Salad days of Canadian cleantech: We are lean, green, innovating machines

Salad days of Canadian cleantech: We are lean, green, innovating machines

Canada is home to millions of hectares of forests, mountains, meadows, lakes, rivers, and parks. With so much green space spread throughout the country, it’s only natural that our companies are “using what our mothers gave us,” and delivering world-changing innovations in cleantech, many of which embody the Canadian tradition that the best ideas are often the simplest. In honour of Canada Day, here are my favourites.

BIXI: Clean Transportation at its Best

While the greatest innovation to come out of Quebec is clearly poutine, the second best innovation is Montreal’s BIXI Bike System. While not the first bike sharing service, BIXI (Bike-Taxi) has brought cycling to the North American public in a big way – and in cities that have long been considered unfriendly to cyclists.

BIXI bikes are 100% Quebec-made and are designed to integrate into the urban landscape. And while the bikes themselves may not be a cleantech innovation, the BIXI system is; it integrates solar-powered docking stations with partnering smartphone apps that let users see bike and docking availability around the city.

The combination of technologies could eventually mean fewer cars on the road, less traffic jams and lower emissions. Thanks to BIXI, cycling has become an easy and environmentally friendly transportation alternative for Canadian city dwellers. This innovation has gained international recognition and can now be found in cities such as Toronto, Boston, Melbourne, and London.

Blue Boxes, a green solution

Back when McDonald’s food was still served in styrofoam containers, wide-scale recycling seemed like a pipedream. Enter the Blue Box recycling system, a system based on the practice of source separation recycling.

Also known as curbside recycling, it requires the separation of recyclables at the consumption source, allowing for faster and more efficient recycling transportation and processing. Created and honed in Kitchener, Ontario, in the 1980s, it has since become a global symbol for recycling and environmental activism.

Fast forward 30 years – Canadian innovators have created more new and exciting ways to recycle. MaRS client Green Mantra Recycling Technologies recycles plastic bags into high-quality commercial waxes. Last month, Switchable Solutions Inc. announced that it will be building its first plastics recycling plant in Mississauga. The company has created an efficient, economical and environmentally friendly approach to recycling post-consumer plastic motor oil containers, single-use polystyrene articles and expanded polystyrene foam packaging.

Here comes the sun

For many years, Canada was not a global leader in sustainable energy – but it looks like this is changing. Recently, Canadians have developed and implemented some exciting solar energy projects.

Last October, Enbridge Inc. and First Solar, Inc. began commercial operation of the Sarnia Solar Project, the largest operating photovoltaic facility in the world. Located in Sarnia, Ontario, this project produces no waste, creates the smallest carbon footprint of any photovoltaic technology available and will generate enough power to meet the needs of about 12, 800 homes.

In May 2011, the Toronto District School Board announced that it has entered into a 20-year partnership with two solar companies to have hundreds of solar panels installed on 450 school rooftops.

This historic agreement that will see school rooftops repaired and Toronto communities provided with green energy. And Toronto-based Morgan Solar (a MaRS client) has created the Sun Simba HCVP, which is breaking ground in solar technology. Inspired by the power electricity has to change lives in developing nations, Morgan Solar has “reinvented the wheel” in solar power by creating a lightweight, powerful, environmentally friendly and low-cost solar concentrator.

This is only a snapshot of Canada’s numerous cleantech initiatives, but it’s enough to make me proud to be (a green) Canadian. The future of Canadian cleantech innovation looks bright (solar-powered, of course) – many of the start-up companies here at MaRS may be the leaders of the future. And who knows…30 years from now, we may be peddling solar-powered BIXI-driven recycling trucks.