Since its inception, COSIA has been focused on accelerating improvement in environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands through two key avenues—innovation and collaboration. Because COSIA’s member companies recognize that they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, that’s also meant looking outside the oil sands industry to try to mobilize the best minds around the world on potential solutions
One way COSIA has attempted to do this is through the ongoing high-profile NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition that will award a total of US$20 million to winning innovators to advance technologies that lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by converting CO2 emissions into valuable products.
On a smaller, but still very significant scale, COSIA is looking to connect with global innovators through a series of highly focused challenges coordinated by Foresight Clean Technology Accelerator Centre, a not-for-profit based in Surrey, B.C.
In October 2017, COSIA and Foresight, along with a new challenge partner, Alberta Innovates, announced that two finalists had been selected to enter the “sprint phase” of a competition aimed at advancing alternative hot water oil sands mining and extraction technologies that could significantly reduce GHG emissions and lower capital and operating costs.
The six-month sprint in the Mining Hot Water Production Challenge will allow each company to further refine and prepare their technologies for potential field testing. In the end, one of the proposed solutions will be selected for additional funding and resources to test the technology at one or more COSIA member mine sites.
The competition is one of six innovation challenges, involving various Canadian resource sectors, that are being run through Foresight’s Advanced Resource Clean Technology Innovation Centre (ARCTIC) program over a two-year period. Three of those six competitions are being co-sponsored by COSIA and address GHG emission challenges specific to Canada’s oil sands industry.
“The whole purpose is to connect resource industries that face specific challenges with entrepreneurs who may have potential solutions” – Neil Huff, Foresight
Dr. Dan Wicklum, COSIA’s chief executive, describes these competitions as a logical extension of the organization’s innovation mandate.
“As a scientist,” he says, “I know from experience that when you issue a challenge—and you encourage smart, motivated and creative people from a diversity of backgrounds and competencies to work on the challenge—great things will happen.”
Neil Huff, Managing Director of Foresight, says it’s no accident COSIA is such a prominent presence in the current round of innovation challenges.
“The whole purpose is to connect resource industries that face specific challenges with entrepreneurs who may have potential solutions,” says Neil. “COSIA is all about fostering innovation and collaboration, so it is a natural fit.”
Defining and clearly articulating the challenge at hand
Send out a Request for Proposals (RFP), select finalists
Developing a prototype or feasibility study of the technologies
A solution will be selected to achieve field trial readiness
The competitions are broken into four phases, explains Neil. The first is all about defining the challenge at hand. Foresight works with a partner (in this case, COSIA) on the broad outlines of a challenge. This is then sent out for feedback to about 150 individuals across Canada in academia, government and industry who have knowledge in the area. That feedback, in turn, helps inform a full-day workshop that hammers out a challenge statement – a clear articulation of the problem COSIA wants to address.
For the Mining Hot Water Production Challenge, the goal is to find alternative water heating methods that could replace or supplement the current way hot water, required for extraction, is generated using gas-fired steam in boilers or cogeneration facilities.
The second phase of the competition is to send out a request for proposals. Utilizing the networks of the same 150 experts, proposals are gathered from around the world. Typically, 15 to 20 innovators come forward with potential solutions. A selection committee, (in this case, made up mostly of COSIA member representatives), narrows the field down to between five to 10 contenders, who are invited to make in-person individual pitches. The committee then selects two to three finalists.
Thus begins the third phase, the “sprint” round. The two finalists in the Mining Hot Water Production Challenge are currently undergoing six months of further scrutiny from a COSIA selection panel. This phase typically includes developing a prototype or feasibility study of the technologies as well as testing proposed solutions in a laboratory or other environment.
In the fourth phase, one solution will be selected for field testing and the winning company will work for a year or more with COSIA and Foresight to achieve field trial readiness. The ultimate goal is commercial deployment of the technology.
A key advantage of this kind of challenge, says Neil, is that it connects COSIA member companies with innovators and solutions that wouldn’t normally show up on their radar screen. And while there is only one winning bid in the end, the runners-up often find that a valuable line of communication has been established between their companies and COSIA that could pay big dividends down the road.
Both points are echoed during interviews with senior representatives of the two companies currently involved in the sprint phase of the Mining Hot Water Production Challenge.
Cam Veitch, Vice President at Toronto-based Combustion & Energy Systems, says that, prior to this challenge, his company had been trying to attract the attention of the oil sands industry, but to little avail.
“We believe our technology, which involves using waste heat rather than gas-fired heat, has a place in the oil sands and gaining that audience has been a desire of ours for a long time,” says Cam. “These are big companies and it’s often hard to find out who to talk to just to get your foot in the door.”
Does he think the challenge process will be beneficial even if Combustion & Energy is not the eventual winner?
“Yes, absolutely,” says Cam, “and for two key reasons. “First, we are gathering the data we need to know to prove whether our technology would be of benefit to COSIA members. So we are going to answer that question once and for all. Second, these companies are getting to know us and our capabilities. So even if we are not the ultimate winner, they may think of another angle where our systems could be of benefit to them.”
Steve Panz, President of Vancouver-based Inproheat, has a similar story to tell. The technology his company has submitted to the current challenge is an improved and expanded version of a submerged combustion process it unsuccessfully pitched to some oil sands players in the 1990s.
Says Steve: “We believed then, and we are even more bullish now, about the positive impact our technology could have in achieving a quantum leap in energy efficiency, significantly reducing GHG emissions and generating cost savings.”
As with Combustion & Energy, Inproheat also sees a clear benefit in participating in the challenge, whatever happens after the sprint phase.
“This process has given us an opportunity to develop our technology and to further improve it,” says Wes Young, Inproheat’s Chief Technical Officer. “COSIA members now have a good idea of our capabilities and could well see many areas where we could benefit their operations.”