The Conference Board of Canada recently released a report card that painted a gloomy picture of Canada’s performance against that of the best countries in the world. In a number of categories, including innovation, Canada scored poorly.
When asked about Canadian environmental technology companies that are world leaders, my response had been Trojan Technologies and Zenon, both water treatment companies. Trojan Technologies was founded in 1977 and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Danaher Corporation of Washington, D.C. Zenon started up in Burlington, Ontario in 1980 and is now part of GE Water and Process Technologies.
Who can claim to be the next Canadian companies that are world leaders in environmental technology? Two companies with which I’ve worked may prove to next. Interestingly, they both specialize in the odor measurement and control market.
Anyone familiar with the measurement of odor understands how difficult it can be. The traditional method of measurement is to collect samples in a special bag, and then have a panel of people smell diluted samples back in the lab. Weeks after the odor has been collected an analytical report is issued; it’s only based on samples taken at a specific time and a very precise location. The cost, time, and effort in traditional or “manual” method of analysis are considerable and it provides very limited information.
Founded in 1998, Odotech has developed the world’s first automated environmental odor monitoring system using electronic noses. The Montreal-based company has installations at wastewater treatment plants, compost facilities, landfills, and rendering plants in Quebec, France, Italy, Spain, and the United States.
Odotech’s e-nose system, called OdoWatch(r), consists of electronic noses (e-noses), a weather tower, and a Central Control Unit. Each e-nose contains an array of 16 metal-oxide-semiconductor sensors optimized for the odors of the site. The e-noses sample the air 24 hours a day, and transmit the data to the Central Control Unit where the proprietary software merges them with the meteorological data in order to model the atmospheric dispersion of odors. This information helps the plant operator with the objective management of odor control.
Established in 1991, Biorem Technologies Inc. has built the reputation as the premier provider of advanced biological pollution control systems in the industry.
Based in Guelph, Ontario and a publicly traded company (TSXV: BRM), Biorem has more than 550 biofilter installations worldwide. Clients requiring odor control include wastewater treatment plants, waste transfer and composting facilities, rendering plants, and food processors. Biorem biofilters are also utilized to control emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from spray paint operations, chemical manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals.
In simple terms, biofiltration involves the utilization of naturally occurring bacteria to digest odor-causing organic pollutants in the exhaust. The bacteria grow are immobilized on a growing substrate which allows them to digest the odor-causing contaminants in the air as it passes over the media.
One major difference between a Biorem system and the majority of older systems is the filter media. This company’s biofilters are made up of a media upon which naturally occurring bacteria grow. When air is passed through the media, the bacteria digest the odour-causing contaminants. The media is permanent (never needing replacement) and has consistent, predictable performance over the life of the installation, according to the company.
A major key to the success of both Odotech and Biorem is the research and development efforts that went into their respective technologies. Odotech is a spin-off of the cole Polytechnique de Montral Engineering School. Biorem’s biofilter technology was a development at the University of Waterloo.
Although these companies are at the leading edge of their respective technologies, it takes time for a technical innovation to be accepted to the point where it becomes the new standard. The companies have made great strides in that direction. (For instance, global company Veolia Water is the worldwide distributor of the Odowatch technology in the wastewater treatment sector.)
For odor measurement, Odotech is faced with a challenge: It has to explain that there is no correlation between knowing the concentration (in ppm or ppb) of the compounds present in the air and knowing the odor of that air sample (except in special cases that involve one or two compounds). The odor picture is far more complex.
For biofiltration, Biorem is faced with the challenge of convincing operators that a modern biofiltration is more complex than blowing odor-causing air through a pile of wood chips. The additional challenge is to educate skeptics of biofiltration that the bias against the technology was likely the result of being exposed to the exhaust from a wood-chip biofilter.
Canada does have environmental technology companies that are world class. Under the right conditions, as identified in the Conference Board of Canada report, more could be cultivated.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at email@example.com