Clean technology means cleaner energy

Clean technology means cleaner energy

Applied research at SAIT Polytechnic helps to make energy production more sustainable
April 22, 2013

Under increasing public scrutiny, energy companies are trying to develop better technologies and processes in a push toward true sustainability.

With a focus on clean energy technologies, the Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) department at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary is an ideal catalyst for helping “improve Alberta’s environmental performance in the oil sands and across various industrial and commercial sectors,” says Vita Martez, project lead for ARIS’s Environmental Technologies group.

Global demand for energy is at an all-time high, which puts a premium on ARIS’s efforts to help reduce industrial impacts on water, air and land. ARIS supports the design, development, testing and validation of innovative technological processes, products and services. Ultimately, the goal of its research is market adoption and implementation of effective new technologies. “We hope to achieve the acceleration of clean-technology uptake in the regional industry,” says Martez, “and to demonstrate environmentally sustainable solutions for energy production.”

This is where $800,000 in new infrastructure funding from the federal College-Industry Innovation Fund (CIIF), administered through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), will come into play. With this support, Martez and her team will be able to acquire an array of equipment: new research testing platforms to demonstrate reduced use of fresh water and enhance the recycling and reuse of treated water in energy production; a mobile soil trailer lab to conduct on-site soil sampling and analysis and test innovative remediation technologies; and air-quality monitoring systems to detect low-level concentrations of harmful airborne compounds, assess air-quality improvement technologies and aid in the capture of harmful chemical byproducts before they are released into the air.

With this infrastructure, ARIS will also gain increased capacity to provide prototyping and evaluation services, and to advance commercialization opportunities. Its overarching aim is to help move environmental performance in energy production beyond regulatory compliance. “We expect to open avenues for a potential transformation of the regional energy sector,” says Martez. “For private-sector partners, the research capacity will help us prove the market readiness of innovations in clean technologies, thus accelerating their return on investment.”

The environmental technologies group at ARIS has already successfully completed several applied research projects involving the treatment of fracking water, solar desalination for producing drinking water from seawater, nano-bubble aeration for accelerating wastewater remediation, and hydrocarbon containment systems for oil spills.

This last project was done in partnership with the Calgary-based Canadian Floating Fence Corporation (CFFC) to test XBOOM, a containment system that can be rapidly deployed onto the surface of any water body to effectively contain an oil spill and prevent adverse environmental effects. While SAIT staff and students got an opportunity to apply their expertise, the company received the research support it needed to make its idea a reality. “Not only were we armed with the most advanced technological tools, but we were also guided by staff leads and their students,” says Stephen Neal, the CEO of CFFC. “They embraced our ideas and allowed us to bring our vision to fruition in a very short time frame.”

“We give our industry partners a competitive advantage by collaborating with them on product development and process-improvement applied research projects, using seasoned SAIT students who they will need to hire as they grow their business,” says ARIS director Alex Zahavich.

With such projects and partnerships under its belt, ARIS continues to build its clean-energy repertoire by addressing water, soil, air quality and greenhouse gas issues in industrial sectors such as agriculture, transportation, infrastructure and energy. “Since the impacts of pollution associated with energy production are interconnected, having infrastructure where industry partners can address environmental considerations in air, soil and water will help support new a technology adoption through pilot demonstration and verification,” says Martez.

The new CIIF funding will also allow SAIT to develop other key infrastructure, including its Produced Water and Desalination Research Centre (PWDRC), to build upon ARIS’s leading research in saline and produced water (water that is produced when oil and gas are extracted from the ground). It complements an earlier CFI grant awarded to ARIS’s Green Building Technologies Group and the $2.3 million in funding for produced water research SAIT received in March 2011 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s College and Community Innovation Program.

Through its applied research program, ARIS shows that clean technologies can effectively deliver clean air, soil and water solutions. By doing so, ARIS is helping to prevent or reduce the adverse environmental effects resulting from energy production. “Industry uptake of clean-energy technologies represents an opportunity for Canada to demonstrate global leadership during its transition to low-carbon and other environmentally sustainable energy production,” says Martez.

In other words, ARIS will literally help Canada clean up its energy-producing act.