NorQuest College-operated bio-tech incubator officially out of gates in Drayton Valley

May 24, 2016

EDMONTON – When Khalid Hansraj initially weighed his options in regards to moving from Calgary to Drayton Valley a major consideration was the opportunity to change the world.

A 32-year-old business-savvy professional with the fortitude to clean up the expansion agendas of major business and industry, an opportunity to be part of Drayton Valley’s enviro-tech aspirations was a huge draw.

“It is perfect timing,” says the first-ever managing director of the Clean Energy and Technology Centre (CETC), speaking about his arrival in Drayton Valley last month, and the province’s recently released Climate Leadership Plan. “We want to be ground zero for the bio, agriculture, and clean tech industries. We can deliver what Alberta needs.”

The CETC is located in the Town of Drayton Valley’s new Bio Mile. The Bio Mile is designed to provide a home to companies, organizations, and research partnerships focusing on creating new products from bio-mass or bio-mass waste. With its Weyerhauser mill, and being surrounded by prime agricultural land and oil and gas facilities, Drayton is the ideal location for bio-industrial innovation and commercialization. The Bio-Mile’s anchor tenant, Bio-Composites Group, currently converts waste hemp fiber into biodegradable interior car panels for the automotive industry.

Hansraj’s takes the centre’s top post with almost 10 years of business development, applied research, and technology commercialization experience, having worked in that capacity for NAIT, Olds College, SAIT, TEC Edmonton, and Innovate Calgary. What made the CETC such so attractive to him was its uniqueness; not only because of the exciting trailblazing nature of it all, “but in the way this initiative is able to promote economic development and diversification by leveraging what is already a very entrepreneurial local ecosystem and proximity to feedstock,” he says.

 “We are unique because we have a 50 acre parcel of industrially zoned land where we intend to attract a cluster of innovative clean technology and bio-industrial facilities.”

It’s all about job creation, diversification, and sustainability. Take Weyerhauser’s waste, for example. Who would have thought it could be used in the aviation industry?

“We are in discussions with Westjet to contemplate how they can open up a bio fuel facility at the Bio Mile,” says Hansraj. “It is the early stages of discussions, but we have the land and we have a lot of skilled tradespeople available right now because of the downturn in the oil and gas sector. Running a bio fuel facility is similar to running an oil refinery or upgrader. So we have the requisite talent in the community.”

And the skills they don’t have yet? Well, that will take education, which is another huge part of what the CETC wants to offer.

NorQuest College to be lead on operations and programming

In May of 2015, NorQuest College of Edmonton and the Town of Drayton Valley entered into a joint agreement for operation of the CETC. As regional steward for post-secondary and adult education in the area, and having a campus in the community since 1982, the college was a perfect fit to provide its expertise. NorQuest fully relocated its local campus to the CETC in late April of this year.

“NorQuest College is proud to be a partner in this exciting venture,” says college president and CEO, Dr. Jodi L. Abbott. “As a dedicated resident of Drayton Valley, and with a commitment to offer programming that is workforce relevant and innovative, we view this as a great way to support local, provincial, and national energy initiatives—initiatives that are healthy to the environment and the economic stability of individuals, families, and communities.”

In addition to NorQuest’s credit programming at the CETC, both the college and the town will provide resources to offer a range of services and activities, including non-credit educational services, the aforementioned business incubation and development, conference services, corporate training, and research activities.

These activities will focus heavily on the local needs and talents, and the next generation workforce.

”We have in mind customized training for post-secondary either included in the existing curriculum or have it as a separate certificate or diploma program for people interested in green management of forestry or agriculture industries,” says Hansraj. “We are also talking about how do you ingrain this sort of mentality in the K to 12 system? We thought about offering things like summer camps.”

These are big dreams for a small community, but the potential outcomes could provide this province with the change its current government is seeking.

“Over the next three years I think we can create at least 1,000 jobs out here, provided we get the cooperation from government and industry in terms of building new facilities on the Bio Mile and getting people to invest in Drayton Valley,” says Hansraj.