Wanted: One Gas Field To Reach for the Sun
E.I.T., Komex Think Solar Power May Improve Efficiency


Even on the bleakest winter days, Stuart Torr, E.I.T., walks on the sunny side of the street.
Mr. Torr spends at least part of every working week trying to persuade the pillars of Alberta's oilpatch that his latest solar-powered project deserves a pilot test in some remote Western Canadian natural gas field. He's had nibbles but no takers — not yet, anyway.

“I'm basically trying to find more sustainable ways to carry out traditional procedures, to convince people there are readily available methods for improving efficiency in our oil and gas fields,” says the bright and gifted Mr. Torr, who recently turned 30.

A Calgary-based member of Komex International's Renewable Energy Group, Mr. Torr has a leg up on most APEGGA engineers in training. He picked up his master of science degree in civil and environmental engineering in the U.K., before immigrating about four years ago.

Why Canada? “I worked in London for three years but I was interested in decentralized waste water treatment, remediation technologies like multi-phase and soil vapour extraction,” he explains. “But there just aren't many practical applications for such things in England. I realized if I wanted to advance, I'd be better off moving to Alberta.”

As of mid-January, Mr. Torr was prepping for his APEGGA Professional Practice Exam and expects to earn his status as a P.Eng. sometime in the summer.

By then, he also hopes to have persuaded an established company to help him field-test and prove his already lab-tested theory: that solar power is a failsafe, eco-friendly and cost-effective way to drive pumps used to remove water from shallow gas deposits, particularly those situated far from traditional sources of electrical power.

Champion Needed

“The physics shows it will work,” he says. “But we need a champion, an energy company that's able to guide us through the (practical) difficulties we may encounter.”

“We” refers to Mr. Torr and his close friend, Eric Jensen, P.Eng., an APEGGA life member who runs Sunmotor International Ltd. in Olds.

Mr. Torr has publicly described his distinguished associate as “the grandfather of solar power in Alberta.” The two have already teamed up on a number of successful projects, including the creation of solar-powered systems for off-grid groundwater and soil remediation.

Since joining forces about three years ago, they've put together an impressive track record.
Example: Nexen Inc. asked Komex to engineer the remediation of salt impacted soil surrounding an old refinery near Okotoks, just south of Calgary.

Problem: residual salt contamination in the ground water. Solution: Application of a process of reverse osmosis, driven by high-pressure pumps which rely exclusively on solar power.

Result: reduced disposal costs as well as conservation of 50 per cent more groundwater than would be possible via more traditional treatment strategies.

“Very exciting,” Mr. Torr continues with a chuckle. “The first time I talked to Eric about it, he laughed at me because I wanted to use reverse osmosis to reduce a chloride concentration of 5,000 milligrams per litre to drinking water standards (250 mg/l) using solar power. I think he thought we were trying to push the envelope a bit too much.”

But the collaborators made it happen and the customer was well-satisfied.

Bouquets for the Bosses
Komex certainly played a role, too. Mr. Torr doesn't hesitate to toss bouquets in the direction of his employers, who've encouraged him every step of the way.

“I don't think I'd be able to do this if Komex wasn't so open to looking toward the future,” he says. “They're helping me towards the goal of my own career fulfilment while opening new doors for the diversification of the company as a whole.”

Of course, the relationship has been rewarding from the employer's perspective as well. Last year, Mr. Torr won the APEGGA Summit Award for environmental excellence, in collaboration with colleague Christina Dingman, P.Eng. It's the first time an E.I.T. ever reached that particular apex.

His superiors at Komex are also doing what they can to back his current quest: to land that field test for the down-hole gas dehydration process. Senior managers have been talking up the project among their own contacts and clients whenever they can, hoping to help Mr. Torr achieve his goal.

With that kind of support — plus the strength of his own enthusiasm and initiative — it's hard to see how he can fail.

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Freelance Columnist