Driving Canada’s knowledge economy

Conventional thinking has it that natural resource development has little to contribute to the cultivation of Canada’s knowledge economy. However, as Canada strives to shape and implement a national approach to climate change, we have the opportunity to develop and test leading edge environmental technologies and create a true innovation-based economy by building on our resource advantage. 

Providing compelling evidence for this is COSIA’s made-in-Canada model of open innovation. Through COSIA, Canada’s oil sands become an innovation incubator, creating a stimulus for the development of environmental technologies that will not only solve our members’ biggest challenges, but can be transferred to other sectors with similar challenges, here in Canada and around the globe. Likewise, through our innovation partnership model, COSIA members, and Canada as a whole, are acquiring technologies that are transforming the sector. 

A great example of this is the innovation partnership occurring through COSIA’s Associate Membership Program. Within their own networks, organizations including large multinationals, leading universities, and technological ‘hubs’ such as British Columbia Innovation Council, Alberta Innovates and Natural Resources Canada, are able to source technological capabilities being used for purposes other than oil sands development that meet priority technical gaps and challenges in the oil sands. Optical sensors, advanced nanomaterials, sophisticated algorithms and other forms of progressive intelligent systems are finding their way at a faster pace into this key Canadian resource sector in a flurry of ‘technological diffusion’. 

In June 2014, the Canada Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation (CIIRDF) joined COSIA as an Associate Member with a mission to evaluate the dozens of technological gaps across COSIA’s four environmental priority areas and identify Israeli capabilities specifically suited for further co-development with COSIA member companies. Israel has no oil industry, but technologies coming from sectors, including defence, security, bio-medical and cleantech, offered potential to address COSIA member gaps. In the two years since CIIRDF became an Associate Member, Israel has become one of the largest single sources of new technological ‘offers’ for consideration by COSIA members, providing Canada exposure to technologies that would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop on its own. Because oil sands companies are collaborating with other sectors, like forestry and mining, technologies sourced from around the world can also find their way into many other sectors here at home.

For Canada, this global sourcing of technology to find solutions that fit oil sands members’ priorities, also feeds technological capabilities in advanced multi-disciplines that will grow Canada’s knowledge economy. On top of that, COSIA members and their value chain are now interconnected with global leaders in technological innovation, and Canada’s oil sands are becoming one of the most knowledge driven sectors of the Canadian economy. It is clear evidence that Canada’s oil sands industry is truly resourceful and provides a valuable lesson in innovation policy and practice that may have applicability across many other sectors.

Re-produced from an op-ed co-authored by Dan Wicklum and Dr. Henri Rothschild, president, CIIRDF, appearing in ResearchMoneyInc.