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Jun 25, 2021

CRIN Tech competitions: What solutions might we expect?

In March 2021, the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) announced $80 million of funding for three large-scale technology competitions to accelerate development and commercialization of innovations that will address priority environmental and economic challenges across Canada’s oil and gas industry.

With the initial applications for the first two competitions having come to a close, we now eagerly await the finalists to be announced and to see how the partnered innovators and producers plan to bring their pioneering projects to life.

To understand what we might expect from the brilliant minds of applicant project teams, we asked some CRIN technology theme area leads for insights.

Why are oil and gas technology competitions important?

Bryan: The competitions enable an accelerated development of technology in the TRL 6-9 space. There’s a significant amount of funding on the table, and there’s an opportunity to allocate them to some meaningful projects that can really move the needle on the objectives of the Clean Resource Innovation Network. We’re obviously in a weird situation, from a macro environment, at the moment. There’s the pandemic, oil prices, the transition that we’re seeing around us as companies start moving toward net-zero, and the transformative implications that this transition has. It is exciting, but it has also created a challenge in getting the capital necessary to pursue some of these ideas. We are idea-rich and capital-poor, and that makes for the perfect environment for these kinds of competitions to launch some of these projects.

Dave: The Low Emission Fuels and Products technology competition is an opportunity to adapt and modify the hydrocarbon space into a lower carbon world as policy and public sentiment moves towards the expectation of lower carbon emissions. Different types of fuels will be necessary as alternatives as we try to meet the goals of reducing the environmental impact of our energy systems, and this competition will help us find ways to develop these new fuels and activate the innovation that’s necessary to move towards a more environmentally-friendly future.

What types of technologies should we expect to emerge as having the greatest potential to reduce environmental impacts, including emissions reduction?

Bryan: There will undoubtedly be various exciting fields and topics that will make waves in CRIN’s first two technology competitions and within Canada’s innovation ecosystem more broadly. Some are ideas that honestly only a few years ago people hadn’t heard of or had dismissed as not much of an opportunity. In just the last few years all have gotten a lot of traction and a lot of excitement. A sampling includes but is not limited to:

  • Hydrocarbons: novel extraction and innovative products
  • Hydrogen: tackling issues of infrastructure, note Edmonton is becoming one of the first hydrogen hubs in North America
  • Lithium, vanadium, and titanium: responding to growing demand for a battery-reliant low-carbon electrified future
  • Bitumen beyond combustion (BBC): using bitumen for materials like carbon fiber, asphalt binder, and activated carbon
  • Geothermal: exploring potential within Canada’s geology
  • Carbon capture utilization (CCU): amplifying the significant building blocks of infrastructure that we already have in place - like the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre and the Alberta carbon trunkline - to become international leaders in CCU

Enhance existing or introduce new concepts?

Applicant projects could propose to build on existing solutions or be focused on previously unproven concepts. We’re hoping for both!

Dave: I think that one of the things that’s important for consumers and for society is that the alternatives that we develop, like at these competitions, are manageable in terms of cost, that they provide reliable solutions, and frankly, prompt big industries to look at new ways of doing things. When we have innovators enhance what we have today, it comes at a great benefit to society because our installed infrastructure is so expensive and valuable. When you can produce new fuels within the installed infrastructure, you’re creating very low cost abatement of carbon, and that’s a fantastic story. But new and innovative ideas about how to do things can also open up other doors that can either work within the existing infrastructure or complement it. And I think that I am optimistic that we’ll see a mix of those things, some providing solutions near term and some providing solutions down the road.

Excitement for Canada’s future

Bryan: There’s exciting opportunity within these and other competitions to help create entirely new industries rooted in Canadian assets and expertise to provide benefits to all Canadians. Accelerating development, commercialization and wide-spread adoption of innovative solutions will significantly contribute to meeting Canada’s net-zero emission targets and create products that the world is demanding.

Dave: I’m really excited about the potential for service industries, with expertise in a challenging climate with challenging crude from the oil sands, building up Canada’s capacity and exporting that service and those processes around the world. And it’s not necessarily always the physical product, it’s the know-how. I think that, from what I’ve seen in my work, that expertise is globally leading and so, to figure out how to do it and then sell those services to the rest of the world, I think is a really exciting prospect for the economy. It’s also an opportunity for Canada to demonstrate leadership around the environment and show how it can be done in ways that still support traditional resourcing.

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