Canada: Calgary: Opening Doors To Energy Technology

Last Updated: December 30 2014
Article by Marek Lorenc

In part three of the Calgary: Opening Doors to Energy Technology series, Davis LLP's Marek Lorenc looks at two examples of Calgary companies who have been able to to "[innovate] ideas and technologies to meet existing and anticipated demands of the energy sector" thanks to the availability of programs and support in Calgary.

In Part Two of this series we introduced you to a number of programs that are aiding and assisting the development of the energy technology industry in Calgary. In this piece, Part Three, we explore some innovative technology companies that are taking full advantage of these resources and the unique market opportunity we have in Alberta to evolve the energy economy for the future.

Building Better Biosensors

Calgary's FREDsense Technologies Corp., is a startup out of the University of Calgary (U of C) – with a multi-disciplinary team of undergrads, grad students, researchers and professors all collaborating to develop a technology that provides near real-time identification of toxins in water. FRED stands for Field-Ready Electrochemical Detectors and with the strong need for immediate information on environmental concerns in the energy industry, FREDsense hits all the marks and carries a name that you're not likely to forget.

Current methods of oil extraction are very water intensive and produce a seemingly inevitable by-product of highly contaminated water which must be stored, usually in tailings ponds, and/or remediated prior to its release. Existing methods of toxicity testing are costly and labour intensive, FREDsense uses novel electrochemical biosensors to relay the same information quickly, accurately, and with more detail. After successful results in the lab, they are well on their way to having a portable prototype ready for field testing.

As with any new technology, the road to commercialization isn't easy. However, FREDsense has taken full advantage of available programs to hone their product, develop their market and prepare for market entry. The "geekStarter" program at AITF (Alberta Innovates Technology Futures) provided FREDsense with funding and business plan development support, which helped them take top prize at each of the U of C's Hunter School for Entrepreneurship and Innovation "Energy New Venture Challenge". The team is no stranger to winning prizes – FREDsense won the top Entrepreneur prize at the prestigious global iGEM contest in 2013. So far in 2014, FREDsense has won at the BMO APEX Business Plan competition in Fredericton and secured first place at the Queen's Entrepreneurs Competition (QEC) at Queen's University in Kingston and, most recently, the prestigious 10th annual – and sadly, final, Nicol Entrepreneurial Award for Canadian University students. The Nicol award is designed to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs to drive the Canadian economy and FREDsense is a most worthy recipient.

University startups and spin-offs certainly bring new ideas to life and add fresh perspective to existing industries, but that doesn't suggest that new ideas only come from academia. Necessity is the mother of invention and most ideas come from finding problems in the field and setting about finding innovative solutions.

Mapping Oil From Above The Ground

Sky Hunter Corporation is a unique technology in non-invasive hydrocarbon exploration that maps oil and gas reserves by flying over the terrain and logging data similar to what seismic technologies currently obtain. Simply put, Sky Hunter maps oil from a plane – over land and over water.

Sky Hunter's patented technology places a hydrocarbon indicator device on an airplane to detect microseepages from deep within the earth. Sky Hunter not only enables energy companies to explore new reserves in a very economical and environmentally sensitive manner, it allows them to pay constant attention to the quality of existing exploration sites. The industry is so enamoured with this innovation that PTAC awarded Sky Hunter their 2013 Technology Award.

With pressure on oil and gas companies to develop quality reserves at the lowest cost per barrel, the data that Sky Hunter collects helps energy companies make better and faster decisions and allows investors in the energy sector more precise data to derisk their investments. The Sky Hunter team isn't new to the energy game, but their technology is and thus, the team has encountered all the traditional hurdles in raising money for a game-changing innovation. Thanks to local and national programs, the Sky Hunter team has obtained funding and professional services that have helped moved them forward to securing joint industry partnerships (JIP) to prove the technology in the field. Alberta Deal Generator provided invaluable pitch coaching and exposure to investors, while AITF vouchers helped with market assessment studies and investment into the JIP. LookNorth, a Federal CECR (Centre of Excellence for Commercialisation and Research program) provided key introductions and funding to support the advancement of the technology.

Sky Hunter is now in the second phase of the joint industry partnership and seeking their next round of financing to meet market demand for the data capture and to further develop their data infrastructure.

New Ideas Abound

The above are just two of the many Calgary companies that are innovating ideas and technologies to meet existing and anticipated demands of the energy sector. A sample of others includes Hifi Engineering Inc. (high fidelity fibre optic sensing for leak detection), Cold Bore Technology (sonic telemetry for downhole communications), and Osprey Informatics Ltd. (intelligent remote visual monitoring). These companies, and many others, are growing the critical mass of people, companies and funds in Calgary that will drive further innovation in the energy technology space, and will position Calgary as a global hub for innovation and development of energy technology solutions.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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