2011 Winner: Innovation In Oil Sands Research Sponsored By Syncrude Canada Ltd.
Entrepreneurial Scientist Invents “Revolutionary” Process For Heavy Oil Industry
In his career in chemical engineering and biotechnology, Dr. Wayne Brown has always been driven by the creative process of finding elegant solutions that have eluded others.
The most recent achievement of Dr. Brown’s, Chief Technical Officer of ETX Systems Inc., is the innovative ETX Cross-flow Coking technology. The IYQ process developed by ETX represents a huge step forward for heavy oil upgrading and promises to have a dramatic impact in the field of heavy oil upgrading and the Alberta economy.
Ten Years in the Making
The former McGill professor, oil patch researcher and process engineer dropped all of his other projects to lead the decade-long engineering design of a new reactor concept. He engaged research and development experts to test key aspects and develop supporting technologies. The IYQ concept was successfully tested at a one-barrel-per-day scale. That Dr. Brown achieved this feat with a small and dedicated team is a testament to his engineering ability, dedication and drive. Dr. Brown attributes the success of the project to the many public and private funders, industry, and public and individual support.
“Technical development can’t be done in a bubble,” he says.
The three metrics for evaluating primary upgrading technologies are product yield, product quality, and capital intensity. The IYQ Upgrading reactor design provides all three by allowing the gas and liquid phase dynamics to be tuned independently. Both yield and quality benefits translate into a reduced environmental footprint — 9 per cent less feedstock is required to produce a barrel of upgraded product in this production step, which has by far the largest environmental footprint of all the steps required to bring the liquids to market.
The increased yield combined with the ability to implement upgrading capability in closer proximity to SAGD (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage) and other small- to medium-sized producers, means increased overall revenues and increased employment in the upgrading facilities in the province.
“Whatever solution you come up with has to be economic to be adopted,” Dr. Brown explains. “Our invention doesn’t compromise on any of pillars needed to get the technology accepted. It efficiently produces energy, it’s better for the environment and there’s economic incentive for companies to want to adopt it. The biggest producers have called our invention revolutionary. This gives us confidence.”
Protecting Intellectual Property
The value of the IYQ Upgrading technology depends upon the ability of ETX Systems to protect its intellectual property. At each step of the way, Dr. Brown stood in front of engineering audiences and explained his ideas. He combined systematic protection of IP with disclosure of rigorous engineering and scientific work to build credibility. The company diverted significant resources to this area, building a portfolio that includes trademarks, and a mix of process and apparatus patents. The quality and novelty of the research is further supported by independent written reviews by experts, patents on various aspects of the process in numerous jurisdictions, reviews associated with applications for funding, and due diligence by major corporate players in the industry.
Due to the importance of intellectual property management Dr. Brown has become educated in this topic, and has lectured on the topic in the Department of Law at the University of Calgary.