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David Bromley is a pioneering technology entrepreneur in Canada's energy sector. His focus of interest is waste water reprocessing. "I wrote the first environmental operations guidelines handbook for the industry in the early 80's," Bromley says.
The engineer, based in Vancouver, recently received a multi-million-dollar award from Sustainable Technology Development Canada (SDTC). The award from SDTC will support a project aimed at developing a new system for filtering wastewater, lowering energy use by as much as 90% and overall operating costs by 60%.
HOW TO INNOVATE IN CANADA’S ENERGY SECTOR TO REDUCE COSTS AND INCREASE MARGINS
“In an era of cheap oil, technology is the key to lowering costs in Canada’s energy sector," says David Bromley.
“There is a large opportunity for technology to reduce capital and operating costs for future projects,” he says.The plummeting price of oil doesn’t keep Bromley up at night.
“When an industry can see its price drop by 70% and it’s hanging in there, there’s still cash flowing. The point is that the Canadian oil sands are sustainable at low prices,” says Bromley. “As an innovator, then, I have to ask myself what can I do to make operations more efficient and help the energy sector get a great return on investment?”
The challenge, Bromley says, is that the energy sector has been traditionally slow to develop and adopt new technologies.
“The culture of innovation in Canada has got to change,” says Bromley. “Large energy companies talk about testing new technologies but are in fact risk averse.”
Smaller innovators, however, can lack the access to capital and the influence to launch new technologies.
“Implementing new technologies in the energy sector requires someone to take the initiative and the risk of applying new technology,” says Bromley.
WATER – THE KEY COMPONENT
Bromley speaks from experience—he’s a seasoned innovator with a track record of commercializing technology in the energy sector.
“In Canada, we have the SDTC which helps mitigate the risk of implementing technology through funding,” says Bromley. “But the reality is that large companies that do have tremendous ability in their operations to implement new, cost-saving technologies really have to step up to the plate and take a chance.”
In 2015 Bromley received $3.2-million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) as part of a $10 million project to develop a technology to treat water involved in oil sands mining operations.
“Hot water and steam are used to free oil from a geological formation,” says Bromley. “Water is a key component to that operation. The whole extraction process is one big water treatment plant.”
Water treatment guidelines dictate that all of the water used to extract oil be treated and reclaimed. It’s an energy-intensive process; the water is heated to high temperatures to extract oil, and then must be cooled before it can be treated. The water must then be reheated before it can be used again in the extraction process.
“It’s an energy intensive process that also results in significant C02 emissions,” says Bromley. “I believe our technology fixes that problem.”
Bromley’s technology allows water to be treated without needing to be cooled first.
“The ROI comes in two forms: saving money, and then reducing C02 emissions,” says Bromley. “The latter cost savings has been a huge new ROI.”
Like water treatment, the focus on reducing C02 emissions is the direct result of government policy.
“I have a theory on regulations,” says Bromley. “Regulations that drive efficiency are great, and regulations that affect marketplace are bad.”
Besides forcing oil and gas companies to use less expensive energy to extract product, the focus on reducing C02 is actually helping businesses reduce costs.
“Heat exchangers are extremely expensive,” says Bromley. “My technology makes them totally unnecessary when treating water.”
For the time being, smaller players will continue to drive technological innovation in the energy sector.
Bromley’s advice for technology entrepreneurs who want to be successful in this space?
“Align yourself with some entity who becomes a champion for the technology,” says Bromley.
And look for support from key stakeholders such as the SDTC.
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