The Spaces Where Collaboration Drives Innovation in Alberta

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Innovation ecosystems are complex entities that encompass everything from academia to government-funded research institutions, entrepreneurship incubators and R&D centres, all working towards innovative solutions to society’s most pressing problems and increasing the viability of our future economy. 

Alberta’s innovation system has deep ties with its energy sector, but new industries like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and agtech are all finding their rightful place in a province whose history is based on innovation.

In this feature, we highlight the spaces that are driving transformation in Alberta by taking an interdisciplinary approach to research and innovation. 

AGRICULTURE

Old’s College Smart Farm 

Old’s College, established in 1913 as Olds Agricultural College, is a public post-secondary institution created to advance and innovate within all aspects of the agriculture industry. In the summer of 2018, the college launched its Smart Farm, a 2,800-acre interconnected agriculture operations and commercial-scale applied research site. 

The Old’s College Smart Farm centres around five areas of applied research: autonomous agricultural equipment, sensors, data utilization, technology development and validation, and regenerative agriculture. Through these focus areas, the Smart Farm hopes to implement the world’s best digital agriculture technologies and smart technologies, and use commercial and pre-commercial technologies for education, demonstration and applied research. 

By bringing together agriculture and technology stakeholders, the Smart Farm solves real-world problems facing the agriculture industry. In 2021, Olds College launched the Pan-Canadian Smart Farm Network that will assist industry, developers and farmers to better use and develop agricultural technologies across Canada. 

Agricultural field sensor. Photo courtesy of Olds College Smart Farm.

Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN) 

As Canada seeks to build a knowledge-based economy, we need our resource industries, including agri-food, to keep pace with the speed of automation, digitization, and emerging technologies. Enter the Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN), a not-for-profit company launched in July 2019 with funding of $49.5-million from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund and assistance from Alberta Innovates in the form of significant in-kind contributions. CAAIN connects and invests in Canada’s agri-food and technology sectors to drive innovation and productivity.

New technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and automation are already transforming the way food is grown, processed, and sold around the world. Supporting Canadian ag-tech innovation will allow our nation to cement its standing as global agricultural leader. That is why CAAIN is funding cutting-edge research and connecting producers and agri-food companies with the technology players capable of devising innovative solutions to serious challenges.

By focusing on three priority areas, automation and robotics, data-driven decision-making, and smart farms such as the one at Olds College, CAAIN is helping to usher in an agri-food era that will be more efficient, effective, and sustainable than ever before.

CLEAN RESOURCES & ENERGY

Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA)

Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA), the trade name of the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC), was established in 2009 to serve as a key partner to the Government of Alberta in addressing climate change. 

ERA is mandated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow Alberta’s economy by accelerating the development and adoption of innovative technology solutions. Since its incorporation, Emissions Reduction Alberta has invested approximately $646 million in 204 technology projects worth $4.5 billion. 

The Government of Alberta recently announced it is using funding from the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund through ERA to build a new facility in Lethbridge that will produce 70 million litres of renewable fuel – a first of its kind in Canada.

To learn more about Canada’s energy transition and the role of ERA within it, read our interview with Steve MacDonald, CEO of Emissions Reduction Alberta

Photo courtesy of Emissions Reduction Alberta.

Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN)

The Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) is a pan-Canadian network with the goal to make Canada a global leader in the energy transition. Made up of governments, academia, industries, entrepreneurs and investors, CRIN plays an active role in Alberta’s innovation ecosystem by hosting events, providing research and resources for members, and hosting innovation competitions related to clean resources. 

With a focus on both energy development and environmental stewardship, CRIN seeks to assist with the commercialization of clean resource technologies in seven areas, including cleaner fuels, digital oil and gas technology, and novel hydrocarbon extraction. The network recently announced an $80 million investment for three technology competitions to reduce the environmental impact of Canada’s oil and gas industry.

Energy Futures Lab 

Holding the philosophy that diverse stakeholders must work together to create innovative solutions to our energy challenges, the Energy Futures Lab creates an inclusive space for energy actors to share their perspectives on what is often a divisive debate.

The organization has 42 fellows, or field experts, from the energy transition as well as representatives from cleantech, finance, the public sector, First Nations, youth and non-profits, who are given support by advisory councils and steering committees with industry, financial, environmental and public sector expertise. These actors are all brought together to answer one question: “How can Alberta’s leadership position today’s energy system to serve as a platform for transitioning to the energy system the future requires of us?” The hope is that the group will achieve a shared vision for a prosperous and sustainable energy future in Alberta. 

To learn more about Energy Futures Lab and their mission, you can read our interview with its Managing Director Alison Cretney

EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii)

The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) is a world-renowned centre for artificial intelligence and machine learning research institutions. Established through the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, Amii transforms scientific advancement into commercial and industry adoption. Its Chief Scientific Advisor, Richard Sutton, is considered the founding father of reinforcement learning, and attracts some of the brightest minds in the world to work on machine learning projects. In 2021, Amii welcomed 15 new Canada CIFAR Artificial Intelligence Chairs into its research centre, bringing the total to 26. 

Recent research from Amii was conducted in the emerging field of computational psychiatry. The team at Amii is working to help clinicians diagnose schizophrenia and conduct symptoms assessments by using data-driven and computational tools to better understand psychiatric disorders. 

Nanotechnology Research Centre

The National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) Nanotechnology Research Centre is a nanotechnology research facility that is located on the University of Alberta campus. Nanotechnology is the application of materials and systems with nanoscale features, specifically between the dimensions of 1 and 100 nanometers (one nanometer being equivalent to one billionth of a meter). 

First established in 2001 as the National Institute for Nanotechnology through funding by the University of Alberta, the NRC and the Government of Alberta, NRC-NANO is a leading innovation centre that seeks to revolutionize technologies and applications that enhance the world’s technological future while solving for issues relating to human health and the environment. Its 2,200,000 sq. ft. facility is considered one of the largest for nanotechnology research in the world. 

Researchers at the Nanotechnology Research Centre have discovered novel approaches to nanosensors, transforming the concept. In 2001, a collaborative NRC/UofA research team invented the tungsten needle, the world’s sharpest man-made object, which can be used to manipulate atoms. This was captured in the Guinness Book of World Records and is currently being exploited in atom scale electronics.

The microscopy experts at the Nanotechnology Research Centre have recently built the world’s first open‑source transmission electron microscope (TEM), from scratch. Developed over a 2‑year period, the project was born from the need to adapt microscopes to fulfill very particular demands in research projects, in a cost‑effective way.

View of the transmission electron microscope. Photo courtesy of the Nanotechnology Research Centre.

Institute for Quantum Science and Technology 

Located at the University of Calgary, the Institute for Quantum Science and Technology is committed to taking a multidisciplinary approach to quantum science and technology research, combining expertise from various backgrounds including physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. Quantum technology is the harnessing of quantum mechanics, which is the physics of sub-atomic particles including quantum superposition and quantum entanglement. 

Discoveries by the University of Calgary in quantum science and technology are establishing the city as a prime location for this emerging field. New investments by the Government of Canada through the National Quantum Strategy and the recent announcement of global IT firm Mphasis locating in the city have made Calgary a budding international hub in quantum science and technology. 

HEALTH INNOVATION AND PLATFORMS 

Genome Alberta

Genome Alberta was formed in 2005 as a publicly funded non-profit which initiates genomics research and manages partnerships to inspire and catalyze genomics solutions that benefit Albertans and the world. It is one of six Regional Genome Centres overseen by Genome Canada. Genome Alberta works to accelerate the life sciences industry in the province through research programs and collaborations with government agencies, national and international research teams, and provincial educational and research institutions. 

In 2021, the federal government announced $400 million for a Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy, recognizing that Canada is a global leader in the field and that genomics plays a critical role in the fight against COVID-19. Genome Alberta has 51 research projects, which include genomics and its application towards human health, the environment, agriculture, forestry, energy and more. 

Li Ka Shing Institute for Virology 

Founded by Canadian researcher Dr. Lorne Tyrell, who discovered an antiviral therapy for hepatitis B, the Li Ka Shing Institute for Virology is a consortium of world-class researchers aiming to advance scientific understandings of viruses and pathogens. Their research foci include vaccine efficacy and development, correlates of immunity, oncolysis and the development of novel antivirals. The Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology is located within the University of Alberta.

Dr. Michael Houghton, a Nobel Prize winning researcher, recently announced that through the work being conducted at the Li Ka Shing Institute, a vaccine for hepatitis C could be ready within five years, if proven to be safe and effective. 

ACADEMIA

University of Alberta

The University of Alberta, in Edmonton, is a top-five research university in Canada and counts 91 Canada Research Chairs among its faculty. Founded in 1906 by Henry Marshall Tory, its vision is to “inspire the human spirit through outstanding achievements in learning, discovery and citizenship in a creative community, building one of the world’s great universities for the public good. The university offers courses in the humanities, sciences, creative arts, business, engineering, and health sciences. 

The University of Calgary

Formed in 1944 as a branch of the University of Alberta, and eventually becoming its own autonomous university in 1966, the University of Calgary is a member of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities. 

The University of Calgary works cooperatively with the Albertan geoscience and petroleum industries, through its Department of Geoscience and the Schulich School of Engineering. The university is also home to Innovate Calgary, an innovation and business incubator.

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)

Canada’s first publicly-funded technical institute, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) offers more than 100 programs in technology, trades and business. Focused on practical, hands-on learning, SAIT is the province’s premier training institute for technical and technology-based careers. With 11,000 industry partners, SAIT uses applied research to create corporate and commercial solutions. 

ENTREPRENEURSHIP 

Creative Destruction Lab – Rockies 

Creative Destruction Lab is a non-profit organization delivering programming for scalable, seed-stage science and technology companies. Through its nine-month program, founders engage in intensive mentorship sessions with established entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists, while benefiting from technical expertise from world-renowned experts at leading academic institutions. CDL-Rockies offers 16 streams including quantum, AI, blockchain and fintech. 

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