Today, new technologies and innovative thinking remain fundamental to how we do business. We take a balanced approach to technology development, focusing on continuous improvement technology (step-change improvements in existing processes) and strategic technology (game-changing, disruptive). In 2017, we invested approximately $350 million in technology development and deployment as part of a robust technology strategy to optimize current assets and develop next-generation facilities.
Our technology development efforts largely focus on four areas with specific outcome areas in environmental impacts and cost management:
- In situ
- Mining and tailings
- Upgrading and refining
We’re already extensively using information technology in our business but the increasingly digital world brings new and exciting opportunities. As part of our approach to innovation, we are harnessing digital technology in areas such as improved data, advanced analytics and automation to help improve the safety, productivity, reliability and environmental performance of our operations.
Collaboration in technology
In some cases, we aggressively lead development and deployment of new technologies on our own. In most areas, however, we collaborate through consortiums or with third parties. Collaboration is a key enabler to the oil sands industry’s efforts to develop and deploy new technologies.
Suncor leads or participates in several technology studies and projects through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an alliance of companies representing 90% of oil sands production. By focusing on four environmental priority areas – greenhouse gases, land, tailings, and water – COSIA brings people together to face specific environmental challenges in an attempt to shorten innovation timelines across the oil sands industry. To date, COSIA efforts have involved:
- 981 contributed technologies (45 obtained in 2017)
- $1.4 billion spent to develop technologies ($188 million in 2017)
- 308 current, active projects (99 obtained for 2017)
- $545 million cost for current projects in progress ($188 million in 2017)
- Suncor being the lead for several projects, including the Water Technology Development Centre
- Suncor participating as a COSIA member company in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE
- In 2017, Suncor leading 61 COSIA studies and Joint Industry Projects
Suncor is a co-founder of Evok Innovations, along with the BC Cleantech CEO Alliance and Cenovus Energy to accelerate early-stage technologies.
Evok brings together British Columbia’s clean tech industry and Alberta’s oil and gas sector to advance new technologies directed at environmental and economic improvements for the oil and gas value chain.
Launched in 2016, Evok is a fund that offers innovators mentorship and access to capital to progress development of pre-commercial technologies. An important feature of Evok is the access provided to the end customers (Suncor and Cenovus) at an early stage in the life of the start-up companies.
In 2016 and 2017, Evok funded 10 technology companies:
- DarkVision: high resolution ultrasound-based imaging technology that can be used within the wellbore
- Expeto: provides private, global and secure networks for enterprise applications
- HARBO Technologies: developed the world’s smallest and lightest containment system for marine oil spills
- Kelvin: industrial 3D motion intelligence and asset relationship management
- Metabolik Technologies: bioremediation platform that enables microbes to reduce the concentration of naphthenic acids and other components found in oil sands tailings ponds
- Mosaic Materials: removing carbon dioxide and other impurities from gases through high-efficiency metal-organic framework (MOF) adsorbents
- Opus 12: developing a device that recycles CO2 into cost-competitive chemicals and fuels
- Rotoliptic Technologies: downhole pump technology as a high efficiency alternative to existing electric submersible pumps
- Syzygy Plasmonics: develops chemical reactors to provide a low-cost, low-emission hydrogen production system for light and heavy-duty transportation
Clean Resource Innovation Network
Suncor is an active member of the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN), a group of forward-thinking oil and gas industry professionals, innovators, financiers, policy-makers, incubators and accelerators, academics and students committed to the success of the hydrocarbon energy sector, the people and communities that it touches, and a strong, carbon-competitive and diversified Canadian economy.
CRIN accelerates the development of groundbreaking solutions by establishing industry priorities and connecting innovators within the ecosystem (researchers, investors, small and medium enterprises, governments, NGOs, other innovators) and resources (funding, talent, labs, and facilities) to focus on world-leading environmental performance and cost competitiveness. This will ensure Canada’s continued prosperity with new high-skilled, high-value jobs and produce economic diversity through spinoffs and increased technology exports.
As a network, CRIN is comprised of individuals and companies representing a diverse range of highly successful industrial and regional resources, capital and talent; our participants and impacts are global in nature. CRIN builds on a long-standing Canadian innovation success story and positions the energy industry for further success in the 21st century through a determined focus on accelerated commercialization of technology and innovation.
Strategic investments and partnerships
Suncor also monitors technologies being developed by external parties to determine if, and when, an investment by us could make sense to advance a technology and adapt it for our business. This involves funding outside companies whose technology ideas align with the needs of our operations or businesses.
This type of technology development is carefully managed to ensure it provides economic and environmental benefits to Suncor. It is a key strategy in a world of fast-changing products and services.
- Emerald Technology Ventures: a global leader and investor in emerging industrial technology investments.
- LanzaTech: a biofuels firm based in the United States that is advancing a proprietary gas phase fermentation technology to recycle waste gas and greenhouse gas emissions into low-carbon fuels and chemicals.
- Benefuel: a technology commercialization company that is able to process low-cost feedstocks to produce a high-quality and low-carbon intensity biodiesel.
- Academic partnerships: Suncor is a long-time supporter of research and program work at leading Canadian universities.