From the lab to the export market - new innovations to combat climate change



Global demand for innovations to help combat climate change presents new opportunities for developers and marketers of clean energy and purification technologies. Many Canadian companies are answering the demand and finding ­success in niche markets.

Climate change worries, high oil prices and increasing government support are fuelling soaring rates of investment in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, according to a trend analysis from the UN Environment Programme. Growing consumer awareness of renewable energy and energy efficiency - and their longer-term potential for cheaper energy, not just greener energy - is another fundamental driver, the report said.

To that effect, environmentally friendly technologies are being developed to address a myriad of global challenges, including the need for alternate fuel sources, better drinking water treatment, and air and soil quality improvements.

Investment in the cleantech space is indicative of the increased attention to green innovation -- venture capital investment alone in this category has been estimated at $5 billion. Therefore, the advancement of these technologies is of significant interest to business and the ­public at large.

Canada’s environmental sector is tough to quantify, primarily because many companies that develop clean technologies, equipment and services conduct only part of their operations within the sector. 

GLOBE Foundation of Canada, a private non-profit institution that helps the Canadian environmental industry capitalize on international opportunities, estimated, in 2004, that the sector’s core comprised 10,000 companies and 250,000 employees doing close to $30 billion worth of business.

By 2007, a study by ECO Canada, the Sector Council for environmental industries, concluded that about 530,400 people were working either full-time or part-time on environmental activities.

Canadian international trade in environmental machinery and equipment to all countries in 2006 totalled $7.3 billion in exports and $10.9 billion in imports, primarily to and from the United States.

Around the world, GLOBE estimates environmental business to form a trillion dollar global market.

Growing demand for cleantech

'Changing public attitudes both in Canada and around the world are creating new demand for environmentally sound solutions in coming years,' says Dr. John Wiebe, President and CEO of GLOBE. 'And many Canadian environmental companies are helping other Canadian and international businesses to be more environmentally responsible and sustainable.'

One such company is Smartsoil Energy of Quebec. Marketing Manager Annie Boulanger’s job centers around explaining the company’s sophisticated landfill gas-to-energy conversion capabilities.

Smartsoil Energy recently completed a successful installation at a landfill in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where their technology will aid in the collection of gases created by waste decomposition. These gases will be cleaned and fed into a generation station. The end product: 6.4 megawatts of electrical power and 212,000 tons of equivalent carbon credits each year, which can be then sold on the market.

'Everybody wins with this type of installation,' says Boulanger. 'Not only are harmful gases transformed, but the output converts into electricity, which benefits the entire surrounding community.'

The Ciudad Juarez project is one of two that Smartsoil Energy is currently contracted to install in Mexico. A second is scheduled to be put in place near Cancun. And the company is in the advanced stages of negotiations to sell two more.  Smartsoil Energy’s new technologies have entered the market at a good time.

Growing public consciousness regarding the planet’s environmental challenges is creating new opportunities for many Canadian players. The company’s sales have already breached the $5 million mark. Created in 2002, the company has seen its employee base grow from 12 last year to more than 25. By 2009 that total is expected to double again.

By Peter Diekmeyer

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