“The oil and gas industry doesn’t care about climate change.”
“We will never get renewables to scale.”
“We must get rid of fossil fuels if we want to meet
our climate goals.”
“The transition to cleaner energy will hurt our economy.”
These beliefs are widespread – but they aren’t necessarily true. In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. From new technology breakthroughs to full system improvements, innovations are starting to change the way we think about and use energy – sometimes so wild as to seem straight out of a sci-fi movie. And a lot of it is happening right here at home.
Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief will bring you snippets of interesting stories about technology innovations happening across the energy sector: in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. Our focus will be on Western Canada, but we will also highlight what’s happening across the country and around the world.
Through this brief, we hope to accomplish two things. First, to provide information to companies, media, accelerators, government and commentators who need to understand how the path to a desirable energy future is being forged today. And second, to help transformative technologies to thrive by increasing their exposure and cross-pollinating ideas.
In this month’s roundup of energy innovation news:
1. Alberta innovator creates world’s first portable, scalable generator
2. Let it snow…electricity!
3. B.C. start-up first to convert forest waste into renewable fuel
4. Calgary rated among top 15 cleantech ecosystems
5. Liquid solar power could be the key to storing the sun’s energy
6. Suncor moves to make the oilsands cleaner
7. Tech company backed by Bill Gates wants to replace fossil fuels in industrial plants
Alberta innovator creates world’s first portable, scalable generator
An Alberta innovator has created the world’s first lightweight, portable, and scalable electricity generator. This exciting innovation, called “The Grengine,” consists of a small lithium-ion battery pack that allows its users to scale up their electricity output by stacking them together like Lego. The batteries are rechargeable – and not just by plugging them into a wall. They are input agnostic, meaning they can be charged in several ways, such as through solar panels or kinetic energy (including hand-cranking). The Grengine’s unique design makes it a potential solution for many tricky energy challenges around the world, for instance, supplying reliable low-carbon energy to construction sites that primarily rely on noisy on-site diesel generators. Read the full story here.
There is no shortage of construction sites in Canada that could benefit from a clean, safe, and reliable source of energy. But another useful application for The Grengine in Canada could be for remote communities in northern Canada that rely on diesel-fired generators, and which often have few non-emitting source options.
Let it snow… electricity!
You can shovel it, make a snowman from it, and ski through it – but what if you could also generate electricity from it? Researchers at UCLA have discovered a way to generate electricity from Canada’s other abundant natural resource – snow. The technology, referred to as “a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator,” consists of a layer of negatively charged silicone that produces an electrical current when it contacts positively charged snow. The researchers say the silicon pad could be used in a range of applications, such as being ‘painted’ on the sides and roofs of houses and could be particularly useful in increasing the effectiveness of solar panels when they are covered in snow. But it could be a while before the technology is realized at a commercial scale – so far it has only reached the proof of concept stage. Read the full story here.
In a place like Canada, where it snows nine months out of the year, the possibilities for this technology could be endless. I bet you didn’t think all of that snow piling on top of your rooftop or in your driveway could save you money on your energy bill one day!
B.C. start-up first to convert forest waste into renewable fuel
G4 Insights, a start-up company in B.C., has successfully converted forest waste into renewable natural gas (RNG). The company is hopeful that their technology can pave the way towards more RNG being distributed into the country’s greater natural gas distribution network – meaning cleaner energy for powering our homes, businesses, and transportation. Read the full story here.
The first advantage to RNG is that it is carbon neutral – the emissions released when it is burned would have been released anyway through the decomposition of the biomass. The second advantage is that it can be used within existing natural gas infrastructure.
While several Canadian companies are already producing RNG, G4 Insights is the first to produce the fuel from forest waste – with the potential to unlock a massive source of RNG fuel for the Canadian market. And it could be arriving at just the right time. In light of the carbon tax and the upcoming Clean Fuel Standard, a greater availability of RNG could allow these sectors to better comply with their emissions reduction requirements and open up new economic opportunities.
Calgary rated among top 15 cleantech ecosystems
In 2019, Calgary was rated as one of the world’s ‘top 15 cleantech ecosystems’ by San Francisco’s Startup Genome (and Vancouver wasn’t far behind, in the global top 20). The ranking was based on a weighted combination of performance, funding, market reach, connectedness, talent, experience and knowledge. As documented in the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance (ACTia) cleantech sector report for 2019, Alberta’s cleantech sector has been growing rapidly, with over $385M in reported revenue in 2017/18.
What may be surprising to some is how closely tied cleantech is to the oil and gas sector. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Alberta’s cleantech ventures identify their primary market as oil, gas or mining. But it also represents a significant opportunity for Alberta to diversify its economy. The technologies that are commercialized by the oil and gas industry can be used to reduce the GHG footprint across any sector that combusts fossil fuels (like agriculture, steel or cement manufacturing, or transportation) and are needed not only in Western Canada, but globally.
Liquid solar power could be the key to storing the sun’s energy
What if you could put your solar power away and save it for a rainy day? That’s the idea behind a new innovation by a group of scientists in Sweden – called “norbornadiene,” or liquid solar power. The scientists claim that this liquid is not only more efficient at capturing solar energy than traditional solar panels, but it can also store energy for up to 18 years! Read the full story here.
Storing solar power and increasing its efficiency has been a puzzle that energy innovators worldwide have been trying to solve for quite some time. Could liquid solar power be part of the answer? As the authors point out, there are still some safety concerns and uncertainties that need to be sorted out. But if these issues can be resolved, it could have a big role to play in the global efforts to scale up renewable energy.
Suncor moves to make the oilsands cleaner
In the oilsands, Suncor has unveiled its plan to reduce its emissions and take the equivalent of 500,000 cars off the road. By replacing its three petroleum coke-fired boilers – used to generate steam for oil extraction – with two natural gas-powered cogeneration units, Suncor will not only reduce its emissions at these plants by 25%, but it will also supply an additional 800 megawatts of low-carbon electricity to Alberta’s grid (about 8% of the province’s total electricity demand). Suncor is optimistic that this project will contribute towards its goal of reducing its emissions intensity 30% by 2030. Read the full story here.
Co-generation has been around for decades, but is becoming an increasingly popular and important way in which oil and gas companies are improving their environmental footprint. When powered by natural gas, co-generation can improve efficiency and reduce GHG emissions by replacing higher carbon fuels such as coal and petroleum-coke for both oil extraction and electricity production.
Tech company backed by Bill Gates wants to replace fossil fuels in industrial plants
Heliogen – a solar company founded and supported by Bill Gates – has achieved a major milestone by creating concentrated solar energy at temperatures high enough to replace fossil fuels for industrial uses. It does this by using graphics processing units to align a large collection of mirrors in real time to reflect sunlight onto a targeted area, which can reach temperatures over 1000 degrees Celsius. The company claims that the technology will be a breakthrough for reducing GHG emissions from industrial facilities. Existing solar concentrators reach temperatures only half as hot and cannot be used for many industrial applications. Read the full story here.
The industrial sector accounts for up to one-fifth of the world’s CO2 emissions. Heliogen’s technology presents a novel solution to cutting that number down – at least for industrial plants that have sufficient land to spare. According to the company, the installation of mirrors requires one acre of land for every megawatt of solar energy generated.
The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Jade McLean and Marla Orenstein. 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 .