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A Plan to Turn Shuttered Coal Plants Into Cutting Edge Compressed Air Storage

A Plan to Turn Shuttered Coal Plants Into Cutting Edge Compressed Air Storage

as published in Greentech Media here

Canadian firm Hydrostor has already lined up warranties and project financing to make the new system bankable.

Canadian firm Hydrostor revealed a new compressed air storage solution it says can compete with both batteries and natural gas plants to provide hundreds of megawatts of power.

The company adapted compressor technology well honed by the oil and gas industry to squeeze air down into custom-built tunnel shafts, using water to maintain constant pressure. It dubbed the resulting product Terra: a grid scale, long duration storage asset that lies mostly underground, with a visible footprint no bigger than a small industrial building.

By leveraging proven technologies and confronting the challenges posed by the physics of air compression, the Hydrostor team convinced Fortune 500 engineering firm AECOM to sign on as project developer partner, and backstop the systems with a cost and performance guarantee. Canoe Financial has committed to project financing. This puts Hydrostor in the rare position of rolling out a new storage technology with key bankability measures already in place.

That's crucial for the kinds of customers the firm is courting: primarily large, traditional utilities. Specifically, Hydrostor wants to use Terra to convert shuttered coal-powered generating facilities into peaking power plants that charge up on cheap grid electricity and discharge when needed, said President and CEO Curtis VanWalleghem. It can also perform transmission decongestion and renewables integration roles.

Lithium-ion batteries enjoy a near-strangehold on the U.S. storage market. Any upstart device challenging their dominance has to show customers a very good reason to diverge from the conventional path. Plenty of storage companies have offered longer duration batteries, but they struggle at beating lithium ion on price.

The Terra solution is highly customizable and allows customers to pick the power to energy ratio. For systems of 200 megawatts or more, VanWalleghem said, Hydrostor can deliver six to eight hours of duration on a turnkey installed basis of $150 per kilowatt-hour.

In its Q1 report on the U.S. storage industry, GTM Research calculated the median price for four-hour, utility-scale systems was $550 per kilowatt-hour. That's expected to drop to $450 in 2019. It's not an exact comparison on energy capacity, but it's safe to say that the price point quoted for Terra (assuming it's accurate) is several years ahead of the rest of the advanced storage industry.

A new take on familiar ideas

The Terra concept responds to and reenvisions several things simultaneously: compressed air storage, grid scale battery storage and the use of coal power plant sites. Here's the breakdown:

With all the hubbub around emerging storage technologies, it's rare to hear news of compressed air energy storage (CAES). This technology, like pumped hydro storage, was proven years ago but has been hobbled by the vagaries of geology.

Traditional CAES seals air inside pressurized salt caverns. So to build one, you have to go find a cavern big enough for your needs and strong enough to withstand the pressure without leaking. It's not exactly a buyer's market.

More recent attempts to modernize the concept have focused on manufacturing sophisticated tanks that can hold the air. Lightsail raised $70 million to pursue this and, as Eric Wesoff reported, didn't get much further than producing a sophisticated tank. SustainX raised $30 million for aboveground CAES, but had to abandon those plans. It attempted to merge with General Compression to improve below ground CAES, but both have wound down.

Hydrostor addressed the siting issue by creating caverns on demand. The company digs what look like mine shafts (more on that later) customized to the needs of a given project. The basic design goes down about 1,200 feet. A structure on the surface houses the equipment to suck air in, pump it down to charge the system and suck it back out to discharge. The team installs silencers on the vents to cut out noise pollution.

"We built one in downtown Toronto right next to a school, and it complies with all the noise ordinances," VanWalleghem said. Permitting involves different questions than a typical storage facility; it's more like getting mineral rights to dig on a piece of land, or excavating a city block for an underground garage. 

Another challenge with CAES derives from physics: if you reduce the volume of a gas, the procedure produces heat. You have to deal with that heat, and then find a way to reintroduce heat when you discharge the air to spin a turbine.

Traditional CAES facilities burn natural gas to heat the cold air as it gets pumped back out of the system, but Hydrostor wanted to keep its operation clean and self-contained. The designers threw in several types of thermal storage to catch the heat given off by the initial air compression and save it for use when the system discharges. Omitting natural gas burn also makes it possible to slip into urban settings -- the only emission here is air.

Lastly, the equipment operates best at a certain pressure level. Pumping more air into a confined space increases the pressure, so previous CAES designs used massive caverns to offset the additional pressure from charging.

Hydrostor cuts the cavity size and maintains constant pressure using water. Additional air displaces the water instead of more air, so the pressure doesn't vary and the machinery can run optimally.

The 1 megawatt Toronto test facility the company built uses an earlier marine design, which pumps the air into underwater balloons. Hydrostor is currently constructing a project for Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator that will attach its compressor array to an existing salt cavern, and it's finalizing the first fully-realized commercial application of the Terra concept.

A non-mythical energy plan for coal country

While Hydrostor can feasibly deploy its technology next to schools in city centers, it has another type of location in mind: the sites of retired coal plants. 

When a coal fired power plant shuts down, it leaves a large industrial site with a powerful transmission connection and ample supply of water. Those are all the ingredients Hydrostor needs to get a Terra installation up and running with minimal friction.

Those sites are useful for other energy assets too -- battery storage, solar or wind could make use of the transmission hookup. Hydrostor's pitch goes a little deeper by leveraging a different facet of the coal industry: the miners.

"We’ll be putting hundreds and hundreds of miners to work for many, many years," VanWalleghem said. "We’ve got trained miners who are great at what they do, oil and gas companies that have perfected compressors. We just add a couple bells and whistles to it, we don’t reinvent that other stuff."

Not all former coal power plants sit in regions with a coal miner workforce, but plenty of them do. Hydrostor will have to see whether this cultural and economic development pitch helps close deals. At the very least, it puts the company in the position of speaking the same language as the thermal power industries in a way that solar and wind do not.

President Donald Trump has argued that his efforts to cut environmental protectionswill bring back the coal industry. He has not supplied evidence that this is the case. A large-scale construction project utilizing the coal miner workforce, on the other hand, could provide real economic opportunities in a growing clean energy industry.

Going to battle with batteries

Given the near-total market dominance of lithium-ion, and new contender faces a high bar. VanWalleghem acknowledges that there are certain areas where his technology won't beat the incumbent.

Modern batteries can respond to commands in a matter of miliseconds; the Terra needs a few minutes to get from cold start to full power.

We saw with the Aliso Canyon procurements that grid-scale lithium-ion systems can be deployed on the grid in just six months. Given the physical construction involved in Terra, it takes more like two to three years from contract to service.

Terra facilities offer 60 percent roundtrip efficiency on a single day charge/discharge cycle, which is lower than flow batteries, and considerably lower than lithium-ion.

But on the other hand, the company claims the efficiency does not degrade over time the way batteries do. There is no flammable chemical concern of the sort that has stymied the advance of lithium systems into dense cities like New York.

The latter has a fixed ratio of power to energy; expanding duration means adding more lithium-ion cells. Terra allows the customer to choose exactly what performance specifications are desired: the compressors govern the power intake capacity and the volume of the underground cavity corresponds to energy capacity.

The scale here can get pretty massive. If Hydrostor builds the 200 megawatt system VanWalleghem quoted, that would exceed any advanced battery system that exists. AES has a contract with Southern California Edison to deliver a 100 megawatt/400 megawatt-hour system in Long Beach by 2021 that's slated to be the largest battery of its kind. Hydrostor says it can beat that.

When you're dealing with such massive amounts of electricity, Terra can arguably afford to lose 40 percent of the electrons that go in, because it can still produce more than any other battery.

The right kind of friends

Hydrostor has an alluring and detailed pitch, but clever engineering doesn't guarantee success in the world of energy storage. The company has increased its odds, though, by laying a strong business foundation before launching the new product.

The group has raised about $10 million in equity and garnered another $10 million in government grants, and has begun earning revenue on the Ontario project, which contracted for close to $10 million as well.

That's a promising start, but not enough of a balance sheet to guarantee a large and expensive system for a utility client that needs assurances it will work. That's where AECOM comes in. 

That firm, which operates in 150 countries and drew $17.4 billion in revenue last year, partnered with Hydrostor after an extensive review of operational data from the pilot project and market analysis. AECOM serves as the project developer, and guarantees the projects for 30 years or more, several times the life expectancy of a lithium-ion battery.

Even before the official marketing for Terra has begun, AECOM has been hearing positive feedback from multiple stakeholders, wrote Travis Starns, principal engineering manager there, in an email Wednesday.

"We believe once this technology is known within the energy storage landscape and stakeholders are able to add the Hydrostor Terra technology into the evaluation process, the value proposition for this technology will become clear," he said.

That connection is a big deal for a new storage technology, said Ravi Manghani, energy storage director at GTM Research.

"Getting a partner like AECOM is going to make their jobs much easier," he said. "It’s easier to get on meeting calendars with big utilities and big financial institutions."

The backing from AECOM makes Terra projects financially bankable. The strategy of using off-the-shelf mechanical equipment likewise reduces the risk associated with deploying new technology. That said, the configuration of the equipment is new.

A key challenge for Hydrostor will be to convince customers to try out a product that relies on complex mechanical systems and a great deal more physical labor than a straightforward container of batteries.

"It's not like electrochemical batteries don't have their own issues, but they do have fewer moving pieces and hence fewer points of failure," Manghani said. "Compresed air, with so many moving parts and dealing with high pressure environments, adds on a number of potential points of failure."

For companies used to dealing with all the moving pieces of a coal or gas plant, the Terra won't feel all that foreign. If even a few of them sign on, Hydrostor could have its hands full with a few hundred megawatts to install.

Federal budget sets new standard for Canadian cleantech

Federal budget sets new standard for Canadian cleantech

as published in the Globe & Mail here

The latest federal budget could prove to be a watershed moment for the clean-technology industry in Canada, and signals that the transition to a low-carbon economy remains a national priority.

At the very time that the Trump administration is backtracking in the United States, the Trudeau government is moving forward with a clear commitment to increase clean tech's contribution to GDP, which is good news for economic growth and job creation.

Backing it up with more than $2.2-billion in new clean-tech spending, the budget shows Ottawa is moving beyond a focus on research and development and now is seriously committed to taking the next step: boosting the demonstration, adoption and export of Canadian energy and environmental technologies.

In clean tech, R&D is tremendously important, and Canada's support for it has been good, if not consistent, over the years. Smart people in labs, garages and basements have invented and innovated, assisted by provincial and federal grants. Innovation hubs and incubators helped nurture the entrepreneurs that emerged. Private venture-capital firms invested early in companies that have worked to become market-ready.

The result is a clean-tech "farm team" that Canada has been growing for about a decade. But, as coaches often say, we didn't come this far to only come this far.

Clean tech is now a $1-trillion global game – and growing. Spending on R&D is always welcome, but won't get us into the big leagues on its own; it doesn't magically transform innovations into commercial winners.

Customer orders are what matter, as well as having enough capital to fill those orders and kick-start the early revenues required to drive growth and enter new markets.

Herein lies clean tech's chicken-egg problem: Customers and funders won't come to the table if a technology hasn't been successfully demonstrated on a commercial scale, but getting those first commercial deployments requires customers and private investors who are willing to take on daunting first-time risks.

The budget tackles this conundrum head on, recognizing that clean tech is a hard, capital-intensive journey that's too risky and takes too long for traditional venture capitalists.

So on top of committing $430-million in R&D toward clean energy, transportation and natural resource innovation, the budget is putting nearly $1.4-billion over three years into the hands of the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada. About $450-million of the new money will be used to finance first-of-kind clean energy and technology projects. Another $380-million will go toward equity financing for clean-tech firms, with the rest available as working capital to help firms buy inventory, hire talent, accelerate sales and boost exports.

And remember, these are strategic investments – not handouts. By using public dollars to shoulder more risk, the new money is expected to leverage private-sector investment that might otherwise flow elsewhere. The end effect, according to the budget, will be to "increase the amount of capital available to Canada's clean-technology firms as they grow their businesses and create more good, well-paying jobs for all Canadians."

The budget goes much further. Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which for a decade has used grants to attract private-sector investment in demonstration projects, is getting $400-million over five years to continue its mission. The clean-tech sector will also get support through a $1.2-billion Strategic Innovation Fund, which has traditionally only been accessible to the aerospace and automotive sectors.

Another $40-million will be spread between the creation of a national clean-tech database for more accurately tracking the health and growth of the sector, and efforts to promote the adoption of Canadian clean tech in other countries. The government will also streamline and simplify federal support programs and establish a "clean growth hub," which is still to be defined.

To stimulate domestic demand for clean-tech innovations, nearly $400-million will support efforts to get rural and remote communities off diesel fuel and boost adoption of "smart city" technologies. This comes on top of the government's commitment to purchase low-carbon technologies for its own use, and the spread of carbon pricing across the country – including Ontario's cap-and-trade program, which recently held its first carbon allowance auction.

Having come this far, it's now time for the industry to step up to the plate. All stakeholders – ventures, private investors, innovation support organizations – need to be at the table as the federal government works to put its plans into action.

Ottawa has been listening, and over the coming months it will seek industry advice on how new programs and initiatives supported through the budget should be structured for success. It shouldn't alone have to shoulder the responsibility of an effective roll-out.

It's now up to industry to live up to the high expectations that this budget sets.

Tom Rand is a Managing Partner at ArcTern Ventures, and Tyler Hamilton is business development manager of cleantech at MaRS.

Canadian clean energy opportunities

Canadian clean energy opportunities

As U.S. climate progress takes a turn, the time is ripe for Canada to capture a piece of a growing global clean energy industry. But are Canadian innovators and the federal government ready?

Canadian firms NRStor and Hydrostor partner up on utility-scale adiabatic compressed air storage

Canadian firms NRStor and Hydrostor partner up on utility-scale adiabatic compressed air storage

as published in Energy Storage News

Compressed air energy storage plants could be rolled out across Canada from energy storage project developer NRStor and advanced adiabatic compressed air energy storage (A-CAES) firm Hydrostor.

The two companies announced this week that they have formed a partnership to “jointly develop utility-scale energy storage projects across Canada”. Hydrostor’s technology converts electricity into compressed air, as with other compressed air storage solutions, however A-CAES goes a step further and also removes the heat generated by the compression process and stores that as energy to be used later. Therefore A-CAES is considered to increase the round-trip efficiency of storing energy as compressed air.

NRStor and Hydrostor are already working together on a 1.75MW / 7MWh A-CAES project in Goderich, Canada for the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) of Ontario which is expected to be completed and online during 2018. The project pumps a salt cavern full of compressed air, with the salt naturally sealing the cavern’s walls of cracks that could let the air escape.

NRStor has also worked with numerous other energy storage technologies, including flywheels and batteries, having been founded in 2012. In February it closed a deal with a union-backed pension fund, Labourers’ Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada (LiUNA), which committed $200 million of project financing towards NRStor projects. While pension funds and other institutional investors are growing their renewable energy portfolios, involvement in energy storage from such investors has been limited to date due to the technology being newer and having a higher perceived risk profile.

NRStor finances, owns and operates energy storage projects and now becomes Hydrostor’s Canadian ‘preferred development partner’. Elsewhere, Hydrostor has a global partnership with major EPC firm AECOM. At this stage neither company has given an indication of the future scale of their Canadian partnership in terms of pipelines or forecasted expectations.   

However, Hydrostor president and CEO Curtis VanWalleghem said the agreement would “dramatically accelerate the deployment” of the company’s A-CAES systems and referred to NRStor’s “proven development expertise”.

“Canada needs clean energy storage to efficiently operate the modern electric grid. We are two Canadian companies partnering to deliver just that,” NRStor founder, chair and CEO Annette Verschuren said.

Booming MaRS repays $290M government loan three years early

Booming MaRS repays $290M government loan three years early

as published in the Toronto Star here

The Ontario government’s rescue mission to MaRS has proven successful — the medical-and-related-sciences hub is repaying a $290 million loan three years early.

he Ontario government’s rescue mission to MaRS has proven successful — the medical-and-related-sciences hub is repaying a $290 million loan three years early.

MaRS Discovery District will announce Thursday that new investments from Manulife, Sun Life Financial, and iA Financial Group are enabling the repayment to Queen’s Park.

“Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals … haven’t had a lot of good news lately, but they certainly deserve a victory lap on this one,” MaRS chair Gord Nixon said in an interview Wednesday.

“We made the point that this was not a bailout, but in the midst of politics — with the opposition parties — it sort of took on a life of itself,” said Nixon, a former Royal Bank of Canada chair.

The 20-storey research and development complex at the corner of College St. and University Ave. received $395 million in loans from the province over the years.

During the 2014 election, the opposition Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats charged the project was a boondoggle because it was more than two-thirds vacant at the time.

But now there’s a waiting list of prospective tenants and blue-chip firms — including Facebook, Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS, PayPal, Merck, and Autodesk — are paying market rents.

“It’s been a bumpy road to get here,” said Nixon, noting that after about three-quarters of the loans were repaid, the government still has a stake in a prime property that has increased in value.

Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid wryly recalled how “the opposition were all over us on this issue and didn’t want us to make these investments.”

Duguid said the Liberals couldn’t abandon MaRS, because the innovation hub is a key part of the government’s strategy to attract and incubate high-technology businesses.

“Frankly, it’s time our government got a little bit of credit for some of the challenging decisions we’ve taken on and the bold decisions we’ve made to make this happen,” the minister said.

“MaRS was challenged because of a partnership with a U.S. company (Alexandria Real Estate) that had been hurt by the global recession and it impacted its ability to lease up its space,” he said.

“Rather than take the easy political out, which was to call in the loan and take our licks, we determined that this was still a really important project for Ontario and … doubled down. We knew it was going to work. Our investment was fully secured.”

Former OMERS pension plan CEO Michael Nobrega, brought in to advise the government on MaRS’s real estate arrangements, agreed it was a shrewd move.

“These guys took a calculated risk and, most importantly, they saw it through,” Nobrega said of the province helping MaRS with bridge financing.

“There was a lot of heat and to some extent it was not good heat, because people didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t appreciate what was going on,” he said.

Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS, said the deal allows “us to pay back the taxpayers of Ontario as quickly as possible.”

“We’re incredibly grateful that the province stepped in when that unexpected bump in the road occurred,” said Treurnicht, adding the new private investors are “conservative,” which sends the market a message that MaRS is a safe long-term bet.

Candace Shaw, head of private fixed income at Sun Life, said the deal fits in well with the firm’s investment objectives.

“The West Tower is an impressive state-of-the-art research complex with an exceptional roster of tenants, in one of the most desirable locations in Toronto,” said Shaw.

Canada's Hydrostor eyes role in $1-billion U.S. peak power market

Canada's Hydrostor eyes role in $1-billion U.S. peak power market

as published in the Globe and Mail here

Canadian underwater energy storage company Hydrostor is eyeing $1-billion of contracts to replace decommissioned U.S. peak power plants in the next two or three years, its chief executive said.

So-called “peakers,” electrical generators which are turned on only when demand is highest, are a critical but expensive element of the electricity grid.

Hydrostor and its engineering partner AECOM are targeting dozens of mostly coal-powered facilities of at least 100 megawatt capacity across the U.S. that either shut down in 2016 or will shut this year.

Hydrostor buys off-peak electricity to compress air it stores underwater in balloon-type accumulators. It then reverses the process to generate power and feed it back into the grid when demand is high.

“We are now by far the lowest cost storage solution, we can be built at scale, we’ve got our partnerships in place and we’re going to start marketing it here in the next month or two,” Curtis VanWalleghem, Hydrostor’s chief executive, said.

Hydrostor will compete for the attention of utilities against battery companies and new, more efficient gas-powered facilities.

“Most of the utilities in the U.S. that are starting to get their feet wet with storage are typically going with these battery plays, mostly because they’re a little more flexible,” said Craig Sabine, a strategic advisor for utilities at Navigant, a consultancy.

Utilities may also prove reluctant to turn away from gas given years of record shale production which pushed prices in 2016 to their lowest since 1999.

“The silver bullet has yet to be defined,” said Richard McMahon of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents U.S. investor-owned electric companies. “There’s a place for a lot of these technologies and certainly there remains a place for gas peaking when you’ve got those conditions, low gas prices,” he said.

VanWalleghem said Hydrostor’s capital cost of between $1,000 and $2,000 per kilowatt compares to at least $3,500 per kilowatt for batteries, and makes it comparable to the cost of a new gas-fired plant, although with lower operating and maintenance costs.

He says the company, which had only built or contracted for projects of less than 2 megawatt capacity before inking the AECOM deal last year, can build facilities of up to 200 megawatts. One megawatt can power about 1,000 homes.

Canadian companies can clean up in China

Canadian companies can clean up in China

as published in the Globe and Mail here

The global economic outlook may look hazy for 2017, but there are still lots of opportunity for Canadian exporters to clean up in China, according to those who watch the Chinese market.

For companies that focus strategically on the right products and services, the market for Canadians to export clean technology, or cleantech, to China, still has room to grow, says Tom Rand, managing partner of ArcTern Ventures, a Toronto firm that invests in cleantech startups.

“We have something like 1.3 per cent of the market share for cleantech in China. About five years ago we had 1.8 per cent,” explains Mr. Rand, who is also senior adviser of the Cleantech Venture Group at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District.

“While that market share has gone down, the absolute amount of our exports has gone up.”

True, overall growth in China is expected to be anemic in the coming year – but that is by Chinese standards. The Chinese government is still committed to an annual growth rate of 6.5 per cent between now and 2020.

“China growing more slowly than it has in earlier years is still a huge economy growing rapidly. Even if we can get a small increase in our market share there it’s still significant,” says Danielle Goldfarb, director of the Conference Board of Canada’s Global Commerce Centre.

Greg Nuttall, president and chief executive officer at Toronto-based Woodland Biofuels Inc., which has built a demonstration plant in Sarnia, Ont., and is talking to potential partners in China about expansion there. Biofuels is an example of a cleantech field where Canada can be competitive in China, as opposed to solar and wind, which China produces locally. (Photo: Woodland Biofuels)

Mr. Rand says a 1.8-per-cent share of China’s cleantech market makes sense for the Canadian sector.

“We can achieve that [market share] just for showing up. We should be aiming much higher,” he says.

Last February, Canada and China signed a joint declaration on clean technology co-operation. They committed to look at setting up more demonstration projects and making it easier for small and medium-sized companies to collaborate in both countries.

This is helpful for the Canadian cleantech sector because it is made up of about 800 companies, mostly small or medium-sized firms. Mr. Rand says the key for Canada’s sector, which employs about 55,000 people, is to focus on products and services that are strong points for Canadian companies, rather than those that the Chinese can produce at home.

The biggest opportunities are in energy storage – building the next generation of batteries – and in non-traditional fuels such as biofuels, he says.

“China is moving beyond the traditional solar and wind cleantech, which they make anyway, toward much broader needs. We can innovate; they can mass-produce. Typically China seeks its innovation from abroad rather than at home, and in Canada our cleantech companies can innovate,” Mr. Rand adds.

One MaRS-supported Canadian firm, Toronto-based Woodland Biofuels Inc., has built a demonstration plant in Sarnia, Ont., and is talking to potential partners in China about expansion there.

The company is smart to develop its technology at home and then aim to bring it to China, Mr. Rand says, to protect their intellectual property.

Chinese state-sponsored hackers were accused of breaking into the computers at the National Research Council in 2014, though the Chinese government has strongly denied the claim.

The market potential is huge, in any case. In October, a delegation of Chinese billionaires visited Canada, and met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We are more interested in investing in environment technology [and] cleantech,” said Wang Chaoyong, chairman and chief executive officer of ChinaEquity, an independent venture capital firm, in an interview with the CBC.

The 800 or so Canadian companies in the cleantech sector export about $14-billion around the world annually, and they actually spend more money on research and development than Canada’s entire oil and gas sector, Mr. Rand says.

Analysts agree with Mr. Rand’s assessment that the market for exporters of basic solar and wind energy products in China is saturated and slowing. While China remains the world’s biggest clean-energy investor, in November, Bloomberg reported that the country lowered its targets for solar and wind power for 2020.

The Chinese National Energy Administration reduced its target for wind power by 27 per cent and solar by 16 per cent from earlier goals, Bloomberg reported. China has set a goal of generating 15 per cent of its power from renewable and nuclear energy by 2020.

Greenpeace says that China is still approving construction of greenhouse-gas emitting coal-fired power plants at the rate of four a week, but Mr. Rand says that, as long as the cleantech sector keeps growing at the same time, there will be opportunities for Canadian companies.

China remains the world’s largest investor in clean technology. Its carbon emissions are expected to peak in 2030 and then decline, “but I think it will come much sooner,” Mr. Rand says.

“Whatever else happens, we’ll all have to decarbonize,” he adds.

GreenMantra's Recycling Innovation

GreenMantra's Recycling Innovation

as published in Plant Magazine here

Look around the room you’re in. About 80% of its contents likely contain some kind of wax. Synthetic fire logs popular at Christmas time have wax in them and so does your shoe polish.

Here’s the problem: about 94% of the world’s waxes (a $10 billion global business) are made from crude oil, natural gas or coal. At a time when there’s so much focus on sustainable and greener produced goods, that just won’t fly. But it presents an opportunity for Brantford, Ont.-based GreenMantra Technologies Inc. The company founded in 2010 is a recycler that transforms plastics into high-value waxes, greases and lubricants, and pumps out 5,000 tonnes of product a year.

In May, GreenMantra finished two years of work on a new manufacturing operation at a former Cascades recycling facility in the city’s downtown.

GreenMantra sells its waxes to manufacturers producing goods such as glue, roofing shingles, ink and ashphalt. The new site is equipped with a semi-continuous production that’s both compact and modular that’s designed for future expansions and for upgrades to a continuous, fixed-bed process.

What started as a four-person endeavour has morphed into a team of 35, and is soon to grow by more than 25 as it ups its sales and marketing efforts.

Its new CEO, Kousay Said, joined the company last October. He’s a nearly 20-year veteran of Dow Chemical, the Michigan-based global chemical giant. Most recently he was chief commercial officer for Sirrus Inc., a manufacturer of high-performance monomers.

Ryan L’Abbe, vice-president of operations, and Domenic Di Mondo, director of research and business development, round out GreenMantra’s leadership team.

L’Abbe joined the company in 2015, coming from Blue Mountain Plastics in Feversham, Ont., a subsidiary of Ice River Springs Water Co., where he spearheaded development and operations of Canada’s largest recycler of post-consumer PET plastics.
Di Mondo, who was GreenMantra’s first employee, developed the company’s transition metal catalysts for converting biomass feedstocks to fine chemicals and has led the scale up from lab to production.

In June, GreenMantra received $600,000 through FedDev Ontario’s Investing in Business Innovation Initiative to expand market development activities and develop and implement a resource planning system to automate its production operations. It also received $750,000 from the agency in 2013 to complete final commercialization testing of its technology, a project that created 13 jobs.

There’s also funding from a number of Canadian and European private sector partners, including a $1 million injection through the MaRS Clean Tech Fund and $500,000 from the innovation incubator’s Investment Accelerator Fund.

There are two product lines. A Series waxes are meant for applications that require specific technical properties such as black masterbatch, dark PVC, recycled plastics and industrial adhesives. The G Series is compatible with plastics products such as paints, inks, rubber, tires, adhesives, paper and packaging.

The waxes are derived from hard-to-recycle plastics such as grocery bags, shrink wrap, bottle caps, milk jugs and shampoo bottles. The materials are seperated by resin type and fed into a patented catalytic depolymerization process to create wax. It is then filtered and purified to create higher-value waxes and chemicals.

“The key with our system is that we’re not converting polyethylene back into the same material, but into an upgraded material,” says L’Abbe, who came on-board after the company finalized a $12 million round of seed funding in private equity and government investment to scale up the Brantford plant.

“Depending on the customer, we have the ability to uniquely formulate and replicate the kind of wax they use.”
The two modular production lines are operational 24/5 but are capable of running 24/7. The company is in talks with a number of partners in the US and Canada to expand the next evolution of the production process, and is currently on the lookout for a second production facility.

“We want to do more refinining,” he says. “Our dream is to take a recycled feedstock and produce a perfectly white, de-oiled wax – and we’re working on the technologies to do that.”

At the heart of GreenMantra’s production process is a set of proprietary heterogeneous catalysts that enables selective thermal-catalytic depolymerisation reactions to occur. Di Mondo explains that the catalysts deliver higher yields and controls factors such as molecular weight and structural and thermal properties of its final product. The catalyst’s aluminum oxide regenerates back to its virgin form and re-impregnated with active metals.

The catalysts also allow GreenMantra’s process to operate at a much lower temperature than other chemical recycling processes while avoiding the randomness of depolymerizations experienced in processes based on pyrolysis or gasifaction.
“This allows us to deliver conversion rates as high as 97%,” says Di Mondo.

There are also plans to expand the number of feedstocks, such as agricultural films and polyethylene bagging, which typically don’t make it into the recycling stream. Those kinds of materials will force the company to continue updating its proprietary catalysts, but also allow it to get into the production of higher-valued products where yields per pound are much higher.

Their product expansion plans come at a good time. Statistics show it’s likely GreenMantra won’t run out of supply any time soon. Recycling programs that now accept and recycle plastic packaging have grown to the largest ever in 10 years, according to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. The association’s 2014 annual report shows the national rate for access to recycling of plastic non-bottle containers is at least 93% for the most common resin types of PET (polytheylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high-density polyethylene). Nonbottle containers made from other resin types, such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride), LDPE (low-density polyetehylene) and PP (polypropylene), have recycling access rates greater than 80%.

More than wax

But L’Abbe emphasizes: “We’re not fully vested in just making wax – we want to use our technology as a lever to enter a variety of other industries.”

The idea is to be a technology company that provides customers with a way to transform their businesses and develop new products or product lines.

GreenMantra has a number of local and global partners, including one in France that collects agricultural films and wants to turn them into higher-value products. L’Abbe says the company is currently working on a catalyst that would allow agricultural films to be recycled in the same way as a plastic bag. There’s also a partner in Saudi Arabia that wants to use GreenMantra’s technology to produce an extrusion-aiding wax on-site to get more output from the manufacturing process. And the City of Vancouver has tapped the company to develop a granular, wax-like material that’s added to asphalt, allowing it to flow smoothly at a much lower temperature. The material helps cut fuel costs required to heat the asphalt and limits the amount of vapours released into the atmosphere.

“Traditionally, people have thought of this as a waste plastics-to-fuel type business, but we’re not that. You can’t just throw random amounts of different plastics into a black box and expect wax to come out,” he says. “You have to depolymerize those resins in the wax to meet specific customer needs.”

Growth from start-up to full-scale commercial supplier has had its own set of challenges. But L’Abbe thinks the company has found a sweet spot in Brantford, an area in southwest Ontario that has been hungry for manufacturing capacity since the auto sector’s exit during the economic downturn of 2009.

There’s a healthy pool of qualified manufacturing workers and the plant’s proximity to university towns such as Guelph and Waterloo have also supplied a steady stream of qualified candidates for hire.

Taking over an old Cascades recycling facility also made things easy because there weren’t any issues related to zoning when construction of the plant began.

Yet as GreenMantra considers expansion into a second facility, L’Abbe has major concerns about Ontario’s high energy costs, especially for manufacturers, noting energy prices in the province are almost five times those in Quebec.

“[Energy prices] are out of control, and it’s really forcing manufacturers to look outside of Ontario as a place for growth,” he says.

He’d like to see the province find new ways to fund recycling companies. This could be achieved by examining procurement procedures to ensure the government is sourcing products that contain recycled materials.

“They have to an opportunity through procurement systems to actually make decisions about what they’re buying and from whom. They could drive the standards of buying material that contain recycled content. That would really help companies like us find a place for our products. If the government came out and said, ‘Ok, every new road has to contain 10% recycled content per kilometre,’ that would be huge for a company like us.”

In the meantime, GreenMantra will focus on expanding its portfolio of specialty chemicals and showing off its modular production system to potential partners. It’s also examining other resins, such as #7s, which are made up of feedstocks including reusable water, juice and condiment bottles, oven-baking bags, barrier layers and custom packaging.
The focus on greening industry is a positive development for the $10 billion global industrial wax sector. GreenMantra is in a prime position to play a key role in the industry’s transformation.

Smarter Alloys Receives $1.1 Million to Fast-Track the Cars of the Future

Smarter Alloys Receives $1.1 Million to Fast-Track the Cars of the Future

as released by SmarterAlloys

The Government of Canada has announced that Smarter Alloys™ will receive up to $1.1 million to develop advanced alloys for the automotive industry under the Automotive Supplier Innovation Program (ASIP).

The funding allows Smarter Alloys™ to apply its revolutionary Multiple Memory Material™ technology to produce smart and adaptive automotive parts. The Waterloo-based company’s proprietary innovation uses high-powered lasers to program metals at the atomic level, enabling them to shift from one defined shape to another. Components created from these “smart” alloys will offer auto-parts manufacturers lightweight and reliable alternatives to the bulky systems used today.

“With Multiple Memory Material™, we can replace heavy, complex electromagnetic actuators with a single wire that functions more reliably, more efficiently and more effectively,” said Smarter Alloys™ CEO Ibraheem Khan.

“These projects illustrate how Canada’s automotive suppliers are at the forefront of designing and building the super-efficient cars of the future — cars that are more energy-efficient and better for the environment,” said the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

ASIP is designed to help businesses develop and commercialize groundbreaking technologies. “We’re proud the federal government sees the potential in our technology,” said Khan. “We’re looking forward to helping build the cars of the future.”

About Smarter Alloys™ 
Smarter Alloys™ is at the forefront of the smart materials revolution. Our unique ability to program shape memory behaviour makes it possible to create complex machine-like function in simple devices. Thanks to Multiple Memory Material™ technology, we are transforming the design and utility of shape memory alloys used in automotive, medical, dental, aerospace and consumer industries. Founded in 2010 and based in Waterloo, Ontario, Smarter Alloys™ is a privately controlled Canadian corporation.

Rand on The Exchange: A Series of Debates w/ Fraser Institute

(listed from latest to earliest) March 21 - pre-budget - talking about how the federal budged might line up behind Canadian cleantech champions and enable Canada to take larger market share of the fast-growing $1 trillion cleantech market.

 

 

Feb 8 - Talking about National Energy Boards projections and how Canada has a lot to learn from little Uruguay.

Nov 16 - is cleantech growth a silver lining in our lackluster climate efforts?

Nov 2 - in which Fraser Institute makes the (indefensible and unsubstantiated claim) that adaptation is not only cheaper than mitigation, it's really the only response to climate.

Sept 21 - Is Canada too reliant on oil?

Aug 28 - On Obama's new clean air initiatives

July 27th - $180 B of energy reduction projects announced by US Corp giants (Apple, GE, Goldman, etc) ... Fraser Institute talks "crony capitalist" nonsense. That and the Tim's controversy ...

June 30 - Talking hydrogen-powered vehicles ...

June 16 - Talking oil sands moratorium. "The math doesn't work ..."

May 4 - On Tesla Energy's new Powerwall energy storage solution. "Teaching old dogs new tricks" (starts @ 28:00)

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April 20 - On Environment Canada's latest report that (no surprise!) we'll miss our 2020 emissions targets. (starts @28:00)

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Feb 23 - On SaskPower's Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) project: While unlikely to scale, CCS deserves exploration as we might wish we had it in coming years.  ...

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Feb 9 - On Trudeau's climate proposal... and why Canada's little 2% of global emissions really does matter.

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Jan 26 - On 2014 being the hottest year on record ... on the central role played by the oceans ... first 20% cuts are easy (see BC), but beyond that it will be difficult.

Subtitle:"Why not try, Ken?"

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 4.29.03 PM
Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 4.29.03 PM

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These next three - the first in the series - were spent largely establishing the core premise of any discussion on climate: the place to start is peer-reviewed expert consensus (pick your favourite - IPCC, International Energy Agency, National Academy of Science, etc). Without that premise, the show cannot provide smart contextual discussion to the Canadian business community. Disagreements about solutions are interesting, disagreements about the science are a futile distraction. Because that premise is difficult for the Fraser Institute to accept (in my view for ideological reasons) it can get a bit testy.

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Dec 1: On latest IPCC climate negotiations in Lima - Challenging the Fraser Institute (and The Exchange) on being data-driven if they can't accept the IPCC as the gold standard on climate mitigation. Adaptation vs mitigation: avoid the car crash, or just fix broken limbs?

Subtitle: "I just want a price on carbon" - see my blog response here.

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Nov 17 - On China/US agreement to work together on carbon reductions - also discussed: Canada's EcoFiscal Commission.

Subtitle:"Willful Ignorance" - see my blog response here.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.09.28 AM
Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.09.28 AM

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Nov 3 - A testy exchange about the latest dire warnings from the IPPC. We listen to the Canadian Medical Association on health risks (not our chain-smoking uncle). Wrt climate risk, we do well to start with the CMA equivalent (IPCC, IEA, National Academy of Science, etc) - who are very clear on climate risk: severe, irreversible, systemic.

Subtitle: "Listen to your doctor!"

 

Managing Partner Tom Rand is a regular contributor on The Exchange with Amanda Lang: e-Squared - an on-going debate with Kenneth Green of the Fraser Institute.

Op-Ed (G&M), An arm's-length green bank would accelerate Canada's climate transition

Op-Ed (G&M), An arm's-length green bank would accelerate Canada's climate transition

In order to accelerate Canada's transition to a low-carbon economy, and unlock private sector creativity in so doing, Rand proposes Canada/Ontario set up an arm's length 'green bank'. With a clear mandate, and free to be sensitive to the dynamics of market signals, such an institution would be far more effective in disbursing climate-related funds than a government ministry. Read it here:

An arm’s-length green bank would accelerate Canada’s climate transition

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Media coverage of Hydrostor's Toronto Hydro Launch

Media coverage of Hydrostor's Toronto Hydro Launch