PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MONICA GUAN
Another year means another success for Canada in cleantech. Twelve Canadian companies, including six supported by MaRS, have made it onto the Global Cleantech 100, an annual list of the world’s most innovative green technology companies.
The list is published by the Cleantech Group, a research firm based in San Francisco, and Canada’s entries were surpassed in number only by the United States.
Tyler Hamilton, director of cleantech ecosystems at MaRS, attributes Canada’s success to earlier government investment in cleantech R&D, which he believes is now paying off. “We have companies now entering that stage where they’ve got a commercial product and they’re starting to make headway, and they’ve raised a critical mass of capital that’s allowing them to scale up.”
The challenge now, he says, will be dealing with the “growing pains” that companies often go through when they become bigger and figure out how to match growth to their scale. But still, the future’s looking bright. With tech ventures in carbon capture, energy storage, hydrogen and more, Canada is showing no signs of ending its green streak.
Here’s a look at the Canadian companies on the Cleantech 100 list and the waves they’re making across the world.
What it does: Carbon Upcycling captures carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources and combines them with natural minerals or industrial by-products like fly ash (a waste material of coal power plants). It then locks it all away in concrete — a stronger, more durable concrete — thanks to its catalytic reactor technology.
Why it’s important: Cement and concrete production make up eight percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and Carbon Upcycling is positioned to bring that number down. The company also focuses on locally sourcing the industrial by-products and natural minerals according to the location of the carbon emitter they’re working with, which keeps costs low and helps reduce waste.
What it does: Eavor (pronounced “ever”) is all about its Eavor-Loop: a giant reverse radiator it digs into the ground to absorb geothermal heat and use it to generate electricity. It’s like the radiator that circulates fluid to cool down your car engine, only Eavor’s technology works in reverse, to bring heat up for harvesting.
Why it’s important: A partnership with investment firm Deep Energy Capital puts Eavor in position to build at least five projects in Europe and North America. Eavor is hopeful this move will give it the push it needs to popularize geothermal energy, which is a constant power source (unlike wind or solar) yet forms only a small percentage of renewable generation.
What it does: Hydrogen is clean burning and a good alternative to fossil fuels — but it can be expensive. Ekona Power has figured out how to make it cheap. It converts natural gas into hydrogen through its low-cost pulse-combustion technology, and it eliminates 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by turning the carbon produced as a by-product into a solid form that can be stored and utilized in other ways later.
Why it’s important: A low-cost hydrogen source could be a game-changer for this alternative fuel source. Although the potential of hydrogen to power some vehicles and some industrial processes has been recognized for years, the cost of producing it — together with doubts about whether some techniques for making it were eliminating carbon emissions or just shifting them elsewhere — has held it back. Ekona Power’s hydrogen could popularize this power source and offer some faster gains in the fight to reduce greenhouse gases.
What it is: e-Zinc has low-cost electricity storage figured out: it stores power in zinc. The company has developed a storage system that’s composed of electro-chemical cells, with zinc dissolved in a liquid electrolyte. The zinc takes solid form when the power comes through, and it can maintain this form for days at a time. When it’s time to discharge, the zinc dissolves and gets ready for the next charging cycle.
Why it’s important: Zinc is a cheap and abundant global resource that’s 100 percent recyclable. For some uses, that makes it a potential alternative to lithium, the increasingly costly metal that’s dominating the battery world right now. e-Zinc’s solution could effectively turn wind and solar into constant power sources by storing renewable energy to power homes and businesses during production down times (like windless nights). Its low-cost technology could help get remote communities off diesel generators.
e-Zinc is a MaRS-supported venture.
What it is: More than 20 percent of energy consumed around the world is lost as heat — like when you’re charging your phone and it gets warm. GaN Systems wants to fix that. It specializes in gallium nitride semiconductors, which are more efficient than the silicone ones that have been in computers of all kinds for decades.
Why it’s important: This past year, GaN Systems was selected to put its semiconductors in the chargers of Samsung’s flagship phone lines, the Galaxy S22+ and S22 Ultra. Their inclusion in such a popular consumer product bodes well not just for the company but for the future of gallium nitride semiconductors.
What it is: You’d think keeping your ear to the ground would be the best way to solve the Earth’s problems, but the folks at GHGSat prefer to do it from above (and with their eyes). They make sensors that monitor greenhouse gas emissions from satellites or aircraft. A typical workflow for the company might include detecting the leak from one of their six small satellites in space, and then following up with a closer look from a sensor equipped to an aircraft. In fact, you can see its findings yourself: it has a methane map on its website that pinpoints exactly where the hot spots are.
Why it’s important: With clients in oil and gas, coal mining, waste management, government, power generation, and agriculture, GHGSat offers a clear image of where the top problem spots in the world are, and where the small remote ones are too. And with six more satellites on the way, the image it provides will only get clearer.
GHGSat is a MaRS-supported venture.
What it is: Hydrostor stores renewable energy using compressed air. At times of surplus energy generation, it sends compressed air into an underground cavern, where it displaces water to form a reservoir. When the reservoir fills up, the storage system is charged, so to speak. And when communities nearby need power, Hydrostor reverses the process to turn a turbine that sends power back to the grid.
Why it’s important: Hydrostor’s system is low-cost and emissions-free, plus its mining methods give it flexibility when it comes to choosing where to build its caverns. It has major projects in the works in California and Australia. And with its newly appointed strategic advisor, David J. Hayes, the company now has someone with White House experience on its side. Hayes worked in the Biden administration as a special assistant to the U.S. president on climate policy.
Hydrostor is a MaRS-supported venture.
What it is: Like Ekona, Ionomr Innovations is on the hunt for low-cost hydrogen. It too has figured out how to bring the price down, but in a different way. Hydrogen is often captured through electrolysis (using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen). Ionomr produces a membrane that makes this process cost effective and less environmentally damaging, thanks to its use of hydrocarbon materials rather than the typically-used perfluorinated sulfonic acid (PFSA), which is difficult to dispose of.
Why it’s important: Ionomr’s membrane is poised to help scale up the hydrogen economy. It has received big investments from oil and gas giants like Shell and Chevron, which shows the technology has wide appeal. It has also expanded operations this past year by moving forward on plans to build an electrolysis research and development area in Rochester, N.Y.
Ionomr is a MaRS-supported venture.
What it is: Due to its scarcity and sky-rocketing cost, lithium is not the most smile-inducing metal on the market right now. But Mangrove Lithium wants to change that. It works right at the extraction level, providing an electro-chemical process that converts impure rock extracts into high-purity lithium hydroxide on the spot. That allows producers to skip the lengthy and costly process of refining the extract to lithium chloride and then shipping it overseas for additional refining into lithium hydroxide, which is the compound that’s needed to make batteries. Mangrove offers a similar service for battery recycling too.
Why it’s important: Any effort at reducing the cost of lithium is a welcome one. Its technology greatly reduces the complexity of the supply chain, and its battery recycling shows promise, too — it will help bring more lithium back into a world that badly needs it, especially as more and more vehicles go battery powered.
What it is: Electric vehicles demand a lot from their batteries, and they wear out fairly quickly. Which begs the question: how can we reuse them? Moment Energy’s strategy is to take old electric car batteries and use them to store energy where the demands are less intensive. Its storage system can help companies store energy for high-cost peak hours and also provides a low-cost option to off-grid users who are often in remote areas and have to rely on polluting energy sources, like diesel generators.
Why it’s important: Moment Energy has signed a supply agreement with luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz. The deal will provide Moment with plenty of batteries for its most recent 60-kilowatt-hour energy storage solution, two of which it has deployed at an off-grid (and formerly diesel-dependent) scuba diving resort on Vancouver Island. Electric vehicles are expected to make up 70% of US automotive sales by 2030, which is a whole lot of batteries ready to be deployed for a whole lot of clients.
Moment Energy is a MaRS-supported venture
What it is: When you combine artificial intelligence with water, you get Pani. It is an AI-powered platform that monitors sensor data from water treatment and desalination plants and makes recommendations to improve efficiency. Pani provides advanced modelling via a cloud-based platform that interacts with both historic and real-time sensor data in the water plant. It then gives recommendations to operators, with the goal of reducing costs, lowering risks, cutting emissions and preventing downtime.
Why it’s important: Pani Energy CEO and founder Devesh Bharadwaj started the company to address a startling statistic: 60 percent of humanity’s needs for clean water are unmet. According to Pani (which is Hindi for “water”) the answer lies in data. It argues that a lack of digitization exacerbates water supply shortages. A more efficient system, driven by AI, might be just what’s needed to begin lowering that percentage down from 60.
Pani Energy is a MaRS-supported venture.
What it is: Svante is out to change the carbon capture game. It uses metal-organic filters, which are efficient, resistant to degradation, inexpensive, and capture 95% of carbon dioxide from flue gas streams emitted from smokestacks. After capturing the carbon, Svante spins it through rotary machines and hits it with rapid temperature swings. The result is compressed, highly concentrated carbon dioxide that can be stored deep underground, via a pipeline, or recycled into other products.
Why it’s important: Heavy manufacturing industries like steel aren’t going anywhere, and they’re big producers of carbon dioxide. The technology that Svante provides can eliminate almost all the carbon that comes out of flue gas streams in these industries, providing a win-win scenario where a cleantech company can help an old-school manufacturer not only vastly reduce emissions, but increase its revenue too, by giving it the means to sell or repurpose its captured carbon product.
Canada is experiencing its greatest innovation boom ever. MaRS sits at the fulcrum of that progress. Read our latest to Impact Report to learn more.