“Innovation Insight” is a blog series written by SRC’s CEO and President, Dr. Laurier Schramm, which aims to shed light on the importance of innovation in driving economic, societal and environmental growth. This is the fourth story in a sub-series about SRC’s evolution over the past 70 years.
In 2001, SRC focused on its unique positioning in the innovation continuum, and reorganized to manage a pipeline of research and development activities that would connect all the way from applied research, pilot testing, development engineering and demonstration, to testing, analyses, and commercialization of technologies. SRC also set out to become more entrepreneurial, grow in breadth and depth, and include more work for communities (particularly northern and Aboriginal communities) and for government.
Agriculture and Biotechnology
Among the programs in this area were fermentation-based production of animal vaccines and plant inoculants, and genetic testing of plants and animals. Extensions of these programs addressed such diverse industry problems as developing mite-resistant honeybees, managing the sustainability of elk herds, and developing fast-growing trees as feedstock for green-energy production.
In the late 2000s, SRC developed genetic (DNA-based) tests for rapid identification of Canadian wheat and other grain varieties to support an export-oriented grain industry. Several bioethanol and biodiesel programs aimed to develop processes for converting waste cellulose materials into ethanol and/or biodiesel, supporting producers, and/or field-testing in commercial farm machinery and transportation fleets.
Forestry and Forest Products
SRC’s work assisting the Forestry and Forest Products industry ranged from traditional areas like process development and optimization in pulp mills, to newer areas like using waste biomass (sawdust, bark, and branches) to produce electricity and heat, to agroforestry, reforestation, and afforestation. The latter areas involved a collaborative relationship with the Conservation Learning Centre (near Prince Albert) for boreal forest work and other programs at their demonstration centre for soil and water conservation technologies.
mineral resource development
SRC’s programs in this area were led by work in support of mineral exploration, especially for uranium, diamonds, and potash. In 2005, a 3-D virtual reality and modelling facility was established and used to help uranium and potash companies design their exploration drilling programs. Mineral processing support programs continued to focus on uranium, diamonds, coal, and potash. SRC launched its Advanced Microanalysis Centre™ in 2009, which, by 2013 was fully equipped with state-of-the-art instruments, such as its electron microprobe and QEMSCAN®.
In the early 2010s, increased mineral exploration and development, particularly in rare earth minerals, led SRC to construct a new, larger and more flexible mineral processing pilot plant, which opened in 2013. In addition to rare earth processing, the pilot plant can support process development for potash, gold, base metals, diamonds, coal, oil sand, and oil shale.
In the Pipe Flow Technology Development area, programs in pipeline transportation for the oil and mineral industries continued. Examples include water-assisted pipeline transport of bitumen, heavy oils and co-produced sand, high pressure pipelining of volatile transportation fluids like solvent/diluents, heavy crude oils, and diluted bitumen, plus a number of tailings transportation and management projects, particularly in potash.
In 2006, SRC was contracted to manage the remediation of the former Gunnar and Lorado uranium mine and mill sites, as well as 35 satellite uranium mine sites in the Uranium City area. All 37 sites are abandoned, orphaned legacies of the Cold War era. The work involves determining environmental impacts, developing remediation plans, conducting the remediation, and ultimately monitoring the sites post-remediation.
In addition to environmental protection, this project also has substantial public safety impacts due to the many hazards presented by these aging sites. The actual remediation work began in 2009, and is still underway with the Lorado mill site and many of the satellite sites having been substantially remediated.
expanding laboratory services
SRC continued to grow and develop its ISO 17025-accredited testing and analysis services in response to demand from industries and communities. SRC Environmental Analytical Laboratories continued to expand and build on its unique “full-service” positioning, with a complete radiochemical analysis capability and SLOWPOKE-2 nuclear research reactor. SRC Geoanalytical Laboratories continued to expand, ultimately leading SRC to build the largest uranium, diamond, and potash geoassay laboratories in the world. SRC Petroleum Analytical Laboratories expanded as well, with the launch of SRC’s Biofuels Test Centre™ in 2006. By 2016, SRC had taken its quality management practices to company-wide application and achieved ISO 9001:2008 accreditation.
Manufacturing programs ranged from designing and building advanced measuring and sensing machines for large industry to helping small and medium-sized manufacturing to increase their competitiveness through the design, development, and evaluation of new products, processes and services.
In 2010, SRC and Cowessess First Nation developed a commercial-demonstration, high-level wind energy generation and storage system that meets or exceeds the electrical power needs of the local community.
SRC focused on enabling the petroleum industry to recover a higher percentage of light and heavy crude oil and increase production and efficiency. Secondary areas included improving transportation, upgrading heavy oils, and the development of Saskatchewan oil sands, oil shale, and coal conversion. In doing so, SRC took advantage of its new partnership in the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC) to engage in applied research projects with the University of Regina.
SRC independently conducted proprietary contract projects for industry that involved development engineering, piloting, and field demonstration. Some key accomplishments included the development of thermal-solvent and solvent-vapour extraction processes, and successful field demonstrations such as that with Nexen in the Plover Lake heavy oil field.
In the early 2000s, the provincial and federal governments encouraged SRC to increase its work in energy efficiency and alternative energy. SRC launched the Saskatchewan Office of Energy Conservation (OEC) in 2002, with a suite of energy efficiency and energy conservation programs like the Model National Energy Code, R-2000 program, Energy Star programs, National Fleet Challenge, and Municipal Energy Efficiency Program. These programs achieved major energy reduction impacts, such as SRC’s work with municipalities that reduced power usage in swimming pools and curling and skating arenas. Other accomplishments included commercial demonstrations of cost-effective energy efficient housing designs.
In alternative energy, SRC’s previous work on natural gas vehicle conversions broadened to other possible fuels, leading to the development of a series of demonstration vehicles that could operate on natural gas, ethanol, hydrogen, or blends of these with gasoline or diesel fuel. This work culminated SRC’s launch of Saskatchewan’s first commercial hydrogen fuelling station, in partnership with SaskEnergy, which demonstrated hydrogen from “capture to highway” in 2010.
Environmental Programs included an expanded role in air quality testing and monitoring, with SRC conducting almost all the industrial stack emissions monitoring in the province plus, by 2016, most of the airshed monitoring in the province.
SRC’s long-standing remote sensing work evolved into programs under the Saskatchewan Geospatial Imagery Collaborative (SGIC), managed by SRC. The core groundwater and hydrogeology programs were transferred to the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority (SWA) in 2005, enabling SRC to focus on water quality issues of concern to Aboriginal and northern communities.
SRC continued to maintain its principal Climate Reference Station (CRS) in Saskatoon, and launched a second station near Prince Albert in 2011. Both stations provide climate data to the agriculture and forest industries, among many others. The more northerly station is also in a key location for collecting climate data to assist communities and companies in making informed decisions about how to respond to climate change and climate hazards.
new millennium years
SRC grew from about 200 to about 370 employees and annual revenues increased from $19 million to over $70 million (nearly four times those of the Commercial Years, and over 40 times those of the Building Years). More importantly, its economic, environmental, and social impacts increased dramatically, which I’ll address in the subject of the next blog post in this series.
Interested in learning more about the evolution of research and development in Saskatchewan? Check out Research and Development on the Prairies: A History of the Saskatchewan Research Council.
Schramm, L.L., Research and Development on the Prairies: A History of the Saskatchewan Research Council, Saskatchewan Research Council, Saskatoon, and Amazon.com Inc., 2016.
Schramm, L.L., Gunnar Uranium Mine: Canada's Cold War Ghost Town, Saskatchewan Research Council, Saskatoon, and Amazon.com Inc., 2016.