SGS Canada Inc.
Making innovation a reality
It's a long way from the farmers' fields of France to the boreal forest of Fort McMurray, but one ACR member has made that century-long journey and, along the way, found a common approach to technological commercialization that gives industry an efficient proving ground to turn innovative laboratory ideas into practical production realities.
SGS Societe Generale de Surveillance SA first traded publicly in 1878, offering agricultural services to European grain traders. Today, SGS has become the world's leading testing, inspection, verification and certification company, offering services around the globe in agriculture; oil, gas and chemicals; life science; consumer testing; systems and services certification; industrial services; automotive; governments and institutions; and environmental services.
SGS employs over 57,000 people worldwide in over 140 countries. Over 12,000 of those are employed in the Americas and approximately 11% (around 1,350) are employed in 40 locations in Canada. SGS has been active in Canada for over 65 years with eight business lines supported by over 25 laboratories. The majority of the staff employed in Canada are employed in the minerals, oil and gas, and industrial sectors.
"SGS has become really good at delivering our core services and following our clients as their trade became more global," said Executive Vice President Mike Belton. "As we've grown, we've moved away from sampling somewhat towards more certification and verification work."
"We also realized that in order to grow, we needed to have more of an upstream presence, especially in the minerals area. So we have become involved with the development of technical production and management solutions of our clients."
To that end, SGS identified a strong correlation between expertise it has developed in working for mineral development clients around the world and the burgeoning oil sands development industry in Alberta.
The company has invested in local facilities to help Alberta resource developers take lab-tested ideas forward to full-scale pilot testing. The major investment in the region is a $20 million pilot plant in the Fort MacKay Industrial Park where SGS hosts the company's Applied Research and Training Facility which has the independent capability of helping operators to improve mineral and heavy oil separation process. This facility was built to help companies test and commercialize new technologies and processes to reduce the environmental footprint of oil sands operations. The pilot plant has industry leading technology and experts on hand to provide support for the analysis and data collection on extraction and froth treatment processes.
The pilot plant extraction facility provides a fully integrated and instrumented pilot circuit with a two-tonne-per-hour throughput. The plant can operate 24 hours a day, generating data for clients on equipment optimization with the added ability of providing a test environment for evaluating optimization of confidential technology. The "plug and play" configuration of the facility allows wasy movement of skid mounted process equipment where clients may test equipment and processes.
"It can be difficult for companies to do the development work necessary to optimize their technologies in their own plants," said Belton. "We make it possible for them to try these things out without the significant retrofitting costs and scheduling problems that would be faced in putting them into operating facilities."
The SGS research and training facility has 12,500 square feet available for water-based extraction experimentation and another 5,000 square feet (expandable to 7,500 square feet) for froth treatment testing. It also has an 11,000 square foot ore storage facility, which is capable of holding 2,500 tonnes of ore in refrigerated conditions designed to maintain sample quality. These three units on one site give SGS a unique capability to store, extract and process froth with an experienced workforce aimed at providing assistance in process design, operations, data analysis and report writing.
SGS's extensive laboratory network in Fort McMurray provides accredited local cupport to the research and training facility able to provide rapid turnaround for critical control assays. The Fort McMurray laboratory is accredited to ISO/IEC17025 for specific tests.
The company is also able to provide a test arena for tailings in an attempt to understand the changes in physical and chemical balances and provide an assessment of such issues as settling, compaction, rheology, porosity, clarity and the chemical and bituminous aspects of tailings.
"There is no silver bullet on the tailings issue," said Belton. "But there are certainly a lot of people working on variety of different tracks. Perhaps there's an industry-wide approach possible, and we would like to be a part of that."
However, tailings are not the only area where Belton believes SGS's experience and facilities can pay dividends for clients. They have recently acquired several companies specializing in water treatment - a big issue for in-situ oil sands producers. They are also expanding their expertise in 3D and 4D modeling technologies that can be applied to both surface mining tailings and in-situ production.
"I think it's fair to say that over the past 12 months, there has been a real switch in focus from new companies considering entering the oil sands development business to companies already here looking to optimize their processes," said Belton.
"But we're also seeing more and more emphasis on environmental issues and our clients are talking to us about ways to optimize environmental performance in addition to production performance."
"Like everyone else, we're adapting, but we still see a very strong future for SGS in Alberta. We want to be a partner in solving issues facing government and industry on extraction, carbon capture and environmental excellence."