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History of the Alberta Research Council

Early Science and Industrial Research Council of Alberta laboratory at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, circa 1922. Back row, W.L. Macdonald. Front row, left to right: H.T. Butchart, T. Holmes, Mr. Atkinson, R. Richards, R.T. Hollies. The Alberta Research Council (ARC) was established in 1921 as the first provincial research organization in Canada. Originally named the Science and Industrial Research Council of Alberta (SIRCA), the organization was established to help the province capitalize on its rich resource base by recording Alberta’s natural resources and mines for industry. Early achievements of SIRCA included an analysis of Alberta’s coal, a geological map of Alberta, and the hot-water extraction process for Alberta’s oilsands.

In its first few years, ARC was involved almost exclusively with fuel. During the 1920s, the primary fuel was coal. Alberta held approximately 18 percent of the world’s coal reserves, and the industry represented a large portion of the Alberta's economy and workforce. ARC began originally with a staff of 5—one technician, two coal researchers and two oilsands researchers. Coal sample tests were conducted at ARC laboratories, located on the University of Alberta campus, during the 1920s. ARC started to receive funding from the National Research Council (NRC) during this period for research on Alberta’s natural gas and its potential commercial and industrial uses. However, much of the organization's funding dried up during the Great Depression. The next 10 years were an uneasy period for SIRCA, but the organization would be revitalized by Alberta’s soon-to-be booming oil industry.

In 1948, Karl Clark’s hot-water extraction process for separating oil from bitumen, was implemented on a large scale. ARC was rapidly growing and moved into its own facilities, separate from the University of Alberta in the early 1950s.

Since its inception as SIRCA, ARC has evolved into one of Canada’s leading innovation organizations focused on technology development and commercialization . Although ARC has continued to work with fuel during its 80+ years, the organization has become increasingly diverse. Areas of operation now include energy, life sciences, sustainable development and enabling technologies (e.g., sensors). ARC functions as a bridge between scientific or basic research and commercial markets. They provide their clients, which range from the federal government to commercial firms worldwide, with innovative solutions.

Click here for more information on the history of the Alberta Research Council.

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