Bringing ‘Bertie’ the emergency ventilator to life

Shortly after COVID-19 changed our ‘normal,’ many provincial and federal health organizations put out requests for companies to help with the response to COVID-19.

Suncor and Exergy Solutions, a company that Suncor works with on non-aqueous extraction technology, have responded to the call to create 200 emergency ventilators that are being donated to Alberta Health Services (AHS) for use if they are needed for the COVID-19 response.

Exergy is a Calgary-based company led by former Suncor employee Billy Rideout. The company focuses on mechanical and electrical engineering, design, 3D modelling and printing, research and development.

When Exergy thought about companies who could offer their support and resources to bring this ventilator initiative to life, they thought of Suncor.

“As this project evolved, we realized like many other collaborations we’ve participated in during the pandemic, this is another great example of living our purpose and caring for communities,” says Ryan Jackson, GM, construction and commissioning management. “But what’s also exciting is that partners like Exergy are thinking of Suncor in the same way and recognizing what’s possible through collaboration.”

One of the most pressing shortages facing hospitals during the COVID-19 response is a lack of ventilators, which keep patients breathing when they no longer can on their own. Ventilators can cost around $30,000 each.

These emergency ventilators, named the Alberta E-Vent and nicknamed Bertie (short for Alberta), were created in part through 3D printing technology. The emergency ventilator was initially designed as an open-sourced design by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for companies to leverage and execute themselves. Through Suncor’s financial support, Exergy refined the design with clinicians and industry representatives to ensure the ventilators are Health-Canada approved, and meet the needs of patients.

“This pandemic has reinforced that when we work together across governments and industries we can accomplish much more than we can do when we work alone. For Suncor, we’ve seen our employees do everything from repurposing wastewater treatment research for potential home antibody test kits and using laser cutters to make protective face shields, to thanking essential workers through our Petro-Canada community program,” said Mike MacSween, executive vice president, Upstream. “The support we’ve provided to this project is another example of how we’re working with partners in the fight against COVID-19.”

These safe, inexpensive alternatives for emergency use, can be built quickly around the world. They are intended to provide short-term respiratory support, monitoring and treatment of adult patients when a conventional ventilator is unavailable. While the first 200 E-vents will be donated to AHS, Suncor has considered acquiring more of them to potentially donate to other communities as well.

“Even as we feel the challenges of the pandemic and the economy, we need to keep living our purpose,” adds Mike.