- Grants from provincial and federal governments have been crucial in allowing the cleantech sector to develop and grow in Calgary.
- The oil and gas industry can easily work with cleantech and carbon tech industries, considering their expertise and end goals are similar.
- Calgary has to raise awareness that it is not only an oil and gas town, but that it also has a strong renewable energy sector.
Calgary and Alberta in general have the right ingredients to become leaders in cleantech and carbon tech. With a strong history in the energy sector, skills and expertise can be easily transitioned towards expanding the cleantech industry. With government support in funding, Calgary can make the most of its top talent and utilize its abundant resources to attract more investment into cleantech.
What makes Calgary a good place to invest and to do business, and what are the region’s strengths and competitive advantages in terms of attracting foreign direct investment?
One of the main things for Calgary is the amount of innovation in the city, which was originally spurred by the oil and gas sector starting here; there was a lot of business development that came from that sector alone.
“Calgary’s businesses have been able to increase their efficiencies and really take on the innovative spirit that oil and gas companies do so well at.”
Innovation has spread through a multitude of sectors, making Calgary really attractive to investors from all around the world who can come in and meet top talent. Calgary’s businesses have been able to increase their efficiencies and really take on the innovative spirit that oil and gas companies do so well at.
What do you say to people who perhaps do not know Calgary and Alberta very well, and only view the city and the province as an oil jurisdiction?
It is a question that we get often: “Why is Calgary just oil and gas—tell us more about this sector,” and there is a negative connotation towards that industry. It is a bit of a pigeonhole that we have found ourselves in because Calgary is so diverse and there are so many different sectors that we are a part of.
A lot of times when people are talking about oil and gas, what they really mean is the energy sector at large. We need to be able to widen that out and actually get into discussions about renewables, hydrogen, carbon utilization, and carbon capture industries. Those are all valuable pieces that are left out of the conversation when people only talk about Calgary and Alberta as an oil and gas sector.
What makes Calgary’s innovation ecosystem unique, different, or even better than others?
Calgary has a lot of the resources available to us, top leaders, and a lot of headquarters here for large businesses, whether that is from the energy sector or not. Being able to pull on all of those resources from advisership to investors is how Calgary has been able to shape a lot of our innovation. You look at Platform Calgary and different ecosystem builders—those have really been able to shape a lot of the innovation and the entrepreneurship within Calgary.
Is the oil and gas industry generally supportive of innovation outside of its core exploration and production fields?
To an extent, I would say it is. The oil and gas sector is supportive when there is a connection or draw for them to do business with other companies or industries on the periphery. That is where you get traction for advisership going.
The carbon utilization industry has a very big plug and play into the oil and gas sector as well as infrastructure development. That is something that is a good example of how advisors will latch onto companies where they can make their own work better, whether it is environmentally or economically. Of course, it is more economic to do a lot of business with these smaller companies and bring them forward. That is really where it stems from and that is how you get that amazing advisership happening in Calgary.
Can you describe the cleantech innovation ecosystem, the type of support that exists, and how we can ultimately attract more investment into that sector in Calgary?
Calgary is starting to become more known for cleantech. Just to give you an idea, we are a top 10 finalist in the Carbon XPRIZE, which is a massive global competition. Calgary was selected for its hub and for one of the tracks to scale up carbon technologies. It was done on purpose, because Calgary has a strong ecosystem for startups in general, and the crossover into the energy sector is quite obvious. That is something that is really important for Calgary: to showcase the city as a leader in cleantech and in carbon tech, more specifically, which is what we like to call it. That is really exciting for us, to be a part of this growing industry. We have received quite a lot of support from the provincial and federal governments in the form of grants. And then there is always support from Trade Commissioners, to really try and connect outside of Canada and bring that investment in, or to help us expand our operations outwards.
“That is something that is really important for Calgary: to showcase the city as a leader in cleantech and in carbon tech, more specifically, which is what we like to call it.”
Yes, it seems to be Calgary’s ecosystem is really focusing in on cleantech and we are seeing that more and more. It seems like every week there is a new press release of new funding coming out, which is amazing to see.
What is Carbon Upcycling Technologies and what business supports has your company received?
Carbon Upcycling Technologies is a cleantech startup. We are six years old and what we have developed is a carbon utilization technology where we take gaseous carbon dioxide (CO2), often from waste streams, and we sequester it into inorganic solid powders.
The powders we are using come from industrial sources and include things like fly ash, which is a by-product of coal incineration plants, but they also include more natural sources as well, like graphite powder, talc, and even clays, for instance. We can make all of these different end-products just by absorbing the CO2 into these powders. We break them down into a very fine format, and then they are applied across many different materials.
The industries that we work within include concrete and plastics, pharmaceuticals, solar panels, and even consumer products. It is quite broad, the work that we do, but it is only one platform technology.
Essentially, when we started, we began with a reactor that was about the size of a cookie jar. It was very small, and we have now scaled it over a million times. The unit that we are just about to commission is eight tonnes per day of material production. It is very large and industrial, and a lot of the support to build and scale our tech has come from provincial and government grants, and from Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA), which is a big one for us. Natural Resources Canada has provided us funding, Alberta Innovates as well, and all of that has gone towards this project.
It is really exciting to see it finally coming to fruition here and get to see that running. That will be a demonstration for the Carbon XPRIZE.
Are there other Calgary or Alberta organizations or even programs that you want to encourage and thank?
Yes, absolutely. We started in maybe 2015 or 2016, when we graduated from Creative Destruction Lab-Rockies, and that was a really great experience. Since then, the few that I mentioned who are really big players for us are Alberta Innovates and ERA—those are the two biggest funders for us at the moment. Alberta Innovates and Emissions Reduction Alberta have been a massive play on how to get cleantech to commercial status. Applying for grants like that is really key to the ecosystem in Alberta, expanding the economy outwards from oil and gas, and expanding the energy sector.
What is your personal vision for the future of Calgary’s economy and by extension Canada?
I would love to see Calgary become a leader in cleantech, if not in carbon tech. We have the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre here in the city, which is world renowned. It is where we have our site and being able to expand that and the industry would be phenomenal, and it is a great goal for Calgary. That is more of an extension of what we are already good at.
“Calgary can be a major leader in renewables, if not all of Alberta, and that would be fantastic to see.”
We are already good at energy and bringing those types of projects forward so continuing that but in a different way with a fresh face is going to look a lot different, but it will still allow us to maximize and retain the top talent that we have here in the city. That would be my outlook on it. I also hope to see more alternative energy projects as well, getting into hydrogen and renewables. Calgary can be a major leader in renewables, if not all of Alberta, and that would be fantastic to see.