Energy Innovation Brief
Issue 40 | May 2024

Lean and green western ag machine

The connections between agriculture and energy may not be immediately apparent. However, the two sectors grapple with many of the same challenges. Agriculture is emissions intensive, producing approximately 10 per cent of Canada’s annual GHG emissions. It relies on many of the same inputs as the energy sector, including water and land. It is heavily hydrocarbon-dependent, using hydrocarbons for fertilizer as well as fuel; but agriculture also feeds directly into the production of many renewable fuels.

But—good news! Canadian agriculture, especially in the western provinces, is also full of innovators working to address the energy- and emissions-related challenges.

In a recent report, RBC identified seven key technology areas that could drive the “next green revolution” in Canadian agriculture, enabling us to both reduce emissions and produce valuable intellectual property. The seven areas they highlight are:

  1. Precision technology: smarter, more fertilizer-efficient farming
  2. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage: capturing emissions before they contribute to climate change
  3. Anaerobic digesters: turning animal waste into energy gold
  4. Controlled environment farming: food without the field
  5. Livestock feed additives: lowering methane production in cattle
  6. Agriculture biotechnology: engineering a more resilient, productive agricultural sector
  7. Cellular agriculture: fermenting the food of the future

This month’s EIB showcases examples of companies across Western Canada that have come up with innovative ideas to develop and apply agricultural technologies (or “ag-tech”) across these seven key areas and beyond.

Some nifty ag-tech innovations


Calgary-based Synergraze Sustainable Agriculture has developed a process for turning seaweed into a cattle-feed additive that will reduce a cow’s methane production by up to 90 per cent. The use of seaweed to make feed additives is not new, but previous iterations relied on a species of seaweed found primarily in subtropical regions. Synergraze’s breakthrough was to develop a method of processing a wider variety of seaweeds, such as those available on the Pacific west coast.

How now, low-methane cow?

Not all cows emit the same amount of methane. In fact, emissions from different cows in the same herd can vary by up to 30 per cent. Research conducted by Lactanet Canada, in collaboration with Semex Alliance, found it was possible to predict a Holstein cow’s methane emissions by using AI and machine learning approaches to test milk samples. The research also found that methane production in the cow is not significantly correlated with any negative traits, such as reduced milk production. This means that cows can be specifically bred for the trait of low emissions, in the same way that they are currently bred to optimize other desirable traits such as feed efficiency or health.

Friendlier fertilizer

Vancouver-based Lucent Bio has developed a fertilizer product called Soileos to better deliver nutrients to crops. Their technology binds micronutrients to cellulose. As microbes consume the cellulose the nutrients are gradually released into the soil, preventing both leaching and tie-up (i.e., when nutrients bind with other molecules and become unavailable), ensuring that the fertilizer is consumed more efficiently by crops while simultaneously promoting healthier soil.

Solar steers

Agrovoltaic systems improve land use by co-locating crops or livestock with solar panels—maximizing production and profits for farmers and ranchers. There are many examples of co-locating solar panels with sheep, but cows are more difficult because they rub up against and damage the equipment. However, a new agrivoltaics project in Alberta hopes to solve the problem. The University of Calgary is collaborating with Solartility Inc. to create a research park that uses vertical solar panels. This allows greater freedom of movement for cattle, reduces the visual impact of the panels and provides shade that may boost water retention for grazing plants. Vertical solar panels do capture less solar energy, but they capture more energy in the early morning and late evening, both of which are periods of peak demand.

Fueling with flax

Saskatchewan-based Prairie Clean Energy plans to use agricultural waste in the form of pelletized flax straw to generate low-carbon bioheat for the province’s potash industry. The flax straw would normally be burned in the field. This alternative use eliminates waste, upcycles the material—and will help potash producers lower their emissions by up to 80 per cent. Prairie Clean Energy is also working with Saskatchewan Polytech to launch a “living lab pilot” that will demonstrate the effectiveness of their biomass boiler system to the broader mining industry.

Sky high food supply

Picture Manitoba as the vertical farming capital of the world. This is the vision of Trina Semenchuk and her consultancy, the Little Greenhouse that Could. New technological advances in areas such as indoor lighting have made vertical farming more feasible, and Semenchuk is seeking to support projects such as the $30 million retrofit of Brandon’s McKenzie Seeds building into a large vertical farming operation by Brandon Fresh Farms.

Funding western Canada’s agricultural innovation

Innovation takes money, as does adoption. For Canadian farmers and entrepreneurs, financial support is coming from a few different sources.

Farming futures

Agriculture is facing a period of transformation. Global warming will have a major impact on where crops grow, dramatically expanding Canada’s total arable land while reducing productivity in certain regions. The agricultural innovations explored in this month’s EIB are helping to prepare us for that future.

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, Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Ryan Workman and Marla Orenstein. If you have an idea for a story, email us at .