Industry Pioneer Just Keeps Innovating

Ian MacGregor, the mind behind of some of Alberta’s biggest industrial projects is taking on a new challenge: a carbon negative energy facility in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland.

 Ian MacGregor has fixed or built nearly everything in the energy industry, from drilling rigs to refineries. He’s an engineer because he could fix motorcycles when he was a kid and his mom decided he should be a mechanical engineer. He went to work with his dad on Saturdays and learned how a machine shop works. These experiences led to his love of building and fixing things.

“I like to build things, that’s how I have fun,” says Ian. “I like to turn ideas into practical things that solve problems.”

Ian says he’s never held a job that he didn’t create for himself.

“I couldn’t get a job when I graduated, so I rented a double garage and started a shop fixing things that were broken,” he says. “It was always ‘have the fun of building first’ and make money second.”


Alberta Advantage
Ian says that Alberta is the best place on the planet to create.

“When someone says you can’t do something, I just keep going.” He believes persistence conquers all.

Ian is a strong advocate for Alberta’s Industrial Heartland. The people who live and work here are supported by the local politicians by providing the environment required to create world-scale solutions to world-scale problems.

“In the Heartland, they help you every step of the way and when you are having trouble, they line up to volunteer help; that makes the really difficult things possible.”

“I like to paint on a big canvas,” says Ian. “We’ve already built the world’s largest operational system for sequestering man-made CO2 [Alberta Carbon Trunk Line]. That’s an asset for the Heartland and the Province now which attracts people who see the future and want to plug into it and produce products with low carbon intensity.”

To say that Ian has been involved cornerstone projects in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland is an understatement. It took him 15 years to build the Sturgeon refinery, after drawing the flow sheet on a napkin. The Sturgeon Refinery, operated by NWR (North West Redwater Partnership), is the world’s only refinery designed from the ground up to minimize its environmental footprint through carbon capture and storage; the diesel it produces has the lowest carbon intensity. He also invented, and saw built, the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL), the world’s largest carbon capture project. These two projects cost about $13 billion, roughly the modern-day equivalent of the costs to build the Panama Canal.


Achieving Carbon Negative Energy through Wood Fibre
And now he’s onto something new – a game-changer in the production of hydrogen: carbon negative hydrogen. He calls it Bright Green, which supports decarbonization efforts when used to produce other products. It’s produced from low-value wood fibre which, after the catastrophic fires this year, has a new name, High Hazard Forest Fibre. By using this material as the feedstock for a self-described Wood Refinery, and incorporating carbon capture through the ACTL, the Bright Green hydrogen retains the work done by the tree in removing the CO2 from the air and the hydrogen produced is carbon negative.

“High Hazard Forest Fibre – whether from logging or when a forest is really old and there are dead trees and branches – burns extremely well. When it gets going, it’s hard to put the fire out,” says Ian. “We can use that forest waste in our plant, which helps solve the issue at the front end, instead of leaving it there as potential fuel for forest fires.”

“Trees take CO2 out of the air. If you make hydrogen out of wood fibre, it is carbon negative when the CO2 is sequestered,” says Ian.

“Of course the Heartland is the perfect location for this because of the ACTL, and because the hydrogen we make can be used by nearby plants to create energy, fertilizer and other uses that benefit from reductions in carbon intensity.”

Ian believes he is creating a new industry in the Edmonton region building the modules for his Wood Refineries that will be installed at other locations around North America. Each train of the four-train plant takes about 5,000 man-years of labour in the mod shops, and Ian believes there is a market for at least 50 of these standard production trains in North America.

Ian also says that this new process will create lots of durable, high-value jobs, for Indigenous communities where the wood fibre is harvested and processed into pelletized feedstock suitable for the Wood Refinery.

“Alberta’s the best place in the world to do something like this, we have the people and the politicians who see the future, they support people like me who are trying to get there. We are all lucky to live here. Let’s make sure we look after the place and turn it over to the next generation in as good a shape as we found it,” Ian concludes.