Science and technology (S&T), wherever it is performed, is essential for achieving the department’s three strategic outcomes of economic competitiveness, environmental responsibility, and safety, security and stewardship. Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan’s) own S&T provides a distinctive and essential contribution to these outcomes that other components of Canada’s innovation system are unable or are not well-positioned to provide in isolation. NRCan leadership will be even more important in the years ahead as the force of S&T as a driver of economic and social change continues with intensity and at a pace not seen before.
Examples of NRCan’s international S&T connections
- Memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China on cooperation in upgrading and refining technologies
- Canada-China MOU on transfer of small hydro technologies
- Geoscience for Andean communities
- Provision of S&T knowledge to the UN Intergovernmental Forum on Mining & Sustainable Development
- MOU with Korea on cooperation in energy and environmental R&D and technology transfer
- Memorandum of agreement with the United States on collaborative energy R&D
- Canada-Mexico MOU on energy efficiency and alternative energy
- The Montréal Process on internationally agreed- upon criteria and indicators for the conservation and sustainable management of temperate and boreal forests
S&T leadership and economic competitiveness
In the 21st century, ideas and knowledge have become the principal contributors to value creation, productivity and sustainability in the natural resource sectors. This remains the case whether we sail on calm economic waters or must navigate through economic storms.
NRCan and our predecessor organizations have a long and distinguished record of providing an S&T foundation for competitiveness across the natural resource sectors. We have helped Canadian resource industries identify and develop economically viable resources. We have strengthened industry’s ability to do so in a sustainable manner.
NRCan S&T powered by partnerships and collaboration
Carbon capture and storage
Partnering with more than 15 public and private organizations to understand the storage of carbon dioxide in geological formations with the Weyburn-Midale CO2 Project
Synergies in manufacturing research
Establishing a national cooperative research effort on materials and manufacturing with the relocation of NRCan’s CANMET Materials Technology Laboratory to the McMaster Innovation Park
Innovation in forestry research
NRCan played a leadership role in creating FPInnovations, one of the world’s largest forest research institutes that brings together the private sector, governments and academia.
NRCan’s Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals program
Unites federal, provincial and territorial government agencies, academia and the private sector in partnered projects in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon. Its goal is to provide the geoscience information needed to guide investment decisions leading to the discovery and development of new energy and mineral resources.
The Pan-Canadian Mining Research and Innovation Strategy
NRCan has strongly supported the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) in its mission to enhance the competitiveness of a responsible Canadian mining industry through excellence in research, innovation and commercialization, including through new collaboration and partnership models.
NRCan’s S&T contributions to economic competitiveness
- Strengthening the marketplace for producers and consumers: NRCan S&T supports the development of phyto-sanitary measures and the development of codes and standards for the use of forest products in wood construction. These are vital for the effective functioning of both the domestic and international marketplace for wood and wood products.
- Supporting the development of pre-competitive and frontier technologies: NRCan is partnering with industry stakeholders on a range of Green Mining initiatives, including development of low-emission mining equipment and tailings management technologies. We are leading the development and deployment of technology to economically capture carbon from power generation and oil sands, as well as investigating its sequestration potential in Western Canada.
- Disseminating more and better information to market participants on resource location and accessibility: NRCan develops and disseminates reliable geomatics and geoscience information and services to increase Canada’s economic opportunities across sectors. For example, the Targeted Geoscience Initiative focuses on innovative geological mapping in three dimensions to stimulate further private sector investment that helps sustain the reserves of base metals in vulnerable mining communities.
Canada’s natural resource industries continue to rely on NRCan as a source of S&T knowledge and expertise that can help them succeed in Canadian and global markets. The department must ensure our S&T knowledge is both integrated (across sectors and across scientific and technological areas) and readily accessible by Canadian industry.
Collaboration among innovation system players is now an essential aspect of building national and international scale, scope and competitive advantage. Leading private and public sector organizations, including those in the natural resource sectors, are no longer investing in every potential area of interest. Instead, they are focusing their S&T investments in what they can do most ably and with greatest efficiency. They are collaborating and entering into partnerships with others with the strategic purpose of drawing strength from what the partners are better positioned to do.
NRCan’s own approach to S&T is moving to a more collaborative and open innovation model at all levels, with increasing collaboration between individual researchers, laboratories, departments, sectors and even national innovation systems. This increasing integration is reflected in such new arrangements as the creation of the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre as part of FPInnovations and the relocation of the Materials Technology Laboratory to McMaster Innovation Park.
NRCan has more than 1000 collaborative arrangements in S&T with external partners. These take different forms (e.g., co-location, in-kind support and cost-sharing) to meet a variety of needs. They cover a wide range of innovation system players, including companies, universities and colleges, provincial and territorial governments, and other federal departments.
Many of NRCan’s collaborative arrangements have international reach, involving other countries, international S&T organizations and multinational companies. Moreover, S&T developed in collaboration with Canadian companies is often deployed globally through their international investments and operations.
Going forward, we must ensure that we have the right S&T partnerships in the right areas and with the right governance arrangements – in essence, collaboration and partnerships, but with strategic focus and purpose.
High-quality regulatory regimes (supported by robust systems for standards and measurement) protect and advance the public interest in health, safety and security, the quality of the environment and the social well-being of Canadians. They also matter to the economic well-being of Canadians by promoting a fair and competitive market economy that encourages entrepreneurship, investment and innovation.
NRCan’s S&T helps ensure a more predictable and accountable regulatory system – one that fosters entrepreneurial advantage while also supporting positive environmental, health and safety outcomes. For example, both safety and performance standards are being developed for a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure to remove barriers to the introduction of fuel-cell vehicles into our transportation system. Similarly, NRCan S&T is critical for developing codes and standards for the use of forest products in wood construction. Developing standards leads to improved market access for forest products, the development of new and expanded markets, and informed decision making by industry regulators, both in Canada and abroad.
International regulatory cooperation is a Government of Canada priority and an essential means to achieving better economic outcomes for Canadians. NRCan’s S&T is being called upon to ensure that international regulatory cooperation initiatives, including those in areas of great environmental challenge, deliver the greatest overall economic and social benefit for Canadians.
S&T leadership and environmental responsibility
Public expectations for finding long-term solutions to environmental issues – many of which are directly or indirectly linked to natural resource management and use – are high and continue to grow. In this context, NRCan has a strong and continuing track record of success in conducting and directing our S&T to support environmental responsibility at home and abroad, including:
- the planning and responsible environmental management of resource extraction operations and eventual decommissioning of any mineral or energy-related development that results from exploration activity
- developing clean energy technologies, including technologies for clean coal, for wind and other renewables, for building energy efficiency and for reducing the environmental impact of major resource developments
- developing new and sustainable mining technologies and advancing materials research in such areas as lightweight materials for automobiles to reduce energy requirements
- national S&T leadership in sustainable forest management, including the development and implementation of a coordinated and risk-based approach to combatting forest pests
- underpinning stronger and more effective energy efficiency standards
NRCan recognizes that all of the large environmental issues, including climate change and adaptation to climate change, require solutions drawn from multiple areas of science and technology.
The present conduct and form of NRCan’s own S&T reflect the value our researchers attach to cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary approaches. The challenge for the future is expanding this approach in the transfer of knowledge and application of solutions. This challenge is yet a further reason why NRCan is moving to greater engagement with industry and academia through new collaborative and partnership arrangements.
For NRCan’s S&T to contribute to positive environmental outcomes, especially in a sustainable development context as called for in the NRCan Strategic Framework, we must take a long-term view – not just one or two years out, but 10, 20 or even 100 years into the future. With effective foresight, our S&T can inform decision making on new research priorities and resource allocation.
Technology road mapping
- The purpose of technology roadmaps (TRMs) is to chart a course for technology development and deployment by consulting all key stakeholders (businesses, users, governments, etc.).
- NRCan has been instrumental in the development of several TRMs, including clean coal and carbon capture and storage, wind energy and electric vehicles.
- These roadmaps outlined a consensus among stakeholders of what needs to be done on all fronts (technology development, regulations, incentives, information dissemination) to ensure that technologies reach the market.
NRCan’s S&T foresight capacity is already proving its worth. NRCan has worked with other federal government departments, provincial and territorial governments and their agencies, industry and academic partners to develop a number of technology roadmaps. These roadmaps identify and prioritize the environmental technologies needed to support strategic research and development (R&D), marketing and investment decisions.
NRCan must now build on the experience and knowledge gained in technology road mapping to develop and embrace new processes and analytical tools that can assist in planning for the future.
Our S&T foresight capacity must systematically integrate evidence from across S&T, economic, social and environmental areas to identify scenarios for the future that help decision-makers anticipate change, rather than constantly chase events. Our foresight must provide a source of guidance for the allocation of research resources.
S&T leadership and safety, security and stewardship
Taking care of Canada’s natural resource endowment for present and future generations is a stewardship responsibility shared by all. As previously described, NRCan’s S&T is an essential means to better enable Canadians and their governments to exercise this responsibility across economic and environmental dimensions. NRCan’s S&T is equally important with respect to resource stewardship for better social outcomes, including the safety and security of citizens and the communities in which they live.
NRCan is increasingly called upon to help address a growing number of safety and security challenges. Our S&T is both conducted and delivered as part of integrated solution sets involving many players. Current examples include:
- NRCan’s geomatics S&T contributes to responses to natural disasters both in Canada and abroad, to emergency management including satellite monitoring of seasonal flooding, to search and rescue and to many other national security applications. In addition, Canada’s public health officials rely on NRCan’s geomatics capacity to support population health surveillance and health emergency response.
- NRCan’s materials research and seismic expertise underpin various vulnerability assessments for critical infrastructure, including pipelines and dams, thereby helping to make sure that workers and the public are safe and secure.
- The Government of Canada’s Northern Strategy aims to strengthen Canada’s sovereignty, advance economic and social development, promote environmental sustainability and improve governance in the North. NRCan’s S&T helps support this strategy. For example, NRCan and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) have been conducting Arctic surveys over the past three years to acquire the scientific data required to substantiate Canada’s submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, as provided for by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Risk assessment and adaptation to a changing climate
“Making decisions regarding adaptation requires dealing with uncertainty. There are uncertainties inherent in projections of future climate, the impacts of these changes and future socioeconomic conditions (which strongly affect adaptive capacity). Risk management provides a means for dealing with these uncertainties in a manner routinely used for non-climatic factors. It offers a practical and credible approach that is well understood by decision-makers for defining measures to achieve acceptable levels of societal risk, and is currently used in many professional fields.”
Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate (NRCan: 2007)
Risk assessment, based on the most current and reliable scientific evidence, is one of the best ways to evaluate natural resource threats and hazards. For example, NRCan has developed a series of projects to address hazards assessment, vulnerability, risk assessment methods and geohazard awareness, through the engagement of many user groups. These projects provide a legacy of databases, methods and tools for those involved in the mitigation of, and preparedness for, natural disasters.
S&T is an essential input to well-functioning risk management systems. Conversely, risk assessment and risk management processes themselves must work effectively to ensure that S&T resources are directed to appropriate targets for research and analysis. NRCan has considerable experience and success in ensuring our S&T both informs and is responsive to risk management processes.
NRCan’s S&T contribution to the stewardship of Canada’s natural resources, across economic, social and environmental dimensions, is enabled by an S&T governance regime that has strong corporate S&T leadership, management and oversight, and encourages individual initiative and good ideas.
“Science and policy functions exist in the public service to provide advice to governments. To do this in the best manner possible, it is of paramount importance that science and policy work together in an integrated fashion. Progress has been made by building bridges and interfaces to better link these communities. But the present and emerging challenges are unlike those of the past – they require a fundamentally new approach, one of common purpose and integration.”
Report on the 2002 Roundtable on Science and Public Policy: Canadian Centre for Management Development
NRCan is moving to an integrated and horizontal approach to the management of S&T. By implication, this means shifting from a primarily sector-focused approach to a framework that encourages collective leadership, innovative collaboration and knowledge sharing across the department and with stakeholders in pursuit of common goals.
A continuous two-way flow of information between our scientists, policy and program officials, and executive leadership must be maintained and strengthened. This is the essence of science and policy integration.
NRCan’s sectors are making strong progress in all of these areas, including integrating their S&T with their own policy development and decision-making processes. With this S&T Strategy, NRCan will take the next step forward by drawing on the best practices in S&T governance found in each sector (and other leading science-based organizations) and applying them across the department as a whole.
NRCan’s S&T governance system must continue to effectively translate financial resources to S&T purposes and outcomes. It must be pragmatic and recognize that real budgetary constraints exist. NRCan is working to strengthen our management systems for maximizing the leverage of the available resources and ensuring that they are targeted to priority S&T areas, while at the same time maintaining a certain degree of higher risk efforts that foster greater learning, innovation and ultimately results. NRCan continues to place a premium on accountability – placing the responsibility with those who are supported by public funds to demonstrate to taxpayers that results are being achieved.
Greening the mining process
Imagine a mining industry where the A-to-Z operation – design, extraction, processing, closure and rehabilitation – is green.
That’s the aim of NRCan’s Green Mining Initiative (GMI). GMI has been created to help the Canadian mining industry compete economically while addressing mining’s environmental issues.
GMI is a holistic approach founded on NRCan’s innovative research methods and focuses on four main areas – footprint reduction, waste management innovation, ecosystem risk management, and mine closure and rehabilitation.
GMI envisions approaches that, among other things, would minimize amounts of waste rock. That would mean less rock to bring to the surface and subsequently fewer tailings – the “sands” left after the ore has been extracted – to treat and handle for the long term.
To that end, NRCan researchers are working on ways to use heat to replace explosives as a tool. Experiments indicate this method could break the ore into sand-like pieces and leave much more waste rock in place rather than, as with explosives, breaking up huge amounts of rock, bringing it to the surface and treating it to extract the ore.
Another project under the same initiative will add municipal bio-solid waste or pulp and paper waste on top of tailing sites and then grow canola, corn or soy to produce bio-fuel. The project neatly disposes of various wastes, grows a valuable bio-fuel crop and uses wasteland rather than valuable agricultural land to do it.
Early results indicate this new bio-fuel is as clean as any other. Estimates state that the Sudbury region alone has the potential to produce 1 million litres of bio-fuel annually using this new method. That amount could fuel about 800 compact cars for a year.
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