Canada is full of valuable resources, from the oil sands to the copious quantities of sugar and cream in a Double Double. Fortunately, we’re also rich in intellectual resources that help make for better use of our natural resources.
But when it comes to ideas for reducing energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at oil sands operations, sometimes it’s helpful to look beyond our borders (including to countries with different coffee traditions).
As explored previously in OSQAR, GE’s GHG ecomagination Innovation Challenge is a crowdsourcing initiative that solicits ideas from around the world to reduce GHG emissions from oil sands production. Recently, GE announced the winners of its first phase of innovation challenges focused on GHG technologies: finding more efficient uses for low-grade heat.
With proposals from around the globe, the winning submissions were from Italy, the Netherlands, India and the United Kingdom. All four innovators found ways to make better use of the low-grade heat that’s produced as a by-product at oil sands operations. From an ammonia/water heat pump to the use of thermoacoustics (which harness sound waves as an energy transfer medium), each winning technology applied a unique approach to a single problem.
The more that oil sands companies effectively use available heat sources, the fewer GHG emissions they’ll produce.
Reducing energy use and GHG emissions is a focus area for Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), and so the COSIA group worked with GE to design this challenge. Along with Alberta Innovates, the Government of Alberta’s agency for advancing energy and environmental technology innovation, COSIA is a strategic adviser for the innovation challenge. (GE has also partnered with Suncor and other COSIA members on a pilot to advance oil sands water treatment to reduce water use, energy consumption and GHG emissions.)
In announcing its initial winners, GE also unveiled its next innovation challenge: improving the efficiency of oil sands steam generation. Producing high pressure steam is essential to in situ oil sands production. In situ extraction involves heating bitumen with steam so it can be easily pumped out of the ground. The water returned with the bitumen is then recycled by converting it back to steam in natural gas fired boilers. Generating the required steam without burning as much natural gas results in fewer GHG emissions and lower operating costs – a win/win for the industry and the environment. Would-be oil sands innovators have until April 9, 2015, to submit their proposals on this challenge.
As Canadians, it’s exciting to see some of the world’s keenest minds focused on making the best use of the resources that drive our country. And if Italy can help us reduce our GHG emissions, perhaps they can also teach us to appreciate coffee without all that sugar and cream.