Innovation offers new future for Canada’s carbon economy

BANFF, Alta. — Adding value to petrochemicals is the next big opportunity for Canada, said the chair of Nauticol Energy in Calgary.

“Canada is not doing a very good job in excellence in a variety of efforts and adoption of innovation is one of those,” Leo de Bever said at the Alberta Institute of Agrologists annual meeting in Banff.

“How much do Canadians innovate? As little as they have to and that is not a compliment,” he said at the meeting held April 3-5.

Calgary-based Nauticol has teamed up to build a methanol-fertilizer production plant in Quebec, a project that is undergoing an environmental impact assessment.

ProjetBé plans to manufacture methanol and urea for the Quebec market and eventually spread through North America.

Methanol is a feedstock and can be converted into products like resins, glues and some plastics. The fertilizer can be shipped out from the plant via containers.

This concept shows there are business opportunities in finding more uses for carbon than combustion.

The proposal was originally considered for British Columbia but the company could not find a willing community.

He said government needs to provide funding and streamline regulations.

He said with new extraction technology, more oil and gas is being recovered, especially in the United States. While conventional industries in the oil sector are deteriorating, unconventional oil and gas businesses are on the rise in the U.S.

“The doubling of U.S. production made it close to one of the biggest producers in the world and that is a market we traditionally exported our oil and gas so it stands to reason we are in trouble.”

New hydrocarbon markets are off-shore but those are more difficult to deliver to.

“We have to start thinking now about what we are going to do with this stuff,” he said.

Innovation with petrochemicals means finding new uses.

“Carbon is just an element on the periodic table. It is neither good nor bad. It depends on what you do with it,” he said.

“Environmentalists are very naive in the way they think about a low-carbon economy.”

However, many corporations have become risk averse when they should realize failure is a way to learn.

A generational change is needed in many corporations that are discouraging innovation, he said.

“The last 30 years, people have become comfortable with the stuff they have done and say they have good enough technology,” he said.

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