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Calgary patents are on the rise, thanks to innovations in oil sands technology

August 16, 2018


With recent innovations in oil sands technology, the prospect of driving down costs (and emissions) to make the oil sands production process more efficient, sustainable, and economically viable is becoming an increasingly important objective.

Due in large part to a surge of patent filings in the oil sands sector, Calgary has now surpassed the likes of Ottawa and Waterloo in terms of the number of patents filed per capita.

Major energy and petroleum companies such as Suncor, Nexen, and Imperial Oil are developing (and seeking to patent) new ways of pulling oil from the oil sands using solvents such as pentane and butane. These solvents are used in place of water to produce more oil while at the same time reducing water use per barrel and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

A number of enterprising startups are also patenting made-in-Canada solutions to the challenges of heavy oil extraction using solvent technology. Calgary cleantech startup NSolv, for example, has developed a solvent that can replace steam for in-situ oil sands operations, reducing water and energy usage and partially upgrading the recovered oil in the process. Compared to traditional steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), NSolv says its solvent technology will generate a higher return on investment thanks to lower capital and operating costs, while at the same time producing a "partially upgraded lighter oil” product.

With innovation comes challenge, and the key players in the oil and gas industry are not strangers to legal battles over intellectual property rights. In very recent years, a number of patent infringement actions have been commenced (and have proceeded through trial) in the Federal Court of Canada.


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