Sept/Oct 2010

Exploring the frontier

Eddy Isaacs’ at the helm of Alberta’s re-branded energy and environmental R&D authority

By Eavan Moore

Dr. Eddy Isaacs has spent his career in research and technology. After two decades of working in heavy oil and oil sands at the Alberta Research Council (now Alberta Innovates Technology Future), Isaacs came on board the former Alberta Energy Research Institute (AERI). This year, AERI morphed into a new Alberta Innovates corporation, Energy and Environment Solutions (EES), picking up the Alberta Water Research Institute along the way. Appointed CEO of the group, Isaacs leads staff and consultants in developing research and technology projects that meet Alberta’s economic and environmental needs. CIM spoke to him in August about his work.

CIM: How is EES different from its predecessor?

Isaacs: The corporations were created to be able to carry funds forward from year to year. That’s important in research and technology; you don’t always have good projects when you want them.

We are at arm’s length from the province and have a greater freedom to operate, including less administrative requirements that are typical of a government system. The province provides EES with funds and we are accountable to deliver on programs that position Alberta for the future in energy and environment. We have a very business-savvy board that provides important oversight to ensure we achieve our goals and targets.

CIM: What is the budget for EES?

Isaacs: Our base budget will be around $20 million. We get additional funds from time to time, which are then allocated to specific areas. For example, we have invested around $35 million in a City of Edmonton waste-to-biofuels project, next generation upgrading technologies and a front-end engineering study for a clean coal plant, with funds made available through the Department of Energy. The amount of additional funding will generally depend on the fiscal health of the province.

CIM: How are projects chosen for funding?

Isaacs: We focus on three strategic areas: energy technologies, environmental technologies and renewable and emerging resources. We investigate what technologies are out there and how we can best adapt them to Alberta’s needs, so we’re constantly monitoring what’s happening globally. Sometimes we formulate initiatives that respond to the Alberta government’s strategic priorities, then issue an expression of interest or a request for proposal. Another way is for people to come to us with an idea. If it fits our framework, we work with them to jointly develop a project.

CIM: What are your plans for clean coal research and what will be the impact of new federal requirements for coal-fired plants’ emission performance?

Isaacs: We work very closely with the Canadian Clean Power Coalition (CCPC) looking at technology options to maintain coal as a viable and important Canadian resource into the future. A number of projects analyze and examine the feasibility of both current and next generation technologies such as gasification with carbon capture and storage that can be adapted to Canadian coal needs. We are involved with work in coal cleaning and have a number of research projects at the University of Alberta. We are also supporting a newly established centre on carbon/coal and mineral processing at the university.

Traditionally, we have done a lot of work on carbon management and especially carbon capture and storage (CCS). One such project is the Shell Quest project, which is delineating CO2 injection into deep saline formations, basically to learn more about the rates of CO2 injection and the volumes that the saline aquifer(s) will take. The Shell Quest project is a CCS project that will move from field trials to commercial-scale application in the coming years. Results from these studies will be important for the future of coal as companies such as TransAlta look at the feasibility of using CCS in their operations.

With lower natural gas prices, the simplest thing is to switch to natural gas. But the requirements do motivate looking at newer and more efficient technologies.

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