Canadian innovations continue to shape the future of energy

innovations

Canadian innovations

In 2016, SAGD used for 36% of oil sands production, up from 20% in 2010

Canada turns 150 on July 1 and what many Canadians may not know is the role our country has played innovating energy technology. Energy has always been a big part of the national economy, but it hasn’t always been easy to access or take to market. In typical Canadian style, entrepreneurs, industry, and government often cooperated to bring create innovative solutions to those problems.

In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, the National Energy Board has highlighted some key energy innovations.

Nuclear Power: Canadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU)

The CANDU reactor is one of Canada’s most well-known innovations. In 1945, Canadian scientists pioneered the use of heavy water (deuterium oxide) as a coolant in the nuclear generation process.

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There are currently 449 operating nuclear reactors in 31 countries, with a total installed generating capacity of more than 390,000 megawatts (MW), based on data from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The groundwork was laid for the construction of the first CANDU-type reactor, located in Rolphton, Ontario, which supplied Canada’s first nuclear-generated electricity on 4 June 1962.

Using heavy water allows CANDU reactors to be fueled by non-enriched, natural uranium, which avoids the need for expensive uranium enrichment. CANDU reactors also use less fuel than light water reactors.

Today, there are 30 CANDU reactors in operation in seven countries around the world, including Canada. CANDU reactors supply 15 per cent of Canada’s electricity needs and are a low-emission source of generation.

This The graphic shows two images with associated captions that highlight some key aspects of CANDU and SAGD.

Oil Extraction: Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD)

In the 1970’s, Dr. Roger Butler developed the concept of SAGD extraction in Canada’s oil sands. SAGD uses a pair of horizontal wells to reach bitumen located too deep for surface mining. The upper well injects steam, heating the bitumen and allowing it to flow into the lower well, where it is pumped up to the surface. SAGD allows access to large areas of underground resources with well pads that disturb less than 10 per cent of the surface area above.

In 2016, SAGD was used for 36 per cent of oil sands production, up from 20 per cent in 2010. New extraction methods have also been pioneered and are under developmentFootnote3 but none currently have widespread use.

Acceleware radio frequency technology for oil sands

Calgary-based Acceleware Ltd. says it has successfully tested a new radio frequency technology that reduces emissions and costs for oil sands production, potentially eliminating steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) techniques.

Acceleware previously announced that in partnership with GE, it plans to complete a multi-stage pilot test for the “disruptive” new heavy oil and oil sands production technology.

Phase One of the multi-stage program involved a near-surface test of RF XL. The test was run at 1/20 of commercial scale power and length to validate core design elements of the solution.

RF XL is designed to optimize RF heating for oil production in five main ways:

  1. the system utilizes a unique RF transmission line system that is able to carry high levels of RF power;
  2. the transmission line system is highly efficient;
  3. the system delivers heat to the formation quickly after start-up;
  4. the system employs a highly efficient silicon carbide (SiC) based RF power generator; and
  5. the technology is scalable to very long horizontal wells.
    The graphic notes: up to 20 per cent of Canada’s heavy oil production is upgraded in fluid cokers.
 Oil Processing: Fluid Coking

Canadian companies have also been leading innovators in bitumen upgrading, which breaks or “cracks” bitumen into medium and light oils that are more valuable and easier to process.

Fluid coking is an upgrading technology pioneered by Canadian companies and is used extensively by Syncrude in Fort McMurray, Alberta and Imperial Oil in Sarnia, Ontario.

The fluid cokers at Syncrude are some of the largest in the world.

Renewables and Energy Storage:

Fuel Cells

Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems Inc. develops transportation and stationary power technologies. Ballard’s proton-exchange membrane fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity without combustion, which is highly efficient and creates very few emissions.

In 2005, 33 Ballard fuel cell-powered buses were operating around the world. An additional 20 were deployed in Whistler, B.C. before the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the first 22 of a planned 300 buses were deployed in China in 2016.

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Hyundai now has a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle available in Canada, and Toyota wants to introduce theirs here too, while Canadian fuel cell developers that include Ballard Power Systems and Hydrogenics have been busy putting their product in everything from trains to buses and forklifts.

This year, Ballard became the first fuel cell company to achieve over 10 million kilometers of revenue service on its worldwide bus fleet.

Hydrogenics, headquartered in Ontario, is another fuel cell manufacturer that has been contributing to the development and proliferation of fuel cell technologies.

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Innovations

Drake Landing Solar Community

The Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC) in Okotoks, Alberta is a planned community of 52 detached single-family houses that is also a global pioneer in heat storage technologies.

On June 21, the Alberta government officially launched the Energy Efficiency Alberta’s $36-million Residential and Commercial Solar Program that gives rebates for solar installation.

An expansive and complex system of rooftop solar collectors and underground heat storage units supplies the community with over 90 per cent of its space heating year-round – even during cold Alberta winters.

The DLSC was completed in 2007 and has received national and international recognition related to sustainable housing and solar thermal technology.

Innovations

Innovations

Springhill Mine Water Geothermal

In the mid-1980s, the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia began exploring the potential of nearby mines as a source of geothermal heating.

After many years of abandonment, the mines had filled with water, which was heated naturally by the earth to about 18 degrees Celsius. By 1994, eight local users, including a large plastics manufacturing facility, were drawing on the mine water to feed their heat pumps for space heating.

The Springhill project was among the first industrial sites in the world to demonstrate the viability of mine water geothermal energy, and this technology is now also being used in countries around the world, including the U.S., the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Bison electric truck

The Canadian made Bison electric truck made its public debut in late May at the EV Show in Markham, Ont. and generated a lot of excitement.

The Bison isn’t just a truck with an electric motor. There are all sorts of innovative design features like composite panels (some of them 3D printed) and a “vehicle systems” design to enhance “vehicle dependability even in the most severe weather and road conditions common in Canada.”

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