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Calgary cleantech company shortlisted for ERA funding

Calgary’s ElectroKinetic Solutions Inc. (EKS) could soon get a financial boost for its tailings d...

Calgary-based EKS has created tailings dewatering technology that could reduce GHG emissions from Alberta’s oil sands. (Photo courtesy EKS)

Calgary’s ElectroKinetic Solutions Inc. (EKS) could soon get a financial boost for its tailings dewatering technology, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Alberta’s oil sands.

EKS is a Canadian-owned, clean-technology company that focuses on resolving the rapid dewatering challenges faced by the oil sands industry.

The development of its commercial pilot of the EKS-DT process has the potential to eliminate up to 12.5 Mt of CO2 through its tailings dewatering technology.

In early March, EKS announced it was on the shortlist to receive up to $15 million in funding through Emissions Reduction Alberta’s (ERA) Shovel-ready Challenge.

The company says the use of the EKS-DT would help increase investor confidence in the Alberta oil sands. EKS also believes the technology can reduce investor risk with mining operations in Canada and abroad by reducing risk with large volumes of unstable mine tailings behind tailing dams.

What are tailings?

Fluid fine tailings is a mixture of sand, silt, clay, water and residual hydrocarbon that remains after bitumen is extracted from the oil sands. Tailing ponds are created to store the leftover mixture and prevent them from getting into nearby natural water bodies.

As the tailings settle, the water is later released and used for oil and gas plant operations.

EKS says there is a “massive volume of fluid fine tailings that has accumulated in Northern Alberta,” which in 2018 was comprised of more than 1,200 Mm3 and occupied 220 square kilometres.

The company also says without the EKS-DT process, economic and environmental liabilities from fluid fine tailings is projected to grow until at least the mid-2030s.

Shovel-ready Challenge

The Government of Alberta announced it would provide $100 million in funding for ERA’s Shovel-ready Challenge in November 2020.

The provincial funds are distributed through Alberta’s Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction fund.

An additional $50 million is available through the federal government’s Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund.

“This investment will accelerate development and deployment of technologies that will stimulate the economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help jump-start projects that may have been delayed or stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic uncertainty,” Steve MacDonald, CEO of ERA, said in a release.

The initiative supports companies and innovative technologies in applications for both greenfield and brownfield operations.

Applicants are eligible to receive up to $15 million with a minimum request of $2 million.

As part of the challenge, ERA was looking for field pilots, commercial demonstrations and deployment projects with the highest potential to rapidly create economic stimulus and environmental resiliency.

Areas of focus included cleaner oil and gas, low-emitting electricity, low-carbon industrial processes and products, and food, fibre and bioindustries.

“I have no doubt that there are projects and new technologies out there that aren’t on our radar screen,” Mark Summers, executive director of technology and innovation for ERA, said in a November 2020 webinar. “We see that in every challenge we put out.”

To be considered a “shovel-ready project,” applicants needed to demonstrate their ability to commence activities within 60 days of ERA funding approval.

ERA will monitor the progress of each project that receives funding, requiring a third-party verification report be submitted one year after commissioning the project or technology to verify its emissions reductions.

ERA’s funding process involves three facets – an expression of interest in a particular project, a full project proposal and the execution of the project.

For the Shovel-ready Challenge, shortlisted applicants will soon receive a decision letter on funding to be followed by a five-step proposal of the project and finally its execution.


Created in 2009, ERA strives to deliver on Alberta’s environmental and economic goals, acting on climate change while also supporting economic growth.

A non-profit corporation, ERA invests in pilot, demonstration and deployment of clean technology solutions that reduce GHG emissions, lower costs, attract investment and create jobs in the province.

To date, ERA has invested approximately $607 million in 183 technology projects worth more than $4.1 billion.

MacDonald comes to the ERA from a career with Alberta Public Service in such ministries as the treasury board, energy, human services, innovation and advanced education, and executive council.

Also a part-time instructor in the University of Alberta’s MBA and executive education programs, MacDonald holds an ICD.D (Institute of Corporate Directors, director) designation and is a director on the board of the Canada West Foundation.

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