In 1949, University of Alberta professor, Karl Clark, perfected a technique to extract oil out of sands.
Therein started the greatest growth and economic expansion in Alberta’s history.
Operational oil sands companies such as Syncrude continue to fund research and development often in concert with publicly-funded institutions.
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan were instrumental in helping Syncrude find solutions to reclaim lost wet lands after open pit mining.
It’s the normal cycle found in innovative societies—government funded research and development moving into private sector commercialization.
The most stunning example would be the investment by American taxpayers which led to the development and creation of the internet.
I recently read the 2019 Spring issue of New Trail, the University of Alberta (U of A) Alumni magazine. That issue focussed on the many current research projects underway to power the future.
Included were a handful of commercial energy companies, still in their infancy, spawned from the U of A.
For example, Applied Quantum Materials, a spinoff company is working to commercialize the invention of chemistry professor, Jonathan Veinot and David Antoniuk, an electrical engineer.
The company is conducting commercial tests on a new product, luminescent solar concentrators, which transform downtown skyscraper windows into solar panels.
This invention has the potential to revolutionize the building industry, save owners and tenants energy costs and tap into a huge worldwide market.
AdvEn Industries is working to commercialize the technology developed by Weixing Chen, professor in chemical and materials engineering.
This technology uses Alberta oilsands wastes, recycled plastics and biochar (organic waste matter) to produce materials to use in making electrodes such as supercapacitors or lithium-sulphur batteries.
A potential solution to some of our significant waste issues and a huge economic upside given the growing demand for alternate energy storage.
Currently the company is seeking funding to build a 100-ton-per-year demo plant in Edmonton.
Then there’s Arman Hemmati, assistant professor in mechanical engineering and Arash Zargar, master’s student in engineering, who are researching ways to reduce friction in pipelines and drag on transport trucks.
The previous New Democrat government had supported this work with a $100,000 grant believing it was one way to change the view on pipelines by making the transport of petroleum projects safer and more efficient.
These are just three examples of the vast wealth of brains and ideas that are being funded through public universities or once through the now-defunct Innovation Fund for Alternative Energy.
The first coal-burning steam engines in 1698 launched the industrial revolution and in 1886 the first gasoline-powered cars hit the road, but time marches on.
Hopefully, our Premier and the Calgary oil patch CEOs noticed the massive protests by millions of students worldwide and their collective seriousness to fight governments and adults pretending CO2 is not a serious problem.
They are the future voters and consumers and their concerns will grow in power.
Albertans seem happy to enable their premier to re-introduce all the legislation used in the golden decades of yore. Yet Alberta wouldn’t have today’s wealth had it not been for progressive, innovative leaders in government and industry who took risks on the new and unproven oil sands.
Bob Iger, highly regarded Chairman and CEO of Disney World, when interviewed recently about his new book,
‘The Ride of a Lifetime’ made a very profound comment that Albertans might want to consider. He said, “the riskiest things you can do today is trying to protect the status quo or not taking risks.”