Innovation Road a Crooked Path

Path to Innovation

COSIA’s role is to source innovation and find new ways to accelerate environmental performance in the oil sands. As COSIA’s Senior Advisor Strategy, I am often asked how we identify good ideas from the innovation community in our four priority areas: Land, Water, Tailings, and Greenhouse Gases. My answer is: it’s complex. COSIA has been experimenting with different approaches through various partners and multiple innovation communities since we were founded in 2012.

The first step, as always, is to be clear on what we are looking for. For COSIA, that means putting out technology challenges, which we call Innovation Opportunities. The 60 opportunities described on our website detail the types of innovation the oil sands industry is seeking. The second step for COSIA is then identifying how to source new technologies – and this is where no one size fits all.  

For example, COSIA is searching for low-grade heat recovery technologies, which improve energy efficiency and reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of industrial operations. We have already advanced some research in this area.

We kicked off our initial search for these kinds of technologies with a public challenge in 2014 and a prize of over $1 million for potential solutions. By partnering with General Electric, we were able to go global in our search. Technology ideas came in from all over the world and, eventually, we advanced four finalists from India, Italy, the UK and The Netherlands. Unfortunately, after a year of testing, it turned out that none of these technologies were viable for the oil sands. So, we went back to the drawing board.

We then launched a technology sprint -- a set time period during which specific work is completed – through Foresight, a B.C. technology accelerator that COSIA had collaborated with in the past. The multi-step program was funded by Western Economic Development and allowed us to ask technical experts across the energy industry to delve more deeply into the technical requirements of our ‘ask’. 

Researchers and experts at dozens of laboratories, universities and companies worked with our industry members to distill the innovation search to several specific technical hurdles. Foresight then reached out to more than 100 technology developers and other innovators who had the expertise to solve these specific challenges. They identified and screened about 100 technologies, finally inviting a handful of organizations to Calgary to make a pitch to an industry panel.

The finalist was Combustion and Energy Systems, a Canadian company based in Markham, Ontario, that had a novel technology backed up with considerable expertise. Their condensing heat recovery and energy efficiency technology had been in operation at other industrial facilities and was a good fit for oil sands operations. The company is now conducting commercial testing in the oil sands, the final step in their innovation journey.

“The COSIA technology sprint was a tremendous opportunity for us to get our innovation in front of knowledgeable operations personnel and key decision-makers in the oil sands. Without it, we would not be in the position we are now, installing a demonstration system which we hope will expand to multiple locations,” Cameron Veitch, Vice President, Combustion and Energy Systems.

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