It’s easy to forget that the oil sands began as a research project. Syncrude Canada was founded 50 years ago as a research consortium that included the provincial and federal governments, and it was tasked with finding a way to turn the bituminous sands around Fort McMurray into a commercially viable project.
But the country’s energy sector is falling behind when it comes to the amount of money it’s investing in research and development. This is not a problem that’s unique to the industry, as most sectors of the Canadian economy tend to under-invest in R&D compared to their global peers. That said, as a high-cost producer in what is, for the foreseeable future at least, a low-cost world, our energy sector needs to make the necessary investments in the kinds of technology that can improve our competitiveness.
The problem is the energy sector already has a reputation for being risk averse, and it stands to reason that the inclination will only be exacerbated in the current environment. With low revenues now testing budgets, it’s entirely likely R&D levels will remain below where they need to be. But there is some good news: there’s a growing community of accelerators, incubators and government-funded competitions that are stepping forward and meeting the challenge of de-risking technologies for the energy sector.
According to Kevin Frankowski, at Innovate Calgary this is how it should be. “The core business of the energy companies is not to develop technology; it’s to develop resources and to produce those resources and get them to market. Asking them to take on technology de-risking is, I think, unrealistic – and it’s unfair. We have a strong innovation ecosystem in Alberta, and it’s a matter of getting the right elements of that ecosystem working together in the right way.”
(Source: Alberta Oil)