Alberta company launches new product for the airline industry

A timely and insightful pivot to a new industrial application is serving as the foundation for success for Alberta-based Absolute Combustion International (ACI) Inc. The company developed an innovative burner technology - it significantly reduces fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions - that seemed tailor made for the oil and gas industry. 

A photo of Alberta Innovates CEO Laura Kilcrease with Absolute Combustion CEO Koleya Karringten, EIA Vice-President of Operations and Infrastructure, Steve Maybee, and Alberta Innovates Rollie Dykstra

Development of ACI's patented Absolute Extreme Burner culminated in a very promising field trial in Alberta's oil sands. The newly minted technology, however, was no match for the downturn in the oil patch in 2015; it was difficult to pitch new equipment and technology.

Resilience pays off

As it turned out, this setback was also no match for the resilience and persistence of Absolute Combustion CEO Koleya Karringten. She immediately went to work investigating other applications for the burner. In September 2016, just nine weeks after giving birth, she attended an aerospace conference in Japan as part of an Alberta delegation.

"In Japan, we were introduced to the shortcomings of aircraft heating systems, which are used to keep airplanes warm on the tarmac when temperatures dip below -10C," explains Karringten. "Conventional systems are highly inefficient. They use a lot of fuel, which means they produce a lot of emissions, and they don't operate well in extreme cold. I knew we had a game-changing application for the burner technology: a faster and more efficient portable diesel aircraft heater." 

Partnering for success

Importantly, ACI had also found a development partner. Representatives of Edmonton International Airport (EIA) had attended the meeting in Japan and shared Karringten's belief in the commercial potential of a new aircraft heater. In July 2019, ACI and EIA successfully completed a three-year test to commercialize the technology. The ACI-SM1000 heater can operate down to -50C and bring the cabin of a Boeing 737 from -30C to +20C in 30 minutes, contrasted to a conventional system that would take more than 90 minutes. The heater's unique design results in a 50-70 per cent reduction in diesel fuel usage. 

EIA has made an initial order of three units, which are currently in production. EIA is also helping to market the burner to ground servicing companies, airlines and airports. 

"Absolute Combustion International are widely recognized as game-changing innovators in the oil and gas industry, and we could not be happier to have them partner with us in the aviation industry as well," says EIA Vice-President of Operations and Infrastructure, Steve Maybee. "The result is we get locally-produced technology, custom made for our use that will be a ground-breaking improvement for aviation around the world." 

Helping companies grow

Karringten notes that the aerospace application is built on the years of R&D, much of which was supported by Alberta Innovates through a range of grants, including vouchers, commercialization associates, and the Product Demonstration Program. "The support from Alberta Innovates allowed us to hire the skilled technical help we needed," adds Karringten. "The technology would not be at this point without them." 

Now, as ACI gets ready to explore the potential of this technology internationally, Alberta Innovates is helping out in a different way via the Executive Business Advisor (EBA) Program. It provides one-on-one guidance to firms to get them investment ready. "We've moved past the R&D stage and need to focus on sales and growth," says Karringten. "EBA Juan Benitez is helping us with advice on corporate structure, business plan structure, and company focus. I'm so grateful for all his support in making a solid business case for potential investors."

Executive Business Advisors mentor companies for business growth

The Alberta Innovates Executive Business Advisor (EBA) Program aims to fill a gap in support for Alberta's small-medium size enterprises. While direct industry funding programs support early stage technology research and development, the EBA Program is for later stage companies that are in need of executive level support and guidance.

"We want these companies to scale into high-growth fundable businesses," says Heather Markley, Manager, Capital Access & Major Transactions. "This requires special skills that many companies don't have in-house because they've been so focussed on product or service development. The EBA program gives them access to expertise that will improve their chances of raising outside capital."

Companies who apply to the program are carefully screened. Once accepted, they are assigned to one of three EBAs, all of whom are active entrepreneurs and well-connected in the technology ecosystem. EBAs provide wide-ranging guidance covering business planning, sales, business structure, and funding strategies.

Photo (L to R): Laura Kilcrease, CEO of Alberta Innovates, Koleya Karringten, CEO of Absolute Combustion International, Steve Maybee, VP of Operations and Infrastructure, Edmonton International Airport and Rollie Dykstra, VP of Investments, Alberta Innovates, pose in front of the new Absolute Combustion International-SM1000 portable aircraft heater, tested and produced in Alberta.