Anything I Can Do, We Can Do Better: GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge Winners Tout Collaboration

Top four submissions offer novel ways to target waste heat in Canada’s oil sands

Unlocking the resources in Canada’s oil sands has its technical and environmental challenges. The reduction of green house gas emissions is one such challenge, and solutions require big ideas. Often, these ideas are forming in labs halfway around the world.

That’s where GE’s GHG ecomagination Innovation Challenge comes in.

By inviting anyone, anywhere to submit a proposal, GE’s Ecomagination challenges harness the power of “open innovation,” a collaborative approach to finding new solutions for complex technological problems. Open innovation helps join “global dots” drawing upon talent and ideas from across industry and academia, from single researchers and small teams to larger organizations no matter where they are in the world.

Launched in Calgary in July 2014, by Jeff Immelt, GE’s GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge targets  two of the biggest opportunities to reduce GHG in the oil sands: higher value use of low grade heat and improved efficiency of steam generation. After months of reviewing submissions, GE today announced the winners of phase one.

Four different countries. Four outstanding ideas

India. Italy. The Netherlands. The UK. What can researchers in those diverse places offer oil-sands operators in Canada? A fresh perspective and a keen desire to get involved. “We were excited to get a chance to work with GE in an area of our expertise,” explains  Naren Chidambaram, of Guha Industries in India. “When small but specialized companies like ours work with global corporations, it can bring concepts to life.”

(left to right) Ramaswamy Ramesh, Engineering head – Mechanical, Naren Chidambaram , Partner, Kaliappan Sivakumar, Engineering head – Process (right) discuss Guha Industries winning response to GE’s GHG ecomagination Innovation Challenge. Image credit: Guha Industries

The team at Guha proposed an ammonia/water heat pump that upgrades low-grade heat for use in steam production or power generation. GE’s take on the submission? It has serious potential to offset fossil-fuel consumption and a noteworthy technology-readiness level. But without an open innovation challenge, it might never have made it onto GE’s radar.

When knowledge is as widely distributed as it is today, it only makes good economic sense to look at perspectives from different industries and geographies. Ron Driver from EA Technical Services in the UK proposed an engine for low-grade heat that’s wasted during oil sands extraction. Driver’s submission advanced the idea of using waste heat to produce power for use in the field via a heat exchanger. Notably, it had the highest claimed efficiency of all the proposals.

(left to right) The EATS test rig at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland; Ann Papanastasiou at the test rig control and Philip Dalzell (white shirt) who builds the test rigs. Image credits: Ron Driver

The motivation behind Driver’s proposal was twofold. First, he says, was “a desire to save energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions – and the realization that our engine’s thermodynamic cycle was ideally suited to recovering energy from the oil sands’ low temperature.” Second was the chance to have his ideas heard on a global scale. “The vast world energy market is beyond the scope of our small engineering company,” he explains. “Open innovation is a way of allowing small entrepreneurial companies to put forward their ideas.”

Test of a thermoacoustic engine by members of the Aster team (left to right) Pawel Owczarek and Kees de Blok. Image credit: beeldteam.nl

Successfully repurposing existing technology in a new context is a hallmark of open innovation. Aster Thermoacoustics and lead researcher Kees de Blok proposed thermoacoustic energy conversion as a way of offsetting fossil-fuel consumption in oil-sands production. Thermoacoustics is a well-known concept for GE, but this was the first time anyone had proposed using it in this unique way. “It allows for applications that would be unfeasible with conventional technology, for economic and technical reasons,” explains de Blok.

Capitalizing on his idea – which utilizes changes in temperature from low-grade heat to produce acoustic waves that can be harnessed to generate power – may not have been possible without the Ecomagination challenge. “Open innovation is a powerful means, and may be the only way, to identify alternative solutions – solutions people may not believe in, but may be game-changing.”

Members of the LEAP team (left to right) Manuele Gatti, Emanuele Martelli, Stefano Consonni, Federico Vigano, Daniele Di Bona. Image credit: LEAP

Consorzio LEAP in Italy focused their efforts on an Opti-Up Heat Pump. Using electrically driven compressors, Stefano Consonni and his team targeted upgraded heat rather than electricity. “SAGD plants consume large amounts of high-pressure/temperature steam while rejecting large quantities of low-temperature heat. Hence, we decided to focus on efficient solutions capable of upgrading low-temperature heat so it’s suitable for generating the steam needed by SAGD.”

For LEAP team, “Open innovation is crucial for getting new ideas developed, proven and then industrialized. It’s the ideal bridge to connect innovators like LEAP, with technology and market leaders like GE.”

Gearing up for Topic II: Keeping the momentum going

Tackling the loss of low-grade heat is just the first step in GE’s two-step strategy for curbing GHG emissions in the oil sands. Launching today Phase 2 of the Ecomagination Innovation Challenge which aims to improve the efficiency of steam generation. Phase 2 is yet another opportunity to tap the global brain, foster partnerships and find solutions for some of the biggest issues facing Canada’s oil producers.

  • GE Canada President and CEO Elyse Allan addresses the audience at the GE GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge award announcement in Calgary, February 3, 2015.

    GE Canada President and CEO Elyse Allan addresses the audience at the GE GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge award announcement in Calgary, February 3, 2015.

  • John G. Rice, GE Vice-Chairman, speaks at the GE GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge award announcement in Calgary, February 3, 2015.

    John G. Rice, GE Vice-Chairman, speaks at the GE GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge award announcement in Calgary, February 3, 2015.

  • GE GHG ecomagination Innovation Challenge Topic I winners accept their award trophies. (Left to right) GE Vice-Chairman John Rice, Naren Chidambaram, Kees de Blok, Stefano Consonni, Manuele Gatti, GE Canada President and CEO Elyse Allan and Dan Wicklum, CEO of COSIA.

    GE GHG ecomagination Innovation Challenge Topic I winners accept their award trophies. (Left to right) GE Vice-Chairman John Rice, Naren Chidambaram, Kees de Blok, Stefano Consonni, Manuele Gatti, GE Canada President and CEO Elyse Allan and Dan Wicklum, CEO of COSIA.

  • Naren Chidambaram accepts the GE GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge award trophy from GE Vice-Chairman John Rice and GE Canada President and CEO Elyse Allan.

    Naren Chidambaram accepts the GE GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge award trophy from GE Vice-Chairman John Rice and GE Canada President and CEO Elyse Allan.

  • Kees de Blok with his GE GHG ecomagination Innovation Challenge award trophy.

    Kees de Blok with his GE GHG ecomagination Innovation Challenge award trophy.

  • (Left to right) Stefano Consonni and Manuele Gatti of Consorzio LEAP display their award trophy.

    (Left to right) Stefano Consonni and Manuele Gatti of Consorzio LEAP display their award trophy.

  • Trophies awarded for the GE GHG ecomagination Challenge.

    Trophies awarded for the GE GHG ecomagination Challenge.

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