Invisible innovation is no less useful than hype innovation
Even by conservative estimates that cater for fast-paced development of energy-efficient technologies, the global demand for energy is set to double by 2050. Since “easy oil” will not keep up with the demand, alternative sources will have to be developed, from renewables to unconventional fossil fuels. And they will have to be developed while protecting the environment, especially air and water. The huge challenge of squaring that circle makes the energy industry a rich field for innovation.
One source of unconventional fossil fuel are the Canadian Oil Sands. Since the extraction of oil from the sands requires a lot of water, innovation efforts have focused on reducing the amount of fresh water pumped from the river systems. Incremental innovations have been made in making the extraction more water-efficient and in recycling water. Radical innovations have enabled the use of up to 97% of saline or brackish water, the unusable water that is found far below the fresh water table. An even more radical innovation currently in its research phase would see the oil sands being subject to a process close to dry-cleaning.
Of course none of this is as visible and glossy as the iPad. But you do not have to be Apple to innovate. Technology development in the Oil Sands of Canada is a form of innovation that is no less useful for humanity. Therefore, unleashing your innovation potential is not a question of where you work, only a question of how much a difference you want to make.
Illustration: Oil Sands photo courtesy JuneWarren Publications