Inder Pal Singh and his wife, Shradha, were newcomers to Canada in the 1990s. Armed with PhDs in chemistry, they had a dream and an entrepreneurial spirit.
The enterprising couple created a company to develop pharmaceuticals, using processing equipment they had invented. But they pivoted from pharma to fuel after realizing their processes were able to convert fats — non-food plant seed oils and waste animal fats — into transportation biofuels without hydrogen, water or creating any waste. Moreover, their bio-based fuel was chemically identical to, and able to replace, petroleum-based gasoline and diesel without engine or refinery plant modifications.

Providing entrepreneurs with the spark to scale

Provincial Crown corporation Alberta Innovates contributed strategic funding, advice and connections to the Singhs’ company, SBI BioEnergy Inc. (SBI). This enabled SBI to take its science from the lab to the construction of a demonstration-scale biorefinery.

Today, SBI is partnered with Royal Dutch Shell. “We would not be where we are today without Alberta Innovates,” Inder says. “Our dream is to see a full-scale commercial refinery built in Alberta for the production of renewable bio jet fuel, gasoline and diesel.”

Alberta Innovates is funded by the provincial government to drive research, innovation and entrepreneurship. It provides technical expertise, advice and funding to advance the best ideas across a wide range of sectors, including clean tech, to benefit Alberta and Canada.

“We're focused on helping the province achieve a prosperous, diversified economy that is environmentally and socially sustainable,” says CEO Laura Kilcrease.

“We have a bold ambition — to make Alberta a world leader in clean hydrocarbon production and to develop clean technologies that build on the existing energy sector,” she says. For example, Alberta Innovates is developing other uses for bitumen that don’t involve combustion, such as high-value carbon fibre.

Building the future through collaboration

Alberta Innovates partners with industry and academia in programs for water and land stewardship, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, cleaner fuels, use of biomass for lower-carbon industrial bioproducts, and electrical grid innovations. “Smart power grid” projects led by the organization are underway in the cities of Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton as well as in rural Alberta.

Alberta Innovates was key to the development of the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels plant in Edmonton, and also recently teamed up with WestJet in the WestJet Aviation Biofuel Challenge, one of several programs Alberta Innovates leads and manages under the province’s Climate Change Innovation and Technology Framework.

“Clean technology innovation is a priority for Albertans. And that makes it a priority for us,” says Kilcrease.