More innovation means less carbon

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You’ve likely heard about the latest protest against an oil and gas pipeline. And maybe you’ve read somewhere nearly 300,000 barrels of oil a day are being shipped by rail because existing pipelines are full. But have you heard about bitumen pucks?

Canadian National Railway and Wapahki Energy, a business owned by the Heart Lake First Nation northeast of Edmonton, have developed a way to turn molasses-like bitumen from the oilsands into solid pucks and wrap them in recycled plastic for transport. The CanaPux won’t leak or sink in water, making for a far easier cleanup in case of a spill from a rail car or cargo ship.

It’s just one of the many cool innovations coming out of the oil patch. Hundreds of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are working on all manner of technologies. Here are a few other examples:

  • The new Sturgeon Refinery near Edmonton will capture carbon and pump it into old reservoirs for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). EOR is a process that’s akin to sloshing solvent into an old paint can to get the last bit out. But while the oil is pumped out of the reservoir, the CO2 stays trapped in the rock.

  • A young entrepreneur who met a couple of oil field veterans for a coffee a few years ago ended up working with them to develop a method of upcycling carbon nanoparticles to improve concrete, adhesives and even solar panels. Instead of seeing carbon as a problem, Carbon Upcycling sees it a valuable resource.

  • Among the hundreds of research projects around energy at the University of Calgary, researchers are studying how to use nanoparticles to maximize production, minimize environmental impacts and monitor carbon stored in reservoirs. University researchers work with industry and scientists from around the world to develop and demonstrate technologies for carbon capture and storage at a unique facility in southern Alberta.  

As researchers and entrepreneurs across the province work on decarbonizing a barrel of oil, Alberta is leading the country in producing renewable energy. Windfarms are popping up like mushrooms as the province phases out coal and aims to produce 30 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2030. Calgary is home to hundreds of renewable energy and energy storage companies.

And there’s one more little fact you may not have known about Canada’s oil and gas industry. While you may have seen in the news or on a protest sign somewhere that Alberta produces the “the world’s dirtiest oil,” in fact, it doesn’t. California does.