Podcast: Cleantech helps solve emissions, environmental issues in oil and gas industry

Joy Romero, VP innovation and technology, CNRL. Photo: Energi News.

Naturally Resourceful event brought together industry, government, entrepreneurs to discuss strategies for growing cleantech, or “restech” as Muir calls it

Contrary to popular opinion, cleantech (short for clean technologies) is not the exclusive domain of renewable energy or net-zero homes or  any of the thousands of technologies that are transforming how Canadians work and live. In fact, Alberta and British Columbia cleantech companies are likely serve natural resource extraction customers like oil and gas producers.

Resource Works, a non-profit organization based in BC that promotes public discussion about responsible development of natural resources, hosted a cleantech conference in Vancouver last week. I interviewed executive director Stewart Muir for this podcast and caught up with Joy Romero, VP of innovation and technology for oil sands giant CNRL, for a video interview at the event.

According to Analytica Advisors, which released the 2017 Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report in May, there are more than 850 cleantech companies in Canada, including many small and medium sized enterprises, that generated 2015 revenue estimated at $13.27 billion.

But cleantech research and development also takes place within oil and gas companies, as Romero explains in her interview. CNRL is one of Canada’s leading spenders on R&D. The company’s goal is to reduce its carbon footprint and impact on the environment, while cutting costs at the same time.

Romero is an experienced engineer who sits on a variety of boards and advisory committees of organizations set up to foster innovation, including cleantech, in the energy industry.

“People are innovation machines. The job of my department is facilitate them bringing forward ideas on through to adoption [by the company],” she said in an interview. “If my CEO [Steve Laut] was here he would tell you that technology and innovation are the drivers for our company’s success.”

Innovating technology solutions in the oil and gas sector has changed over the years. Industry or individual companies start with a problem, then organize the human and technical resources necessary to find a solution, says Neil Huff, head of the Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Centre in British Columbia. 

“The whole idea of this program is to connect resource industry problems with innovators so that we’re providing real solutions to real problems. And generating commercialization as a result of that,” Huff said in an interview.

As an example, Foresight has created the Advanced Resource Clean Technology Innovation Centre that partners with industry associations like Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance to fund XPrize-style competitions to develop new technologies.

The latest is a $1 million challenge to remove carbon from natural gas. The Alberta oil sands burns over 700 million gigajoules of natural gas a year to generate steam – and a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Supplying oil sands operators with a carbon-lean fuel source will significantly reduce GHGs and ensure they are operating more efficiently and sustainably,” says Huff.