Energy Innovation Brief
Issue 29 | March 29, 2023
In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. If you have an idea for a story, email us at:
Pollution solutions in the world’s highest emitting sectors
Fashion! Big Tech! Maritime shipping! What are these doing in the Energy Innovation Brief?
The last few years have been chock-full of announcements about innovation across the energy sector. But for this month’s Brief, we take a step back from the energy industry to look at innovations being deployed in other high-emitting industries: concrete, big tech, fashion, maritime shipping, steel and aviation—all industries that have high overall emissions and are struggling to find suitable replacement energy sources. The innovations highlighted below may not solve all emissions problems in these industries, but they highlight some of the interesting ways companies are approaching the challenge.
01| Concrete – Mining landfills for ingredients
02| Big Tech – The world’s largest purchaser of renewable energy
03| Fashion – Fabric waste turned into hydrogen
04| Maritime Shipping – CCS at sea
05| Steel – New and electrifying projects from Ontario producers
06| Aviation – Money to induce sustainable airline fuel development
Concrete – Mining landfills for ingredients
A partnership agreement between power producer TransAlta and Canada’s largest concrete producer, LaFarge Canada, promises to advance the production of low-carbon concrete in Alberta. Fly ash, a waste product from coal-fired power plants, has long been used as an ingredient to strengthen concrete and to displace the amount of cement needed by up to 25 per cent—which is significant, as cement production is the highest-emissions part of the process. But Alberta’s coal plants shut down in 2021, meaning: no more fly ash is being produced.
The TransAlta/LaFarge project, which is supported by Emissions Reduction Alberta, will instead mine fly ash from old landfills, where it had been disposed of as waste over previous decades. The fly ash will be “beneficiated” (or processed to reduce moisture and impurities) to turn it into a marketable product.
The use of waste fly ash is a smart way of turning trash into treasure. It reduces the emissions intensity of Lafarge’s concrete, maintains supply, recoups huge quantities of waste from landfills and makes economical sense all along the value chain.
Big Tech – The world’s largest purchaser of renewable energy
Amazon, Meta, Google, Microsoft and other tech companies have been getting into renewable energy in a big way. The electricity consumption of these companies represents their largest source of emissions and results from the massive electricity demands of their data centres.
These tech companies were the largest buyers of renewable electricity globally in 2022, with a combined 16.4 GW of contracted wind and solar (equal to nearly all the wind and solar currently available in Canada). This purchasing trend started as early as 2010 and since then technology companies have accounted for over half of all corporate renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs).
The tech companies aren’t using the green electrons directly, though. PPAs allow companies to purchase the renewable attributes of electricity without receiving the electricity from solar and wind farms directly. They don’t need to: an electron is an electron. But the PPAs don’t just benefit purchasers, they also guarantee a price for the electricity produced and reduce risk for power project developers—thus enabling more renewable energy projects to be developed and added to the electricity grid.
Alberta’s rich wind and solar resources, in addition to its deregulated power market, have made it a prime location for these agreements—including Amazon’s involvement in the Travers Solar project and Microsoft’s in the Paintearth Wind project, along with many other corporate deals.
Fashion – Fabric waste turned into hydrogen
Fashion is a staggeringly large industry—both in the scope of its output and of its emissions and waste. Each year, in its efforts to clothe close to eight billion people, the industry consumes 342 million barrels of petroleum, disposes of 33 billion tons of waste (including 14 – 15 billion unused items of clothing) and accounts for 8-10 per cent of global carbon emissions, more than aviation and shipping combined. The vast majority of these emissions come from energy-intensive upstream operations where fossil fuels are used as a power source as well as an input in synthetic fabric production.
The immense challenge of reducing the fashion industry’s environmental impacts has led to an early-stage partnership between the Ethical Fashion Group (EFG), a U.K.-based organization, and Hydrogen Utopia, a U.K. hydrogen producer. Together they aim to simultaneously address the industry’s waste and emission problems by turning non-recyclable waste from synthetic fabric production into low-emissions fuel. The process involves heating the synthetic fabric waste to create syngas which can then be purified to produce road-fuel quality hydrogen. The hydrogen can be used to decarbonize other processes throughout the industry’s value chain. The partnership hasn’t yet announced whether the synthetic fabric that would be used is limited only to industry off-cuts, or whether old clothes could be used. However, if applied at scale, this technology could be a promising step towards a more sustainable fashion industry.
Maritime Shipping – CCS at sea
The International Maritime Organization, the regulator for the shipping industry, has set a target to cut GHG emissions in half by 2050. Whether this target is sufficiently ambitious is a good question. But another question is how the industry will get there. Shipping currently relies on high-emitting petroleum-based fuels such as diesel and bunker fuel for 99 per cent of its energy requirements. A switch to lower-emitting fuels such as liquefied natural gas, green ammonia and methanol has been identified as the primary path to decarbonization for the industry. However, other interesting options are also being investigated.
As we wrote about a few months ago, sails are being used to harness wind propulsion and reduce the amount of fuel needed. And there is also a potential role for carbon capture and storage (CCS)—a technology usually applied to stationary emissions sources. A pilot project, known as Project REMARCCABLE, has received approval to test CCS technology on a medium-range tanker ship. The project will capture CO2 from the ship’s exhaust, temporarily store it onboard, and offload the CO2 at ports for final sequestration. The project is expected to capture CO2 at a rate of one tonne per hour—roughly 30 per cent of the total emissions from the ship. Proponents hope the pilot project’s success will accelerate onboard CCS technology as a mid-term solution while other emissions reduction options are being put into place.
Steel – New and electrifying projects from Ontario producers
Green steel is coming to Canada. ArcelorMittal Dofasco and Algoma Steel—the country’s two largest steel producers—have both announced plans to replace the coal-fed coke ovens, basic oxygen furnaces and blast furnaces at their Ontario facilities with electric arc furnaces (EAF). The companies’ projects are estimated to be fully operational by 2029 and 2028 respectively. This switch to EAFs paired with the use of low-emissions electricity from the Ontario grid will eliminate the use of coal in their operations and result in a combined 6 Mt reduction in CO2 emissions annually.
EAFs are one of the two most promising technologies for reducing emissions from steel. The other is the substitution of fossil fuels with green hydrogen—something ArcelorMittal is investigating for its Hamilton facility as long as it can access a cost-effective supply of green hydrogen. Both EAFs and green hydrogen production require access to affordable clean electricity, making Canada a premier location for the production of low-emission steel.
Aviation – Money to induce sustainable airline fuel development
Options to reduce emissions from aviation are limited. Battery-electric and hydrogen-fueled aircraft have shown promise for short-haul flights, but issues with weight and energy density make them impractical for long-distance travel. For these longer trips, low-emission alternatives to traditional jet fuel—collectively known as Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)—are the best option. Today, the high costs and limited supplies of SAF mean that its use in commercial air travel is virtually nonexistent. However, recent investments from major airlines could soon change this.
Last month, a group of investors led by United Airlines and including Air Canada made an initial $100 million contribution to the Sustainable Flight Fund with hopes of growing the fund to $500 million over the next three years. The fund will be used to support start-ups in an effort to reduce costs and increase the supply of SAF. There are currently only two at-scale suppliers of SAF globally and the fuel can cost up to three times as much as traditional jet fuel. However, with existing investments in a handful of companies producing SAF (some from used cooking oils, ethanol, landfill waste and even CO2 and water) and more on the way, the Sustainable Flight Fund is well on its way to changing the future of flight.
The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Brendan Cooke and Marla Orenstein. This month’s edition features contributions by Brendan Cooke and Tyler Robinson. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .