snapshots with automated visual reports, which are created and shared. Osprey Reach connects with industrial sensors and corporate data systems such as SCADA, access control and fleet management. It combines video analytics computer vision and sensor-system data for accuracy and relevance, and is an open platform
for integration.

PetroJet’s “multi-lateral” technology allows targeted positioning in fracking by replacing well fractures with tiny offshoots of steel tubing

PetroJet’s “multi-lateral” technology allows targeted positioning in fracking by replacing well fractures with tiny offshoots of steel tubing
Image courtesy PetroJet

The Innovation: Multilateral wellbores

Exploration and Development

On a basic level, fractures in a reservoir are a bit like mini vertical wells, each funneling oil or natural gas liquids back into the main wellbore to be produced. And, although fracking zones are positioned according to very deep analysis, they are still essentially random in their specific direction. Reducing that randomness is part of the essence behind PetroJet, a Calgary-based company that specializes in a “multi-lateral” technology that replaces well fractures with tiny offshoots of steel tubing. The technology somewhat resembles what is known as “fishbone” technology, in which a high number of short offshoots stem from the main wellbore. PetroJet’s technology, by way of comparison, uses larger and longer offshoots with more targeted positioning.

The company says it can use the technology in various formation types, including sandstone and carbonate. The laterals can also be placed on either horizontal or vertical wellbores. In 2012, the company began a pilot project with Devon Canada at one of its oil sands leases, where it successfully placed 14 laterals on one of the company’s injection wells to boost production. As oil sands companies become more focused on precision rather than sheer high yields, multi-lateral technologies could become more appealing as a method to cut costs.

PureHM’s pipeline inspection system, XLI, combines with sonar and GPS to give exact pipeline locations and its electrical potentials

PureHM’s pipeline inspection system, XLI, combines with sonar and GPS to give exact pipeline locations and its electrical potentials
Photo courtesy PureHM

The Innovation: Pipeline inspection

Product Development

In a nutshell, the latest pipeline integrity and inspection technology from PureHM means fewer inspectors will have to drive out to remote pipelines to locate pigs. Its Armadillo remote tracking units allow PureHM to monitor pig movement from afar, and it invested $1million in developing a web page that displays the pig’s position, velocity and estimated time of arrival in real time. Armadillo can be used to track any type of pig, in any type of pipeline, anywhere in the world.

Another PureHM system, XLI, when utilized with sonar and GPS provides elevation profiles and depth of pipelines in water or ground, telling operators about potentially harmful geotechnical activity and pipeline exposures. In addition to coatings, pipelines are protected from corrosion damage by an electrical field. But this only works if the field is able to reach the entire length of the pipeline. XLI records electrical potentials at intervals and prioritizes coating repairs. XLI and Armadillo ensure PureHM’s growth—a 50 percent jump in revenue last year that it aims to replicate this year. Chinese state-owned giant Sinopec has requested demos of their technology. “We got into this business wanting to make a difference”, says Jim Hunter, VP of Operations. Now it’s paying off.

Photo courtesy Suncor

Photo courtesy Suncor

The Innovation: Leading collaboration

Product Development

Canada’s oil sands producers, regardless of their size, are constantly investing in new technologies, whether to decrease tailings volumes, boost steam-driven production, cut back on water consumption and carbon emissions or reduce operating costs. But few are as widely involved in these efforts as Suncor Energy. It probably comes as no surprise that Canada’s largest oil sands producer is its leading investor in innovation, but the company deserves credit for the long list of partners that it has collaborated with to research and develop new technologies.

That list is too expansive to include here in full. Suncor has worked with many companies in its water reduction efforts, including the construction of the $165-million Water Technology Development Centre on its Firebag lease that will involve five major oil sands producers and COSIA. It’s also piloting numerous water reduction technologies on its SAGD operations, like the electromagnetically assisted solvent extraction (EASE) pilot project that uses low-frequency waves to melt the bitumen in place. It is actively involved in a handful of other ongoing SAGD pilot projects.

The company’s innovative efforts also stretch into reducing GHGs, like the direct-contact steam generation (DCSG) pilot project that could substantially alter the emissions profile of in situ production. Other ongoing pilot programs involve its mining division, where it has made commendable progress in tailings reduction. In recent years Suncor began piloting an autonomous hauling system that could eventually cut operating costs at its mines. The company will begin a new pilot program in mid-2016 to determine its viability, but emphasizes that it is a long way from making a final investment decision.

The Innovation: Accelerating innovation

Finance

For entrepreneurs—and especially for entrepreneurs in Canada’s energy sector—navigating through the thicket of government grants, regulations, private equity firms and intellectual property laws can seem hardly worth the trouble. Enter Kinetica Ventures, an energy accelerator based in Calgary, which assists early-stage energy innovators through the development of their technologies. Kinetica aims to bridge the gap between energy innovators and their potential clients in the energy sector; through its various partners, it can offer legal consultation, give advice on funding options and help set specific targets to speed up the development process. It is able to achieve this, it says, largely because of its specific knowledge of the energy industry, which includes energy transportation, renewables, carbon and hydrocarbon production and processing.

Kinetica, which is a division of Innovate Calgary, was launched in January of 2014. It has consulted with over 50 companies, some of which have quickly advanced their technologies and are preparing to scale up. Direct-C, a startup company that is working with Kinetica, is developing pipeline leak detection technology that uses a combination of a proprietary pipeline coating and low-voltage semi-conductors to detect spills at low cost. When it comes to commercializing energy technologies, often times a good idea is not enough. Kinetica boosts innovation by taking promising ideas and steering them toward success.

Photo courtesy ambyint

Photo courtesy ambyint

The Innovation: Real-time well monitoring

Exploration and Development

Best known for introducing an array of Internet of Things technologies into the oilfield, ambyint is no newcomer to downwell innovation. Known in another life as PumpWell Solutions, the name change was meant to reflect the company’s pivot away from traditional oilfield technology, and towards more high-tech solutions. Regardless of the name, the goal is the same: boosting barrel counts for clients, while lowering operating costs. To do so, the company uses a host of sensors, wireless transmitters and the data they relay to find potential efficiencies in how an oil well is operating. The monitoring device ambyint developed is cheap (about $1,500 per unit) and compact, meaning an operator no longer has to decide which of their wells to monitor—they can monitor all of them at once. That’s something a hired hand just can’t do, and at a price that more than pays for itself. And like a human helper, the ambyint monitor is constantly improving and refining its knowledge through Internet connectivity, advising its operator which wells to pay the most attention to and where problems may arise next.

UAV Geomatics’s Aeryon SkyRanger drones (Seen here with DIMITRA KATSURIS, UAV’s VP Business Development) remotely map oil and gas sites, give detailed images of incidents and monitor construction work Photo Cooper & O’Hara

UAV Geomatics’s Aeryon SkyRanger drones (Seen here with DIMITRA KATSURIS, UAV’s VP Business Development) remotely map oil and gas sites, give detailed images of incidents and monitor construction work
Photo Cooper & O’Hara

The Innovation: Advanced aerial surveillance

Product Development

When a large oil spill was discovered seeping from a pipeline at Nexen’s Long Lake site last summer, one of the first phone calls the company made was to UAV Geomatics. Within hours the aerial surveillance company had an unmanned drone aircraft soaring over the spill site near Fort McMurray, drawing a highly detailed map of the extent of the damage. Since 2012, Calgary-based UAV Geomatics has used Aeryon SkyRanger drones to remotely map oil and gas sites, monitor construction work, and report back on situations like the Nexen spill, all without the cost and inconvenience of putting equipment and experts on the ground. Using orthophoto technology, the company can digitally correct its massive area maps to a uniform scale within a few centimeters of accuracy, and then process those maps as large three-dimensional models. With clients like Suncor, Shell, and the former Talisman Energy, UAV Geomatics has cemented its reputation among industry leaders, providing aerial surveillance services that target the whole lifespan of a project, from siting to design to land reclamation. What was once only possible with the use of a helicopter or airplane, can now be done better and at a fraction of the price with a drone. As the technology and regulation for unmanned aerial vehicles improves, that trend will only grow.

The Innovation: CO2 foam fracking

Exploration and Development

Removing carbon from industrial waste stacks and using it to reduce water dependency among Canadian natural gas drillers sounds too good to be true. It isn’t. And if that technology can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the wellhead, all the better. That’s the story of Ferus, one of Canada’s chief providers of off-road fluids to the energy industry. And it’s the story of their emerging CO2 foam fracking technology that’s now in play in the Middle Montney formation. Using a recaptured carbon dioxide mixture favored for its improved viscosity, the fracking mixture is able to place sand more effectively than traditional fluids, and carry the proppant deeper into a reservoir, leading to better recovery rates overall. Of course, replacing much of that traditional fracking water with condensed CO2 foam also means reducing truck traffic and water-storage needs at the well site.  That’s good news from an environmental standpoint and a cost-savings one, too.

Photo courtesy C-FER

Photo courtesy C-FER

The Innovation: Collaboration

Strategy and Operations

Behind the scenes of the public pipeline safety debate, sits C-FER Technologies, the former Centre for Frontier Engineering Research. Most Canadians won’t know of it or what it does, but industry the world over sure does. The Alberta research lab is at the forefront of oilfield equipment and engineering stress-testing. Often that means blowing up pipelines, ripping apart undersea well casings, inciting underground gas leaks and generally wrecking stuff—all within the safety of one of two Edmonton test sites. But what’s most innovative about C-FER is its collaborative approach to finding and encouraging best practices within the industry. As part of Alberta Innovates, C-FER is a not-for-profit organization that’s funded by major global industry players. Apart from testing new tools and techniques, C-FER tracks product failures, sets worldwide safety standards and develops software designed to make available the best industry know-how for manufacturers, operators, vendors and regulators. “That’s where the collaboration part comes in,” says C-FER business development and planning director Brian Wagg. “Once we hear a number of people all commenting on the same challenges, we bring them together into a joint industry project, and often that includes building unique testing systems, and then addressing that particular issue.”

Photo courtesy ME Resource

Photo courtesy ME Resource

The Innovation: Micro refineries

Product Development

The payout time on a new gas refinery—the amount of time it takes before a project actually turns a profit—is often measured in decades. But Vancouver-based ME Resource believes it has found a way to cut those decades down to just two years using micro gas refineries. The project is part of a partnership with École Polytechnique de Montréal, and has buy-in from Texas distributor, Well Power, Inc. The idea is to produce mobile micro refinery units (MRUs) that can process raw natural gas right at the wellhead. This would take an undervalued asset like wasted or stranded gas, and use it to produce ready-to-use products like engineered fuel, diluent and electricity. The micro refinery reactors use a patented technology to process between 100 mcf and 500 mcf per day, according to ME Resource. Of course, turning waste gas into fuel isn’t just good for the pocket book, it’s good for the environment, too. And, as many of the innovators on this list have shown, finding a way to pair economic benefit with environmental conservation is the holy grail of the energy industry today.

The Innovation: Flexible work hours

Strategy and Operations

The energy sector is notorious for its long workdays. But recently companies are embracing the idea that less can be more—and nowhere more so than Enerplus. That’s not to say its employees enjoy two-hour lunches and a three-day work week. Rather, the company simply puts fewer restrictions on how employees can structure their time on the job. Since last year the company has had a policy of letting its estimated 600 workers have more flexibility in their work day. That also goes for vacation time, allowing employees to choose what’s appropriate for them, provided certain workload expectations are met.

The new program is part of an industry- and society-wide shift towards greater employee flexibility and a shifting balance between work and leisure. The shift is also helping to engage employees in today’s world, for whom mobile technology and non-stop Internet connectivity allow for workplace tasks to be completed from anywhere, at any time. And with anxiety rising among all employees in the energy sector during today’s downturn, allowing for more flexibility to alleviate those stresses makes sense from a human resources standpoint as well as an economic one.

The Innovation: Merging energy with not-for-profits

Finance

The use of energy is overwhelmingly viewed as a one-way transaction: people consume energy in their daily lives, but rarely use that energy to give something back. That is where Sponsor Energy, a kind of energy brokerage based in Calgary, diverges from the pack. Carolyn Martin, the president and CEO of Sponsor Energy, has found an innovative way to divert the money spent on everyday energy consumption toward charities. Basically, the company supplies energy to residential and commercial clients, then splits the profits 50/50 with a not-for-profit of the client’s choice. When she started the company in 2012, Martin had a goal to allocate $5 million toward charities in her first five years. Based on past performance, the company will easily surpass that.

Click image to zoom Schematic courtesy Cenovus

Click image to zoom
Schematic courtesy Cenovus

The Innovation: Molten carbonate fuel cells

Product Development

Molten carbonate fuel cells aren’t yet a household technology, but that could change when the results of a Cenovus-led study are released later this year. As part of an ongoing joint industry project at Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), the study is looking at the feasibility of using carbon dioxide captured from flue stacks to generate electricity in molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs). So far, the MCFC technology has been proven useful for making electricity, but has not yet been proven up for commercial applications, such as in oil and gas production. Cenovus is currently finishing a pre-front end engineering and design study to determine the feasibility of launching an MCFC pilot project in the future. If successful, Cenovus’s goal is to use the cutting-edge electricity generation technology in the company’s new and existing steam-assisted gravity drainage operations.

Apoorv Sinha Photo Chris Wedman

Apoorv Sinha
Photo Chris Wedman

The Innovation: Making graphene from carbon

Product Development

Carbon Upcycling Technologies has developed a technology that captures carbon dioxide from an emissions source and joins it with graphite to make strong, versatile and lightweight graphene nanoparticles. The result is a product that takes the worst of the unwanted CO2 emissions from, say, a heavy oil refinery, and uses these byproducts as the building blocks—quite literally—of a whole other industry. “Right now our main focus is the cement and concrete industry because cement and concrete usually has a lot of add-mixtures in it,” Apoorv Sinha, the company’s president says. “So, the objective is always to capture CO2 as a feedstock and then create nanoparticles that we can sell to the market.” The new technology is designed to create a lighter and stronger concrete for the construction industry, with potential benefits to greenhouse gas (GHG) producers too. While many GHG-reduction techniques merely store waste carbon or convert it to fuel—both of which only delay the CO2’s eventual release into the atmosphere—the Carbon Upcycling Technologies method actually binds the CO2 into the graphene particle, creating a wholly new and useful material. And Carbon Upcycling has the potential to make money on both ends of the business, once from selling its products and once from getting paid to collect the emissions used to make them.

Photo courtesy GE Canada

Photo courtesy GE Canada

The Innovation: Modularization

Strategy and Operations

Canada has struggled to get an LNG export industry up and running. As prices for the commodity tank internationally, so too does the likelihood that a positive final investment decision will be made on one of the nearly two-dozen Canadian LNG export proposals. Small-scale LNG facilities may be one answer to that problem, but even small plants can run into big problems when it comes to sourcing their components from different manufacturers. That’s where GE comes in. The company has created a 100 percent modular small-scale LNG facility that can be trucked to different locations, assembled, and later disassembled and hauled away again. “It is fully modular and turnkey,” says David Sherman, an LNG process engineer with GE in Calgary. “There’s a six-acre pad where all of the modules can be pretested as well so that, when the customer makes a purchase, they know that what they’re going to get on location is ready to go—and the risk of cost overruns is, basically, zero.” All modules fall within standard Canadian road-transportation weight limits and don’t require additional trucking permits, even in remote northern locations. On average, each plant requires about 100 truckloads, according to the company, and can be brought online in a matter of months, rather than years.

Rendering courtesy CNRL

Rendering courtesy CNRL

The Innovation: Algae biodiesel

The Environment

For several years U.S. fuel manufacturers have commercially turned algae into biodiesel, but no one has tried it in the less-than-hospitable climes of northern Alberta—until now. CNRL has completed the initial engineering phase of its algal carbon conversion (ACC) demonstration project. With its partners, the National Research Council and Pond Biofuels, it is continuing R&D work and restructuring the project to meet the business needs of all involved. CNRL says that so far the project is all going according to plan. The partners are developing a new strategy for the deployment of the project.

Among algae’s advantages are that it can use wastewater and salt water in the process, making it perfect for the oil sands, and its biofuels are relatively harmless to the environment if they spilled. But a major drawback is its production cost—it’s more expensive than ethanol per unit mass due to high capital and operating expenditure but can yield between 10 and 100 times more fuel per unit area. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if algae-produced biofuel replaced all the oil fuel in the U.S., it would require an area only about 70 percent the size of Nova Scotia.

Great Northern Power’s patented waste heat-to-energy system pushes the limits of cogeneration efficiency eight percent higher than conventional systems Rendering courtesy Great Northern Power

Great Northern Power’s patented waste heat-to-energy system pushes the limits of cogeneration efficiency eight percent higher than conventional systems
Rendering courtesy Great Northern Power

The Innovation: Waste gas to clean power

The Environment

Clean energy is rarely cheap. Moreover, and especially in the case of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, there is often the additional challenge of intermittency. Great Northern Power’s patented waste heat-to-energy system tackles both problems at once and drives cogeneration efficiency eight percent higher than conventional systems. The company is preparing to unveil a low-cost technology for midstreamers that can produce a steady, money-making baseload of power from compressors’ waste heat. GNP uses an age-old organic rankine cycle (ORC) technology to take the waste heat from the exhaust of on-site compressors and convert it into clean power. Where the company diverges from other cogeneration competitors is in its efficiency—the company says its ultra-efficient system allows producers to vastly cut back on emissions while boosting their power capabilities.

The technology could be particularly useful as new policies are put into place to reduce on-site carbon emissions, or as companies look to cut costs through new efficiencies. One opportunity to do that could be in increasing efficiencies of on-site compressors, which tend to run around the clock and require vast amounts of input energy.

Jack Seguin is the Founder and President of RJ Oil, whose first job was as a B-Pressure welder in Alberta before becoming a serial financier. RJ Oil develops water separation technology for heavy oil Photo Cooper & O’Hara

Jack Seguin is the Founder and President of RJ Oil, whose first job was as a B-Pressure welder in Alberta before becoming a serial financier. RJ Oil develops water separation technology for heavy oil
Photo Cooper & O’Hara

The Innovator: High-efficiency water separation

The Environment

Few energy financiers get their start in the cookie dough industry. But that happens to be the case for Jack Seguin, a serial financier who began his career with an investment in English Bay Batter, a small cookie-dough manufacturer that eventually grew to include six manufacturing hubs across North America. Seguin is hoping to replicate that success with RJ Oil, an Acheson, Alberta-based company that has developed a water separation technology for heavy oil producers.

The company’s RJO Phase Separator technology requires no heat or chemicals to separate oil from processed water, in turn lowering the energy intensity of the production process. On a basic level, the technology works by adding a gas to the mixture of heavy oil and water that is pumped up to the surface during production; that gas causes small bubbles to form in the mixture that latch onto tiny oil particles, which then allows the oil to float more buoyantly on top of the water. As a result, producers are able to retain a higher volume of the total oil they produce. The company estimates that it can take the stream from a wellhead, which typically has about 10,000 parts per million (ppm) of oil, and reduce it down to around 25 ppm. If proven out, the technology could be a significant advancement in water separation technologies.

**The print version of this story provided the name of an engineer who was said to be currently developing RJ’s technology. In fact, he is no longer with the company in any capacity. We regret the error. 

Rendering courtesy Oplii

Rendering courtesy Oplii

The Innovation: Mobile Site Management

Strategy and Operations

Paperwork in the oil patch is a thing of the past. At least, that’s the opinion of the makers of Oplii, a Calgary-based mobile app provider. The company has developed software that allows oil and gas firms to gather all of the various data entries on a worksite—expense forms, incident reports, equipment inspections—and document them on an integrated mobile app. The system is designed to do away with the mounds of spreadsheets and forms that are typically used to log data on sites. Not only does the app reduce paperwork, it also allows users to share all of the data that is documented, allowing various offices to track information—like expense reports, say—in real time.

The company has run several pilot projects with small- to medium-sized energy companies. Oplii is certainly not the only company to offer mobile management systems, but it is arguably one of the most comprehensive, allowing energy firms to track (and store) virtually every conceivable aspect of operations. The technology plays into a larger trend that aims to drive down operating costs through improving efficiency. By having more data at their immediate disposal, site managers can more readily make decisions how capital is best spent. Moreover, mobile apps allow users to share information across the same platform, which can lead to more collaborative decision-making.

Conrad Ayasse Photo Chris Wedman

Conrad Ayasse
Photo Chris Wedman

The Innovation: Improved oil recovery

Exploration and Development

Conrad Ayasse embodies the archetypical garage-tinkerer of the oil patch—a lab-coat specialist with an eye for energy innovation. In a career that has spanned decades, Ayasse has developed a long list of innovations, and has at least 29 patents to show for it. One of his most recent inventions is improved oil recovery (IOR), a technology that would allow producers to re-enter old wells without refracking the reservoir. The process involves using a combination of tubes and packers to isolate specific fractures along a horizontal well bore, and then injecting a stimulant to boost production through those existing fractures in an alternating pattern. This allows production to occur in a very specific, or targeted, fashion that resembles the “flooding” technique used in bitumen reservoirs, which Ayasse says can achieve a 40 percent recovery rate.

Ayasse has had a hand in creating numerous other technologies over his storied career, which included a long tenure with the Petroleum Recovery Institute as well as 13 years spent at Dow Chemical. Like all unconventional thinkers, not all of his ideas have been a roaring success. Ayasse helped develop toe-to-heel-air-injection (THAI), a technology that showed promise in preliminary tests but failed to be commercialized. Still, his ideas reflect a willingness to look at energy innovation from a fresh angle. At its core, innovation is as much about trying something new as it is succeeding with those new ideas, and in this way Ayasse represents energy innovation in its purest form.

GE Canada

GE Canada

The Innovation: Cutting GHGs

The Environment

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance members are steaming ahead with a technology that mixes tailings water with boiler exhaust for SAGD operations, then sequesters the carbon underground. The companies involved in the Suncor-led Direct Contact Steam Generation (DCSG) pilot project are Shell Canada, Devon Canada, Canadian Natural Resources and Statoil. An economic feasibility study showed the technology would be competitive with existing steam generation technologies, but with additional associated environmental benefits, and, of course, there are now carbon tax credit paybacks, too.

To achieve optimization the technology needs to run in highly pressurized environments of 100 bar or higher with dissolved hydrocarbons and solids in the water. The pilot proved this is possible and identified the further development work that will be needed to scale-up the technology. Suncor is currently working with government-owned research center, CanmetENERGY to design a project for the next development phase.

The system recycles 90 percent of the water it uses, and requires just 10 percent of additional water as top up. If taken from existing ponds, tailings water could be consumed with this technology, accelerating land reclamation. Not all the CO2 would be sequestered underground—some would rise with the steam, which condenses at the surface. A capture-ready CO2 stream could be separated from the steam for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), or sequestered in other geological formations outside of the oil sands.

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Comments

One Response to “Canada’s Top Energy Innovators 2016”


  1. Ray Jan says:

    I’m honoured to be part of Suncor. Without a doubt Suncor is really zeroing on a better future with special focus on safety, reliability and cost.