Market Snapshot: Canadian innovations continue to shape the future of energy

Release date: 2017-06-29

To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation, here are a few innovative ways that Canadians have shaped, and continue to shape, the energy industry.

Nuclear Power: Canadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU)

The CANDU reactor is one of Canada’s most well-known innovations. In 1945, Canadian scientists pioneered the use of heavy water (deuterium oxide) as a coolant in the nuclear generation process.Footnote 1 This laid the groundwork for the construction of the first CANDU-type reactor, located in Rolphton, Ontario, which supplied Canada’s first nuclear-generated electricity on 4 June 1962.

Today, there are 30 CANDU reactors in operation in seven countries around the world, including Canada. CANDU reactors supply 15% of Canada’s electricity needs and are a low-emission source of generation.Footnote 2

Source and Description

Source: Canadian Nuclear Association, NEB, International Atomic Energy Agency, NEB data

Description: The graphic above shows two images with associated captions that highlight some key aspects of CANDU and SAGD:

  • There are 30 CANDU reactors in 7 countries around the world: Canada, Argentina, China, India, Korea, Pakistan, and Romania.
  • 5.5% of global nuclear output is sourced from CANDU reactors.
  • 56% of Ontario’s electricity is sourced from CANDU reactors.
  • 15% of Canada’s electricity is sourced from CANDU reactors.
  • 36% of Canada’s oil sands production in 2016 used SAGD, equivalent to 900 000 barrels per day.

Oil Extraction: Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD)

In the 1970’s, Dr. Roger Butler developed the concept of SAGD extraction in Canada’s oil sands. SAGD uses a pair of horizontal wells to reach bitumen located too deep for surface mining. The upper well injects steam, heating the bitumen and allowing it to flow into the lower well, where it is pumped up to the surface. SAGD allows access to large areas of underground resources with well pads that disturb less than 10% of the surface area above.

In 2016, SAGD was used for 36% of oil sands production, up from 20% in 2010. New extraction methods have also been pioneered and are under developmentFootnote 3 but none currently have widespread use.

Source and Description

Source: ICFAR

Description: The graphic above notes: up to 20% of Canada’s heavy oil production is upgraded in fluid cokers.

Oil Processing: Fluid Coking

Canadian companies have also been leading innovators in bitumen upgrading, which breaks or “cracks” bitumen into medium and light oils that are more valuable and easier to process. Fluid coking is an upgrading technology pioneered by Canadian companies and is used extensively by Syncrude in Fort McMurray, Alberta and Imperial Oil in Sarnia, Ontario. The fluid cokers at Syncrude are some of the largest in the world.

Renewables and Energy Storage:

Fuel Cells

Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems Inc. develops transportation and stationary power technologies. Ballard’s proton-exchange membrane fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity without combustion, which is highly efficient and creates very few emissions. In 2005, 33 Ballard fuel cell-powered buses were operating around the world. An additional 20 were deployed in Whistler, B.C. before the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the first 22 of a planned 300 buses were deployed in China in 2016. This year, Ballard became the first fuel cell company to achieve over 10 million kilometers of revenue service on its worldwide bus fleet.

Hydrogenics, headquartered in Ontario, is another fuel cell manufacturer that has been contributing to the development and proliferation of fuel cell technologies.

Source and Description

Source: HPB Magazine, Ballard Power Systems Inc.

Description: The graphic above shows two images with associated captions that highlight some key aspects of the Drake Landing Solar Community, and hydrogen fuel cells:

  • Over 90% of space heating for 52 homes in the DLSC is sourced from solar.
  • Ballard recently surpassed 10 million kilometers of revenue service in its fuel cell bus fleet.
Drake Landing Solar Community

The Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC) in Okotoks, Alberta is a planned community of 52 detached single-family houses that is also a global pioneer in heat storage technologies. An expansive and complex system of rooftop solar collectors and underground heat storage units supplies the community with over 90% of its space heating year-round – even during cold Alberta winters.Footnote 4 The DLSC was completed in 2007 and has received national and international recognition related to sustainable housing and solar thermal technology.

Source and Description

Source: NRCan

Description: The graphic above highlights some key aspects of the Springhill geothermal project:

  • The water sourced from the mine has a constant temperature of 18 degrees Celsius.
  • The geothermal system, which sources heat from an abandoned mine, has been in operation since 1987.
Springhill Mine Water Geothermal

In the mid-1980s, the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia began exploring the potential of nearby mines as a source of geothermal heating. After many years of abandonment, the mines had filled with water, which was heated naturally by the earth to about 18 degrees Celsius. By 1994, eight local users, including a large plastics manufacturing facility, were drawing on the mine water to feed their heat pumps for space heating. The Springhill project was among the first industrial sites in the world to demonstrate the viability of mine water geothermal energy, and this technology is now also being used in countries around the world, including the U.S., the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

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