Research collaboration improving industry performance

Corporate Responsibility

Research collaboration improving industry performance

Collaboration that improves industry’s collective performance is playing an important role in ensuring competitiveness and a sustainable industry that meets Canada’s and the world’s energy needs for the long-term.

”We are not an industry of the past. The natural resource sector is critical to the sustainability of our economy,” says Joy Romero, Vice-President, Technology and Innovation. “As innovators, we need to collaborate and join our intellectual capital and finances to continue to increase productivity and reduce our carbon footprint.” Our industry was founded on technology and innovation, and by joining forces with our peers, that is exactly what will help ensure it remains sustainable and productive for years to come.

A number of collaborative efforts have been taking place to harness a common commitment to environmental improvement, through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) and Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC), with universities directly or through our industry associations like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), and through government agencies like Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Our work with COSIA

As part of our commitment to collaboration in R&D, Canadian Natural is a founding member and active participant in Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). Canadian Natural, along with other large producers, is sharing research information and technologies through this unprecedented collaborative industry effort to improve environmental performance.

This industry alliance focuses on four Environmental Priority Areas (EPAs) – tailings, water, land management and GHG reduction. Since its inception in 2012, COSIA’s members have collectively shared 981 distinct technologies to date, representing more than $1.4 billion to develop, allowing each company to benefit from the R&D efforts of their partners.

In 2017, Canadian Natural led 14 partnered and 19 single participant projects, and participated in another 14 projects throughout COSIA’s EPAs. Research shared to date includes $44 million in GHG technology, $69 million in tailings technology, $70 million in water technology, and $20 million in reclamation technology. Some of the projects we lead at COSIA are:

  • Tailings research. Research projects include carbon dioxide (CO2) to treat tailings, non-segregated tailings (NST) and the Horizon Applied Process Innovation Centre (APIC) research facility. Read our “Advancing Tailings Management Technologies" story on page 19 of our 2017 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders.
  • Area fugitive emissions measurement. Canadian Natural is working to enhance the accuracy of GHG emissions measurements from the oil sands region, allowing for the implementation of more effective strategies to reduce those emissions. The project involves many partners in developing a holistic system of advanced sensors (using laser and fiber optic technology) and computer models that will deliver commercially proven technologies, guidelines for measurement and more accurate emissions profiles. The technology solutions will be transferable to other industrial sectors, amplifying the opportunity to reduce overall emissions in Canada and globally. To further improve emissions measurement, Canadian Natural is also a part of COSIA’s GHGSat, a satellite based emissions monitoring project.
  • Advancing oil sands reclamation. Projects we lead in support of reclamation efforts are described in our Advancing Understanding of Oil Sands Reclamation section. The Forest Watershed and Riparian Disturbance (FORWARD) project, for example, was designed to develop soil and watershed assessment tools and understand how natural and anthropogenic (manmade or human influenced) disturbances — such as oil sands mining, fires, and forestry — influence the dynamics of forest watersheds and the soils, vegetation and waterbodies within them. More information on FORWARD is available on COSIA's website.
  • Soft sensors. Canadian Natural is adapting a technology to achieve higher steam quality and improve accuracy of steam quality measurements at our Primrose steam generators. This technology has the potential to reduce water use and GHG intensity while increasing resource recovery. This is a great example of how the COSIA model allows members to leverage the work done by companies to improve the environmental performance of their own operations. More information on the soft sensors research is available on COSIA's website.

Other projects include an initiative aimed at reducing GHGs from boilers used in steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations. The Scan and Evaluation of Natural Gas Decarbonization Technologies project is identifying chemical pathways to convert natural gas into a hydrogen rich fuel and a valuable co-product. In addition to lowering emissions, cost savings could reach $900 million/year. Read more about our innovative projects in our Technology and Innovation case studies, and learn more about COSIA's work on their website.

Converting carbon into usable products

Climate change and further reductions of GHG emissions are issues that Canada’s oil and natural gas industry take seriously. Technological advances over the past two decades have enabled a 32% reduction in GHG emissions intensity for every barrel of oil produced in Alberta’s oil sands, compared to 1990 levels. Those cooperative development efforts continue today.

One of the innovative ways to continue to find and explore the potential of new technologies is through the US$20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition. This four-and-a-half year global competition challenges the brightest minds and innovators across the world to develop new technologies to manage carbon emissions from industrial facilities by converting waste carbon/CO2 into useable products. In April 2018, COSIA announced the five finalists from five countries – ranging from entrepreneurs to start-ups to academic institutions and companies that have been tackling the issue for more than a decade. Each of the teams delivered a unique approach to turn waste CO2 emissions into a variety of valuable products, such as enhanced concrete, liquid fuels, plastics and carbon fiber.

To support the development of a facility to test these breakthrough technologies on a large scale, the governments of Canada and Alberta, together with industry partners, InnoTech Alberta and the Shepard Energy Centre (a joint venture of ENMAX and Capital Power), have invested in the development of the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre (ACCTC). The ACCTC officially opened in May 2018, and the first users of the ACCTC will be the five finalists from the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. This centre will also support Alberta-based technology developers, as well as attract global companies and world-class researchers to the province, being one of the few places in the world where carbon conversion technologies can be tested on a large, commercial scale.

Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN)

CRIN is an industry-led network launched in 2017 that leverages the strengths of the crude oil and natural gas industry through large-scale collaboration and alignment of research and technology priorities. It brings together oil and gas producers, service companies, private and public innovators, think tanks, investors, policy makers and academics who are committed to the success of the hydrocarbon energy sector in Canada. The vision is for Canada to be a global leader in producing clean hydrocarbon energy from source to end use. To get there, CRIN is taking a broader approach to help focus challenges and accelerate solutions, viewing itself as an “innovative ecosystem” that will facilitate connections among its participants and supporters.

While a number of other collaborative organizations feature various core focus areas (such as oil sands and non-oil sands), CRIN differentiates itself by uniting the entire oil and natural gas industry, and the sectors that are necessary to accelerate the commercialization of new technologies. It synchronizes the diverse mandates of organizations that are all aiming, in a wider sense, for a cleaner and more efficient hydrocarbon energy industry. To learn more about CRIN, watch this video.

Other collaborations

For over 20 years, the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC) has been facilitating innovation, collaborative research and technology development to support the responsible development of Canada’s energy resources. This partnership continues to provide us tools to run our day-to-day business and leading-edge risk and science-based guidelines, ultimately supporting a sustainable, efficient energy industry. Canadian Natural has collaborated with PTAC on projects that improve reclamation methods and reduce venting of natural gas.

Another great example of collaboration projects is our work with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), a federal government agency that provides grants for research in the natural sciences and engineering. Canadian Natural and an industry partner are co-funding an NSERC Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Novel CO2 Capture Technologies for Oil Sand Operations at the University of Calgary. The goal of this research is to identify, evaluate, develop, design and implement the most promising CO2 capture technologies for cost effective commercial implementation in Alberta, to reduce GHG emissions from oil sands operations.

Canadian Natural is currently supporting nine industrial research chairs at the University of Alberta, as well as other chairs at the University of Calgary, University of British Columbia, and Athabasca University, in addition to other centres of excellence like Materials and Reliability in Oil Sands (MARIOS) and PTAC.

Canadian Natural is also participating in the Algal Carbon Conversion (ACC) Project as an observer in the first stage of deployment of a biorefinery. This project will capture CO2 and waste heat for treatment with algae to release bio-oil. In 2013, an economic and engineering assessment was initiated by our company with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Pond Technologies, a Canadian algae technology company. The NRC, Pond Technologies and St. Marys Cement Canada began testing this technology in 2016 at a pilot-scale biorefinery at St. Marys Cement plant in Ontario. The pilot captures CO2 from the cement plant operations by placing them in large tanks with algae to promote photosynthesis with LED lights. Algae are pressed to release bio-oil for potential use in biofuels and biomaterials ― and, at an oil sands operation, would be blended into heavy oil or synthetic crude oil. The leftover biomass can then be used to feed livestock and for land reclamation. Canadian Natural will share in the results from the activities at the St. Marys cement plant, and further participate in the planning and development of a later stage two deployment, anticipated for an oil sands operation. More information about the ACC can be found here.