Use Your Ecomagination

Using online crowd sourcing to rapidly search the globe for non-traditional solutions to key greenhouse gas issues in Canada’s oil sands
Advancing technology applications that will drive environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands

The members of COSIA’s Greenhouse Gases (GHG) Environmental Priority Area (EPA) have been working to identify technologies that address innovation gaps. The technologies they are searching for fit into three categories: technologies that will help make gains in reducing GHGs in the short term; transformative technologies or concepts that are in development in other sectors around the world that have the potential to drastically improve GHG emissions across the oil sands industry; and new technologies or solutions that have yet to be developed or even thought of.

So, you ask, how can you develop a technology that hasn’t been thought of yet? Well, sometimes finding a solution to a problem is all about asking the right question and posing it to the right group of people. That is the thinking behind COSIA’s latest innovative partnership with GE’s ecomagination challenge.

Technology and Innovation

GE’s ecomagination challenges take on the world’s toughest problems by using crowd sourcing to tap the brightest minds around the world for solutions to problems that lie outside of their usual field of expertise or industry. For GE’s sixth ecomagination challenge, they have worked with COSIA’s GHG EPA to identify two GHG-related issues faced by in situ operators.

Learn more about GE and ecomagination

GE is one of the world’s largest research and development hubs. They develop technologies and solutions to address issues in energy, health care, transportation, finance and even develop technologies for our homes. In their words, they work on things that matter. They bring the best people and the best technologies together to take on the toughest challenges.

Since its 2005 launch, ecomagination – the company’s commitment to technology solutions that reduce environmental impact – has generated more than US$160 billion in revenue. GE’s own operations have seen a 32 per cent reduction in GHG emissions since 2004 and a 45 per cent reduction in freshwater use since 2006, realizing $300 million in savings.

Previous ecomagination challenges spanned the United States., China, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East. GE has a successful history with open innovation challenges, most recently launching an innovation challenge to increase the energy efficiency of seawater desalination and an advanced manufacturing challenge to use 3D printing to improve the production of a GE aircraft engine bracket.

“Ecomagination has always been about helping our customers be more efficient and productive. The opportunity is large in the oil sands,” say Deb Frodl, Global Executive Director, ecomagination. “By bringing together the best scientists, technologies and companies from around the world, we believe we can accelerate innovation and solutions to market faster.”

The crowd sourcing challenge will take place in two phases, with submissions to two different topics due October 14, 2014, and March 15, 2015, respectively. Winners of the challenge will share a total of $1 million in seed funding to further develop and commercialize their proposed solutions and will be eligible to become a supplier or contractor to GE on future projects.

The challenges are:

1. High-value use for low-grade heat

This topic aims to create new uses for waste heat, also known as low grade-heat, resulting from oil sands produced using steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) methods, thereby utilizing a byproduct that is typically wasted. To submit a proposal, visit

Learn more about high-value use for low-grade heat

When bitumen is produced using SAGD, steam is generated at a central processing facility (CPF), transported to well pads and injected below ground into a horizontal wellbore within the reservoir. The heat supplied by the steam warms the bitumen in the reservoir, allowing it to flow via gravity into a second underlying wellbore that captures the oil/water mixture and produces it to the surface.

Once at the surface, the mixture of oil and water is cooled from between 130°C and 200°C down to around 80°C prior to separation. Once separated, the produced water is treated and recycled for steam generation. The resulting oil is treated and delivered into a pipeline for shipping. This cooling process generates significant amounts of low-grade heat at 60°C to 80°C.

GE would like to identify technologies that can create value from this byproduct by converting it to higher value heat for use either within the CPF or SAGD wellbores, or by converting it to electricity at an efficiency rate greater than 10 per cent.  Existing technologies to upgrade waste heat are not widely used due to associated high capital expenses.

2. Improved efficiency of steam generation

This topic, which will be launched on January 13, 2015, seeks to improve the efficiency and thereby reduce the GHG emissions of once through steam generator (OTSG) systems.

Learn more about OTSG systems

Steam generation is a central part of bitumen production process at SAGD facilities. Most SAGD facilities have OTSGs, which burn natural gas to boil water, producing steam that is injected into the ground to soften bitumen. The bitumen is then extracted through a producing well and the majority of the water is treated and recycled.

“The great thing about open innovation challenges is that they level the playing field; they allow entrepreneurs and inventors working out of their garages to compete with multinational corporations,” says Wayne Hillier, Director, GHG EPA. “It gives us a chance to see ideas and approaches to problems that haven’t been looked at before because these people can look at our issues through a different lens. Being able to look at problems from a different perspective is the key to developing innovative and effective new technologies and solutions.”

Environmental Benefits

COSIA will have representatives sitting on GE’s ecomagination advisory group. They will help GE’s judges develop the criteria used to rate the proposals, review and assess the eligibility of each of the proposals, rate them based on the defined criteria and share their findings with GE. This will ensure the winning proposals are directly applicable to in situ operations.

“In addition to GE working with the winning candidates to develop their technologies, the members of the GHG EPA will also be exposed to a wide range of new and innovative technology ideas,” adds Wayne. “This allows our members the ability to approach other candidates that may not have won the GE challenge and work with them to develop their technologies through joint industry projects (JIPs).”

Essentially this means that at least two and maybe more technologies specifically focused on reducing GHG intensity at in situ operations will be developed as a result of this open innovation challenge.


The members of COSIA’s GHG EPA are working with GE and Alberta Innovates as strategic advisors to develop the challenges and evaluate submissions.

Nine Sigma, a company that specializes in facilitating open innovation, is working with GE to host the challenge on NineSigma’s website.

Greenhouse Gases