CRIN: How A ‘Network Of Networks’ Seeks To Revolutionize Canadian Oil And Gas

Is CRIN right for you? If a ‘network of networks’ connecting entrepreneurs, academia, innovators, government, industry and anyone else concerned with ensuring the cleanest possible Canadian oil and gas piques your interest, then keep reading.

“We’re really just trying to make sure that Canada is the leader in global clean hydrocarbon production from source to end use,” says CRIN chair Joy Romero. “We’ve been working really hard at that.”

Joining CRIN is simple and free on the network’s website (cleanresourceinnovation.com). It requires signing a social contract reflecting a shared belief of continuously growing a culture of innovation and enabling Canada to become a clean-energy leader.

As for who should join this network of networks, Romero calls on anyone with possible solutions (i.e. provincial or federal research institutions, start-ups and large R&D companies, et cetera). The network aims to increase connections and collisions between all these players to accelerate technology development.

“We have financial institutions joining us as well,” adds the technology and innovation vice-president at Canadian Natural Resources Limited. “Those with a problem who want to close it, solution providers, as well as anyone who wants a great place to invest their money [should join].”

Established in 2017, CRIN (Clean Resource Innovation Network) includes industry associations such as COSIA, PTAC, PTRC and PRNL. It has producers and service providers, innovators, non-profits, and academic institutions as members. Alberta Innovates and NRCan also support CRIN, pushing shared challenges out through their networks.

Jason Switzer, Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance executive director and CRIN co-vice chair, says CRIN leverages the trust that has been built by technology leads within the companies through COSIA, taking the concept of crowdsourcing innovation to accelerate the pace of technology validation and adoption across the oil and gas sector.

The imperative for collaboration is because Canadian oil and gas companies are not competing against each other so much as against the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Russia and other parts of the world.

“If we want to be in the game, we’re not going to be the world’s lowest-cost producer, so we need to bring other pieces to bear,” he says. “Whether that’s environmental performance or significant digitalization of the industry, we must transform how we do our business so we aren’t left behind as the world undertakes this low-carbon transition.”

For now, CRIN’s research concentrations include: cleaner fuels; digital oil and gas technology; low- to- zero-carbon production to end use; methane monitoring, quantification and abatement; innovative hydrocarbon extraction; novel land and wellsite remediation; as well as water technology development.

Currently, CRIN is gathering entrepreneurs focused on oil and gas cleantech, taking them to Ottawa in May to explain their technologies and to articulate their needs to policymakers.

“That face time might give them the ability to gain traction around resolution to some of the barriers to commercialization,” Switzer says. During the event, entrepreneurs will also network at the Federal Government’s ‘one window’ for support for clean tech innovators — the Clean Growth Hub.

“We’re quite excited about that event,” adds Romero. CRIN’s 2019 goal is to “operationalize the network.” Since February, CRIN has hosted three webinars on topics such as bitumen beyond combustion, water technology and accelerating novel extraction technologies. More programs are lined up in the upcoming months with more to be announced in the fall.

“We’re focused right now on growing membership and inviting people into the network, and allowing the connections to take place.”

How the ‘network of networks’ works

How can CRIN actually speed up technology development? For one, notes Switzer, it can engage entrepreneurs otherwise not thinking about the resource sector for solutions — like what COSIA did through the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.

“Once solutions come, we need to bring in the investors, be they private investors from angel to pension funds to big banks, plus government funding, to the table as a part of the CRIN network.”

Finding ways to leverage resources collectively is an additional value driver for CRIN. Quite simply, according to Switzer, two producers need not both validate the same method through third parties.

“Maybe there are ways to leverage investment and time to accelerate the number of technologies being vetted in parallel,” he says, adding CRIN member companies and partners are collaborating to define key challenges and barriers to progressing technologies. “That’s very helpful and every company has a slightly different spin on what it thinks it needs.”

CRIN can bring clarity to environmental issues and barriers to implementation of solutions that face industry and that face potential solution providers. Accelerating adoption is another CRIN benefit, as there are multiple customers, creating a higher probability that one will deploy the solutions.

“Because you have this network of producers, uptake should be quicker than it has been. We can also bring in other sectors — mining, agriculture and others — because technologies that are solutions for oil and gas may offer solutions in these other sectors.”

Putting public dollars to good use

In its 2019 budget, the federal government committed $100 million to CRIN over four years, conditional on leveraging private sector co-investments and developing collaborative cleantech and emission-lowering solutions. Government funding makes CRIN accountable, notes Switzer.

“It says: ‘The people of Canada are willing to write a cheque to support the commercialization of truly innovative technology and to foster this innovation network.’ But this funding creates obligations for the oil and gas sector, because those building this network must figure out how to deliver the public dividends for the investment.”

As CRIN identifies projects, the network finds the funding to support each unique project, says Romero. With digital oil and gas innovations the cost and timeframe to commercialize is low, but any capital infrastructure can be extremely costly, and it takes many different kinds of funding to actually bring those through to commercialization.

“Normally, you need a mix of government, private and industry funding to have something successful. And so, each project is slightly different. [Business Development Bank of Canada] supports us in bringing to bear the right funding for a particular project by creating a network of these investors.”

She adds: “Financing can be anything from angel investors to family funds to government funding. What is so wonderful about this [federal] funding is basically CRIN has — inside the government funding network — designated funds to it…. That is fantastic!”

Mother Earth: The ultimate CRIN winner

Why would Switzer, a Pembina Institute senior manager, support CRIN? Above all, he believes that meeting the Paris Agreement targets necessitates working with incumbent industries.

“For the transition to be successful — for us to be able to transition into a lower-carbon, net-zero economy by 2050 — we recognize we need the oil and gas sector to bring its technical, financial and human capacity to bear on the solutions.”

If the world produced oil and gas in line with Canadian standards, then global GHGs from this sector would drop significantly and immediately, notes Romero. That is why CRIN is so important: It makes Canada’s energy even better.

“We’ve done so much in the last number of years to reduce our footprint significantly, but our goal is to do so much more, so much more quickly.”

And keep reading…

For its part, JWN will run a series of stories throughout 2019 highlighting the collaborative benefits of CRIN across its various research areas. Stay tuned.

The Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) is an industry led network that leverages the oil and gas industry's strengths in a large-scale industrial collaboration by aligning research and technology priorities, addressing gaps, and incenting innovation. With a collaboration and inclusive approach to the energy innovation ecosystem, CRIN creates efficiencies to accelerate and deliver transformative solutions both within Alberta and the oil and gas nodes across Canada.