Cool Companies: Alberta's Clean Technologies 2011

Industry Overview

Excerpt from Cool Companies By Claudia Sammer

Read PDF version that appeared in the Cool Companies industry guide [PDF]

The Cleantech Revolution is our conscious decision to rethink what we’re doing and change our behaviour so we can restore the planet in preparation for our children and generations to follow. Breaking this down to everyday life, with growing awareness and new thinking we are learning what to do. It’s eye opening what clean technology includes, but it really just boils down to three basic things:
   1. Reverse the trends in CO2 emissions
   2. Reduce, reuse, recycle and recover
   3. Restore nature
In the process, the Cleantech Revolution is improving our productivity and quality of life, lowering costs, creating healthier environments and more knowledge based jobs, diversifying economies and making us new found money along the way.

Proof Alberta has cleantech
This book is focused on Alberta, Canada. Alberta is a place well known for its fresh air, the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the wide open spaces of the prairies, the boreal forests of the north, and the haunting beauty of the badlands. Alberta is also very fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources—oil, natural gas, coal—that have made it an energy world leader.

What you likely don’t know is that Alberta is home to a fascinating collection of companies pioneering their own space in the cleantech industry—in a land dominated by oil and gas activities, this is a very surprising discovery. Each of these clean technology companies is driven by innovation and entrepreneurial determination to make a meaningful contribution to the world’s Cleantech Revolution. They are the calibre of companies that will make you think, “Wow….Cool.” It’s important to emphasize that these are only a sample; there’s more. Our sample also only focuses on technology driven companies; there’s lots of service driven ones too.

Together, these cleantech companies and the innovators in traditional energy are proof that Alberta’s energy industry is carving out a new definition of itself: it is becoming a modern energy innovation leader that will be a global player in the Cleantech Revolution.

Alberta’s cleantech industry
Prepare to be amazed by Alberta’s cleantech companies.  We have grouped them into four major categories: Clean Power, Energy Efficiency, Green Buildings and The Environment (see pp.2-3). The scope of technologies and ideas that each category covers is remarkable. Here are highlights of some of the companies, initiatives and people leading Alberta’s cleantech industry:

Alberta’s innovators for reducing CO2
Alberta has three companies that will soon have the world’s attention for their fresh ideas on what to do with the CO2 problem:

  • Carbon Engineering (profiled p.61)—The apartment-looking structure (pictured) is a small version of the commercial scale innovation that will soon be built to clean CO2 directly out of the air.
  • Carbonitum Energy (profiled p.60)—After capturing and purifying CO2, one solution is storing it safely underground (see CCS p.59). Combining solar power and nanotechnology, Carbonitum’s novel idea is to convert the CO2 into natural gas and use it as fuel. All of a sudden, this could change CO2 from being a burden into a renewable resource.
  • Profero Energy (profiled p.60 )—Methane is a cleaner fuel source than oil because it releases about 40% less CO2 than oil when burned. There are naturally-occurring bacteria underground that eat heavy oil and in the process convert it to methane. While this conversion naturally takes millions of years, Profero Energy has found a way to accelerate it to months.

The Kestrel biocomposite electric car
Calgary-based Motive Industries (profiled p.27) is pioneering the development of Canada’s first biocomposite electric car called the Kestrel (pictured, pp.26-30). Development of the electric car has come a long way and the Kestrel has many additional innovations. One of these innovations is that its body will be made of an advanced biocomposite comprised of a blend of plant fibre such as flax or hemp (which are renewable and have low environmental impact) and glass fibers strengthened with an environmentally-friendly resin. Through this and related projects, Alberta is emerging as a world leader in the new industry of biocomposite materials. Another striking achievement of the Kestrel project is the amount and scope of entrepreneurial collaboration among different companies, researchers and industry supporters. Such multidisciplinary teams are an emerging characteristic of next generation innovation breakthroughs.

Alberta’s transportation companies
This Cool Companies book has likely captured the largest collection ever of Alberta-based transportation companies advancing the cleantech industry. In addition to the Kestrel from Motive Industries, it includes:

  • The world’s lightest one-man helicopter (p.35)
  • Helium-assisted airships for travel to the north (p.35)
  • A new ultra-efficient engine (p.31)
  • A ten-year oil filter that triples the lifetime of an engine’s oil while reducing wear on the engine (p.33)
  • A shoe technology that increases a person’s energy efficiency (p.34)
  • An unmanned aircraft from Boeing is designed to fly continuously for 5 years powered by solar energy and a special fuel cell developed in Alberta (Versa Power Systems p.35, profiled p.38)

Inventor James Klassen
James Klassen has a talent in mechanical and industrial design that could make him a household name like Bombardier. This Cool Companies book has profiled four of his new companies in the cleantech space and it is the first time they will receive public attention. Two of those companies are inventions for new ultra-efficient engines that could become the engines of the Cleantech Revolution:

  • Revolute Power (profiled p.31) is developing an engine with only 3 moving parts that could replace the internal combustion engine in automobiles, ships and trains. It is also being developed for use as a generator on Motive Industries’ new Kestrel electric car (pp.26-30).
  • Cold Power Systems (profiled p.41) is developing a lightweight, low-cost alternative to the Stirling engine that can be used to generate electricity from heat in cogeneration applications (p.40).
  • James’ two other profiled companies are PowerDisk Development (profiled p.34) which produces a new shoe technology and RASOR Skimmer (profiled p.67) which has a brand new technology for cleaning oil spill disasters offshore.

Industrial optimizers
Alberta-based companies are pioneering other technologies that could revolutionize energy efficiencies and environmental footprints in industrial applications:

  • A new high efficiency refrigeration/heater could be a game changer for many industries. It might even enable mainstream use of solar air conditioning and new low energy water treatment options for processing salt or polluted water. (May-Ruben Thermal Solutions profiled p.43).
  • A new pasteurization process may reinvent the economics of making milk, juice, beer and wine (Hieco profiled p.42).
  • A new nanotechnology is revolutionizing the energy efficiency and economics of petrochemical refining (Quantiam Technologies profiled p.43). Quantiam is part of Alberta’s growing  nanotechnology and advanced materials industry which includes NINT (National Institute for Nanotechnology p.57). While the industry has already doubled in the past three years, the Cool Companies book that defined it in 2008 is available for free on our website,
    Breakthrough remote sensing technology for gas emissions monitoring will help natural gas operators accurately and efficiently find leaks and save greenhouse gas emissions (Synodon profiled p.44).
  • A new smart grid technology that detects abnormalities in electrical grids provides the insight to make significant energy improvements. It can also be used to detect marijuana grow operations. (dTechs profiled p.41).

Fuel cells also optimize energy use
Alberta has four companies with fuel cell technology (pp.37-38) and strong academic support (p.39):

  • Fuel cells from Versa Power Systems (profiled p.38) are used to convert natural gas to electricity with 85% energy conversion efficiency in cogeneration applications (p.40).
  • Gen-X Power (profiled p.38) may have developed the world’s first compact user-friendly and affordable fuel cell that could replace a D sized battery (pictured).
  • Fuel cells from DDI Energy already provide remote off-grid power generation in places like Africa (profiled p.37).
  • Evergreen Energy’s combination fuel cell/solar power generator has proven it can deliver the electricity needed to keep a natural gas or oil well operational in the coldest winter weather while saving money and reducing the well’s environmental footprint (profiled p.37).

Water conservation
Water protection is a priority in Alberta, which means using less of it, recycling it and cleaning it. The book’s sample of water leaders focuses on companies that can safely, quickly and effectively clean and recycle water.

North American leader in waste management
Garbage is no longer waste; it’s a renewable resource. Supported by the Edmonton Waste Management Centre of Excellence, the City of Edmonton (pp.54, 56) has become a North American leader in waste management. Since 2000, Edmonton has been capable of diverting 60% of its residential solid waste from landfill. Through a partnership with Enerkem (profiled p.55), Edmonton will increase its waste diversion rate to 90% by 2013, which is the highest in North America. Edmonton also is the first city in North America to have a closed loop paper recycling plant (Greys Paper Recycling profiled p.55) that will produce 100% post-consumer recycled paper at the same price as regular paper.

Creating value from biomass
Creating value from the waste of plants and animals is a growing industry and Alberta is a pioneer in this area. It also has strong industry support and a growing team of academic researchers creating further advances. Some of the innovation leaders include:

  • Highmark Renewables has proven technology that converts cattle manure, slaughterhouse byproducts and kitchen waste into green electricity and organic biofertilizer (profiled p.16).
  • Symbiotic EnviroTek could have the world’s first commercial-scale algae operation to produce biofuel and other high-value products. Algae is the world’s fastest growing plant and generates 15x more oil per acre than most other plants used to make biofuel (profiled p.17).
  • Kyoto Fuels is Canada’s largest biodiesel plant and is looking to double its capacity in 2012 to keep up with growing demand (profiled p.16).

Alberta emerging as a green building leader
Since buildings consume 30% of our energy, making them more energy efficient is a priority. A growing focus in Alberta is making buildings that have ultra-low energy consumption and produce their own energy from an alternative source such as solar, wind or geothermal. Such buildings are known as net zero energy. To further reduce costs and environmental impact, a number of Alberta-based builders (p.53) are moving to constructing complete walls, floors and roofs in a factory and connecting them like Lego on a building site. The Landmark Group of Builders (profiled p.47) will soon be producing 900 to 1,200 net zero homes a year with its new state-of-the-art factory that will be the most advanced of its kind in North America.

Lots of sunshine for solar
Few people know that Alberta has some of the sunniest regions in Canada, giving it a huge solar resource. Compared to other parts of the world, solar energy generation is still in its infancy in Alberta, but the province has some innovative solar projects completed and underway as well as researchers developing the next generation of solar technology.

Plenty of strong wind
Alberta is Canada’s pioneer in wind power. The first wind turbine in Canada was set up in Pincher Creek, Alberta, in 1993. Soon southern Alberta’s powerful winds attracted more wind turbines and Alberta led the country in wind power generation until it was surpassed in 2008. As of March 2011, Alberta has done some catching up and has Canada’s second largest wind generation capacity and new installations are underway. It also has companies making significant improvements to wind technology (pp.21-22).  

Innovations in traditional energy
Innovation and new ideas are also reshaping Alberta’s traditional energy industry. It cannot go back to “business as usual”. There is a concern that Alberta’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will continue to rise as energy production increases to keep up with the global demand for energy. Oil production at Alberta’s oil sands, for example, are expected to double by 2015. Curious about the progress of innovations happening in the oil sands, Donald Rumball investigated and reported his findings in the oil sands chapter (pp.68-75) of this Cool Companies book. He found nine companies developing innovative technologies and projects to increase production output, decrease its environmental impact and often both (pp.69-73). He also found numerous collaborations with Alberta’s universities and research institutes (pp.74-75).

In our research, we also discovered that Canada is positioned to become a world leader in the emerging practice of carbon capture and storage, or CCS for short. CCS is capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) and storing it underground in the same way that oil, gas and even CO2 has been stored for millions of years. Alberta will be using CCS to help meet its GHG emissions reduction targets. Although the integration of CCS is new, the oil and gas industry has been using naturally occurring underground CO2 for years to pressurize wells in order to increase production.
Alberta has four world-class CCS projects underway (p.59). Two of these innovative projects are demonstrations of clean coal production where the resulting energy is carbon neutral; that is, coal production will become cleaner energy. These projects will make Canada a leader in this technology. Canada’s CCS program is also supported by a large team of scientists and we have profiled the research work of a handful (pp.62-63).

A modern energy leader
This is an exciting time for Alberta’s energy industry—both traditional energy and cleantech have many new innovations that will soon be rolled out to the world to advance the Cleantech Revolution.

It is also a time of great collaboration, which is an innovation in its own right. Companies, scientists and industry supporters have been actively working together for a long time. But now collaborations are increasing in scope and becoming multi-disciplinary, as demonstrated by the Kestrel electric car project driven by Motive Industries (p.27) and even new oil spill technology from RASOR Skimmer (p.67). These synergies will become a source of innovation breakthroughs that will spawn more collaborations until this becomes our new way of life. It’s all going to mix into one: Alberta is on its way to merging its cleantech and traditional energy industries to redefine Alberta as a modern energy innovator and leader.

What does this future look like? Some of the international energy producers have already started down this path:

  • Texas, USA: With decreasing oil and gas reserves, Texas now leads the US in generating renewable energy from wind. 
  • Aberdeen, Scotland: Oil from offshore drilling made Aberdeen the centre of Europe’s oil production. But as its oil dwindles, it is reinventing itself as a hub for the development of renewable technology.
  • Masdar, United Arab Emirates: Fuelled by investments of oil money, the new city of Masdar being built aspires to be one of the most sustainable cities in the world. Soon 40,000 residents will live in the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste city powered entirely by renewable energy sources.

Of course, Alberta’s future as a modern energy leader will be unique to Alberta and play on its strengths, which include an abundance of fossil fuels, world class solar and wind resources and lots of bright people innovating and collaborating.
Based on the innovations explored in this Cool Companies book, there will likely be more corporations, organizations and even cities and energy producers that will optimize their efficiencies and save money by using cogeneration (p.40), new industrial technologies (pp.41-43), decentralized energy (pp.40, 57), and fuel cells (pp.37-39). We will see more green buildings (p.46) being built or as retrofits. There will be an increased emphasis on minimizing waste and water use. Many will also take the next step of generating their own power from renewable energy which includes solar, wind, biomass and geothermal (pp.10-25). Near a river, they could even generate their own hydropower (pp.24-25).

Already in Alberta, biofuel producers are working with traditional oil producers to ensure gasoline and diesel contain biofuels. As well, people who made their money in traditional energy have become investors in cleantech and there are many more companies profiled in this book looking for investors. Technology from the oil fields inspired new wind technology being developed in Alberta (pp.21-22). Cleantech companies are creating products for the oil and gas industry such as bio-drilling muds from Kyoto Fuels (p.18) and high performance filters to collect black power erosion in oil and gas pipelines from One Eye Industries (p.33). Numerous energy-related research projects are underway through the Alberta-Germany collaboration at the Helmholtz-Alberta Alliance (p.75).

In our individual lives we will also learn to make more changes that reduce our energy use and carbon footprint. We will see more people increase the energy efficiency of their residences and buy local foods and products. We will have more green communities (p.47) we can live in, including the $1.8 billion Rampart’s Avenir project being built outside of Edmonton for 12,000 people which aims to be North America’s largest clean technology innovation community. We will also see more hybrid and electric cars on the road. Maybe more people will walk and ride bikes or use transit systems. Some of us might even modify our diets to include more low CO2 producing foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, grains and fish; it would be healthier for our bodies as well.

Alberta is a land of opportunities and innovative spirit. As demonstrated in this book, it is evolving into a uniquely-Alberta modern energy leader making an impact on the Cleantech Revolution. In the next edition of this book, we expect to see a lot more incredible innovations and collaborations, international success stories and the continuous adoption of clean technologies and proven ideas from traditional energy applied to cleantech in Alberta. 

Profiled for free
None of the profiled companies paid to participate in this book. They have also not pre-ordered books nor are there any promises or expectations to do so when the book is printed. Just ask any one of them. Many thanks to you—the readers. And also thank you to the over 300 people involved in collaborating with us to develop this book. It was fun to meet and work with you.