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Open Innovation Challenge Aims to Reduce Alberta's Carbon Footprint
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editorial

Open Innovation Challenge Aims to Reduce Alberta's Carbon Footprint

The Canadian Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) has partnered with open innovation intermediary NineSigma to launch a Grand Challenge aiming to find innovative uses for carbon.

CCEMC is looking to find and fund ways of converting greenhouse gasses (GHGs) into valuable carbon-based products. The challenge is made up of three rounds of funding, with grants totaling CAD$35 million over five years.

On Thursday, CCEMC and NineSigma opened the first part of the challenge, which will provide $500,000 in funding for up to 20 companies. The deadline for round one is July 15; winners will be announced in March 2014.

“With the eyes of the world on Alberta, now is the time for us to broaden our focus – by exploring and investing in technologies that drive our climate change targets and ensures we remain a global clean energy supplier,” said Canada's Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen in a press release announcing the challenge.

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The CCEMC is an Alberta-based non-profit created in 2009 and funded by Alberta’s energy companies. A 2007 ruling mandated companies that emit over 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide to reduce emissions by improving efficiency, buying carbon credits, or donating to a fund that channels money to the CCEMC. One of the non-profit’s major goals is to reduce GHG emissions by 200 megatons by 2050.

Thus far, CCEMC says it has committed to support 49 projects with a total value of nearly $1 billion. They are estimated to reduce 8 megatons of GHG emissions over ten years. In this most recent challenge, the non-profit is looking to fund technologies that can reduce GHG emissions by 1 megaton per year.

In the second round in this challenge, up to five groups will receive $3 million to develop their technologies over two years. In the final round, the most promising of the five projects will be given a $10 million grant to commercialize the technology.

Though there will only be one winner, the challenge is being supported by a venture capital outfit that may decide to support other submissions on its own, said CCEMC managing director Kirk Andries. He went on to clarify that his group does not stake any claim to intellectual property in the submissions, nor will it take a percentage of the profits that the technologies generate.

“Our return on investment is the achievement in greenhouse gas reduction that we are looking for,” Andries explained.

He also said that CCEMC’s “dream” is to help create new industries around energy.

“An example I like to use is around building products,” Andries stated. “Carbon fiber is lighter and stronger than steel. If you could produce two-by-four equivalents out of carbon fiber, that would generate a whole new economy. You could be on the cutting edge of an economy that we currently don’t have. Lots of jobs would come out of that, for sure.”

This isn’t the first open innovation challenge CCEMC has run in tandem with NineSigma, and Andries said his group will also collaborate with NineSigma on two separate requests for proposals over the course of this year.

Alberta has received much negative publicity in the American media because of its oil sands, which are rich in oil and gas but emit more GHGs than more conventional energy sources. The Canadian province is also home to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, which seeks to extend an existing pipe from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. A protest against Keystone XL in Washington, D.C. attracted tens of thousands of participants a week and a half ago. The U.S. State Department is currently reviewing the pipeline’s potential impacts and is expected to make a recommendation to President Obama sometime after March.

Andries said he hopes that CCEMC initiatives like the Grand Challenge show people that serious steps are being taken to curb GHG emissions in the province.

“We consider ourselves part of Alberta’s response to the climate change challenge,” Andries said. “There is a lot of energy being put into reducing our greenhouse gas footprint. Alberta is very serious about this.” 

CCEMC's grand challenge is ambitious, and it will take some time before the final result is known: the third round winner will be announced in March 2018.

Update: CCEMC created the following infographic, "showing" 1 megaton of carbon dioxide.

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