A good benchmark on the state of the cleantech industry in Canada is The Cleantech Report™. Recently issued by the Ontario Centre of Environmental Technology Advancement (OCETA) and the Russell-Mitchell Group, the report provides a good description of the industry, trends and drivers, barriers and opportunities in the cleantech and green tech industry. Although focused solely on Ontariobased companies, it has applicability to the rest of Canada.
The report itself provides good background information to the barriers to growth for cleantech companies. The Cleantech Report identifies investment as a key to the success of clean technology companies in the province. The report estimates that Ontario’s cleantech sector will require $800 million to $1.2 billion in investment for product commercialization over the next three to five years. These figures do not include investments in demonstration plants or proof-of-concept equipment.
One major difference between some cleantech companies and start-up in other sectors is the lengthy and sometimes complicated permitting process for some technologies. This is one obstacle that Canadian governments should be looking into so as to support the commercialization of local technologies. (See Editorial by STDC’s Vicky Sharpe.)
In many Canadian jurisdictions, the regulatory environment is not conducive to a demonstration testing of a new technology, especially if it involves thermal treatment. Startups are faced with face hefty consulting fees and long waits in order to get approval demonstrate their technology to potential customers. Without a successful full-scale demonstration, it’s extremely difficult to convince a customer to buy an unproven solution. By assisting in the development of a domestic market for made-in-Canada clean technologies, governments will be providing invaluable assistance to the sector.
Who are these guys?
Almost half of the 145-page document is dedicated to profiles of Ontario-based clean technology companies. The information in the profiles is similar to what one would typically find from a company website — a summary of the company, the product or technology, key people and contact information.
I know a good number of the companies profiled in The Cleantech Report. Despite the common perception that cleantech companies are new, some of them have been around for 20 years or more. I’m surprised some are still around considering that they are still waiting for the big commercial breakthrough!
Of the sixty companies profiled, 21 are micro-sized (10 or less employees) and 22 are small (between 11 and 50 employees). Based on this sampling, it appears that a good portion of the sector in Ontario is not far removed from garage operations. Note that I oppose garage technology startups; I realize that Bill Gates founded Microsoft out of his garage.
In my view, cleantech companies, in general, represent great potential for investment. However, there are no shortage of dogs and very few stars. In order to avoid the former and find the latter, due diligence is necessary; don’t invest just because a company is in a new “hot space.” The analysis of the product, the people, the regulatory climate, and the competition should be no different for a cleantech company then one in any other well-established sector.
Below are my insights on some of the cleantech companies I’m familiar with from the The Cleantech Report. In some cases I’ve worked with the companies and in others, I’ve interviewed them for my articles in HazMat Management or Solid Waste & Recycling magazine.
Altech. This company has been around for over 20 years. The company has been involved in the development and commercialization of a number of technologies in Canada ranging from soil cleanup to wastewater treatment and air pollution control.
Biorem. With its roots at the University of Waterloo, this company has grown to be a world leader in providing engineered biofilters for odour control at wastewater treatment plants, abattoirs and composting facilities. Publicly traded, this company is a good example of a Canadian clean technology success story.
Bluezone. It’s hard to believe but this company has been around for over 10 years, still arguably in the start-up phase. The company’s advanced technology captures “sleeping gas” used in hospital operating rooms and cleans it for reuse. The environmental benefit of the technology is that it prevents of the release of toxic and GhG gases. Unfortunately, cash-strapped hospitals have a hard time justifying the budget for the technology within any voluntary effort of reducing toxic emissions or GhG gases. Tougher regulations on emission or a cap-and-trade system for GhGs would greatly help this company grow.
Environmental Waste International. Listed on the TSX-V, this five-employee company has been around since 1992. Since that time, the company has been developing its microwave technology to treat various waste streams. With limit commercial success in North America it is currently chasing leads in China with the assistance of Inteeds Solutions Inc.
Envirotower Inc. If you want to succeed in green tech, have a technology that works better and cheaper then conventional methods. EnviroTower delivers on both counts. Its technology cleans water from cooling towers without the need of conventional chemicals at up to 20 per cent less cost. The environmental benefits are an added bonus. Choosing EnviroTower’s water treatment system is a no brainer for a building owner looking to retrofit an existing cooler water system or needing a new one.
Fielding Chemical. One might not normally think of a chemical company as “the good guys.” However, this company can rightly claim to employ a “green collar” workforce as it recovers chemicals for reuse. The company has been recycling chemicals since 1955 at its Mississauga facility; it shows you can be “green” without fitting the clich of a new, flashy cleantech company.
Napier Reid. This is another company that has been around since the 1950s. Specializing in water and wastewater treatment, the company integrates technologies into packaged treatment plants. It’s adept at integrating various water treatment technologies, having completed almost 3,000 projects worldwide since its inception.
Plasco. Thanks to its president, Rod Bryden, this company was the first advanced thermal treatment company in Ontario to get a demonstration facility built that thermally treated municipal solid waste. If the company can prove that its gasification system in Ottawa works, it may have a future building WTE plants and treating municipal waste for about $65 per tonne.
Pontaralo Engineering Inc. This is a good example of a company that takes a waste (plastic) and turns it into a product (a flooring system). Founded in 1995, the 110-employee company supplies a patented structural flooring system made from recycled plastic that replaces gravel and hard fill. The flooring system also provides a barrier against subsurface VOCs, radon gas, and humidity.
Quantum Murray. This company is a player in a traditional industry (demolition) that has rebranded itself as a recycler and part of the new economy. Quantum Murray, like any major demotion company, recycles major components of buildings but — in its case — also provides remediation and other environmental services.
REMCO. When I first met the representatives of this LED lighting company in 2003, they valued their company to have a potential worth of $1 billion. After five years, they have three employees and have a way to go before reaching their anticipated worth. Who knows what the future holds.
Stormfisher. The vast majority of cleantech start-ups consist of technological entrepreneurs looking for financing. Stormfisher is an exception. It was founded by three MBA graduates looking to get into the b
ioenergy space by first having money and then finding technologies. With $350 million to invest, they are arguably the most richly funded developer of biogas energy projects in the world.
Tadger. I’ve witnessed first-hand the ability of the TADGER to reduce pollution emissions from vehicles. Sales have never taken off partially because of the myriad of other fuel-saving devices on the market. It’s too bad — I own shares in the company.
John Nicholson, M. Sc., P. Eng. is based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at email@example.com
“In many Canadian jurisdictions, the regulatory environment is not conducive to a demonstration testing of a new technology.”