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:
In this month’s roundup of energy innovation news:
1. At last, Alberta’s Carbon Trunk Line is open for business
2. Japan debuts world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier
3. Nuclear energy meets 3D printing
4. A blue-powered battery could unlock new green energy potential
5. New solar cells could harvest indoor lighting
After over a decade in the works, the highly anticipated Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL) came into operation on June 2, 2020. The world’s newest large-scale integrated carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) system, the ACTL captures CO2 emissions from the Redwater fertilizer factory and the Sturgeon refinery near Edmonton, and transports them through a 240-kilometre pipeline to depleted oil reservoirs in central and southern Alberta to be used for enhanced oil recovery and permanent storage. In its initial years, the project will operate at a reduced capacity, sequestering about 1.8 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2/year. As more facilities and storage reservoirs are connected in the future, it will eventually reach full capacity to sequester 14.6 Mt of CO2/year – having the same effect as taking 339,000 cars off the road each year. The project is owned and operated by a consortium of companies, including Nutrien, Enhance Energy, NWR Sturgeon Refinery and Wolf Midstream. Read the full story here.
The ACTL is the largest CO2 capacity pipeline in the world, and its commercialization marks a major milestone for decarbonization efforts in Alberta. But its journey hasn’t exactly been an easy one; the completion of the $1.2 billion project came after 11 years of challenges, including varied political support and major economic setbacks such as the oil price crash in 2014. The ACTL is now the second CCUS facility to become operational in Alberta, the first being Shell Canada’s Quest facility near Edmonton, which came into operation in 2015.
On December 11, 2019, thousands of people gathered at a shipyard in Japan to watch the unveiling of the Suiso Frontier tanker – the world’s first liquefied hydrogen carrier. The 116-meter vessel, named after the Japanese word for hydrogen, was developed by manufacturing giant Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. to establish an international hydrogen energy supply chain between Australia and Japan. The ship features vacuum-insulated hydrogen tanks capable of storing 1,250 square metres of liquid hydrogen at temperatures of minus 253°C. Construction of the Suiso Frontier is expected to be completed in late 2020, with the first trial shipments between Australia and Japan to begin in early 2021. Read the full story here.
Japan is working towards its vision of a hydrogen-based society. In 2017, it became the first country to adopt a national hydrogen policy, called The Basic Hydrogen Strategy, in an effort to reduce GHG emissions by becoming less reliant on fossil fuels and achieve greater energy security by establishing a reliable international supply chain. Following a successful period of trial shipments, Japan plans to commercialize the Suiso Frontier by 2030 and develop even larger hydrogen vessels.
Nuclear energy meets 3D printing
Planning on getting a 3D printer? It’s good for more than just printing toys and widgets. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have found a way to 3D print a nuclear reactor core. The Transformational Challenge Reactor – or TCR – is a micro-reactor about the size of a beer keg. It uses advanced materials and manufacturing to create a ceramic carbide matrix that will house microencapsulated nuclear fuel modules. The 3D printing process integrates sensors and controls right into the core itself, allowing for more sensitive monitoring, a huge data stream for analytics, and passive (not requiring active operator intervention) safety systems. The lab plans to power up the reactor by 2023, a timeline that hasn’t been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the research team was able to continue the work remotely. When the TCR does start operation, it will be the first advanced reactor to be built in the U.S. in more than 40 years. Read the full story here and see a video interview with the TCR technical director here.
The materials and processes used to create nuclear power cores were developed in the 1950s and ’60s and haven’t changed much since. This is one reason that the construction of major nuclear facilities still takes decades. The other reason is the very high cost associated with large scale construction. Both Canada and the U.S. have laid out roadmaps for the increased use of small modular reactors (SMRs) like the TCR, which are cheaper, safer, more nimble, and can be used in much more extreme conditions. Another reason for focus on SMRs is that nuclear power generation does not produce GHG emissions. According to Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources, “I have not seen a credible plan for net zero without nuclear as part of the mix.”
A blue-powered battery could unlock new green energy potential
You’ve heard of green energy, but what about blue energy? Picture a freshwater river flowing into the sea. Blue energy uses this exchange between freshwater and saltwater ions to generate electricity – a concept known as salinity gradient power. At Stanford University, a team of engineers are innovating a new blue energy powered battery, called the Entropy Mixed Battery (EMB), that could transform the way that coastal wastewater treatment plants are powered. The EMB is the first battery in the world to be powered solely from the intersection of freshwater and saltwater ions without the need for any backup power sources, additional instruments, or pressure systems. This allows it to be more cost-effective, efficient and have a much smaller footprint than previous blue energy technologies. Preliminary testing was successfully completed at a wastewater treatment facility in California in 2019, and now the team is working to scale the battery to fit large facility applications. Read the full story here, and read the scientific article here.
Though this battery could be placed anywhere that freshwater and saltwater intermix, coastal wastewater treatment facilities provide an ideal starting point for this technology. For one, these facilities are energy intensive, accounting for about 2.5% of Canada’s total GHG emissions. Also, they already discharge freshwater into the ocean. If the battery is successful at scale, it could address most – or even all – of the electricity demands at coastal wastewater treatment plants.
Solar energy panels only work outdoors, and ideally in direct sunlight – right? Not so fast. Thanks to innovative solar cells being developed by a team of researchers from university research labs in Italy, Germany and Colombia, harvesting renewable electricity from the artificial lighting from inside your home could soon be a reality. The team is looking at alternative solar cell materials, such as perovskite and dye-sensitized materials (based on a copper-complex electrolyte), that could convert ambient indoor lighting, such as a lamp, to electric power at an efficiency rate of up to 25-30% (compared to 15-20% for conventional outdoor solar cells). This energy could then be used to power smaller home devices, such as a thermostat or smoke detector. But these new solar cells are not ready to use in our homes just yet – researchers are currently working to improve their stability and scalability. Read the full story here, and the scientific article here.
The market for indoor power generation from ambient light is entirely untapped. If these high-efficiency indoor solar cells are successful, this technology could significantly reduce (or even one day eliminate) the need for disposable batteries in our homes, which contribute to the buildup of toxic landfill waste. In addition, it would allow small-scale renewable energy generation to be more accessible. The team of researchers working on these new solar cells is hopeful that the technology could be eventually scaled for use in large-scale indoor and outdoor applications as well.
The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Jade McLean and Marla Orenstein, with this month’s edition featuring contributions by research intern, Taylor Sterzuk. 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 .