Cool company alert: DynaMotive Energy Systems


Surprise, surprise — yet another Vancouver-based cleantech find. I really need to move to the West Coast.

DynaMotive Energy Systems Corp., which is traded over the counter under the ticker DYMTF, uses a patended “pyrolysis” process to convert forest and agricultural waste — everything from sawdust to tree bark — into a clean-burning renewable fuel it calls BioOil. This fuel can be used for power generation in gas turbines, diesel engines and boilers.

According to its Web site, “The process takes less than two seconds to produce BoiOil, char and non-condensable gases. There is zero waste as the BioOil and char has significant commercial application and value and the non-condensable gases are recycled and produce approximately 75 per cent of the energy required for the pyrolysis process.”

It says the BioOil it produces is greenhouse gas neutral, doesn’t produce sulfur dioxide emissions during combustion and releases half of the nitrogen oxide of comparative fossil fuels.

I guess what struck me as most interesting is that the company’s “proof-of-concept” project is located in West Lorne, Ontario, which, if all works well, could lead to an array of promising commercial projects and products. It should be pointed out that Sustainable Development Technology Canada contributed $5 million toward the project.

At West Lorne, DynaMotive has built a cogeneration plant that uses biomass as a feedstock to produce its BioOil. The plant is producing about 50 tonnes of BioOil per day, with the potential to reach 70 tonnes. That fuel is being used in a gas turbine from Magellan Aerospace’s Orenda division and is resulting in the generation of more than 2 megawatts of electricity, a portion of which goes toward powering a neighbouring flooring manufacturing facility and the rest being fed into the Ontario power grid.

But heat is also captured from the turbine, producing steam that is also being used by the flooring company — Erie Flooring — in some of its industrial operations.

The West Lorne site, as a result, has obtained EcoLogo certification and DynaMotive has been busy using this pilot to sign revenue-generating commercial contracts. Its first licensing deal was announced in June with Megacity Recycling Inc., which wants to build a 200 tonne-per-day plant in Ontario and has an option to build another plant of equal size in 2006. The likely sites for these and future projects will be in jurisdictions with a secure supply of biomass, whether it be wood chips to corn husks to sugar can residue. Considering rising oil prices, the company is also exploring opportunities to have its BioOil running in vehicles that use diesel.

Again, always nice to hear of new ways to create green power and fuels, but proving that the technology works is half the challenge. Unclear, yet, is whether DynaMotive’s BioOil production facilities and associated co-generation operations can be run profitably.

VRB Power strikes again… another solar deal

Fresh from the sale of a 10 kWh storage system to an Australian solar home project, Vancouver-based VRB Power has sold another 10 kWh system to SOLON AG, a top solar PV module producer in Germany.

SOLON said it plans to evaluate the VRB system in both grid-connected and grid-independent scenarios where solar energy is the primary source. Specifically, the company will test the storage system with its so-called “mover” system — a multiaxis solar tracking system that SOLON has put in locations throughout Germany. Also interesting is that SOLON will look at whether the VRB technology makes a good storage fit with utility-scale solar arrays.

On the surface this small, single sale may seem like no big deal, but considering SOLON is a major player in one of the hottest solar markets, this could prove fruitful over the long run as VRB attempts to gain a foothold and credibility in Europe.

Consider the following comment from Andrew Zwinkels, project manager for SOLON AG:

“Through this purchase SOLON will begin the development of truly independent solar energy,” said Zwinkels. “Applications will scale from our small autonomous power systems expanding up to entire solar parks like our 12 MW Erlasee facility. We believe that this is an essential technology and in association can help to increase the utilization of solar photovoltaic energy.”

That’s quite an early endorsement from a promising partner. Clearly, Europe is the place to focus if VRB wants to truly prove that its technology can eliminate the handicap associated with intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar.

VRB’s vice-president of marketing and business development, Mark Kuntz, is clear about the company’s focus: “VRB Power intends to expand its relationships in Europe with a focus on nations with strong renewable initiatives and markets that economically support the use of energy storage.”

The company may be making baby steps, but it appears to be heading in the right direction. At the very least it has started to tweak the interest of same major players, and if it can deliver on its promises the business will take care of itself.

Giving new meaning to sun worshippers

Konarka Technologies and Textronics Inc. announced plans today to co-develop prototype clothing designed to generate electricity from the sun.

“Today’s techno-savvy consumers are carrying more and more mobile communication, computing and entertainment devices, such as phones, digital music players, cameras and PDAs,” the companies said in a press release. “Each of these devices relies on batteries, but their functionality is limited by the available power and the inconvenience of recharging or replacing batteries. By combining Konarka‘s Power Plastic and Textronics‘ electronic textile systems into wearable electronics, the companies will overcome the shortcomings of conventional power technologies by enabling consumers to have energy generation ability with them at all times.”

Konarka, which has been quite successful in raising venture capital, is often recognized as an up-and-coming leader of next-generation solar applications. Its light-activated “power plastic” may be less efficient at converting sunlight to electricity than traditional silicon-based solar cells, but the material is much more flexible, light weight, and versatile. In May it struck a deal with the U.S. Army to give soldiers uniforms, military tents and trucks the ability to produce their own power for mobile electronics in an increasingly digital battlefield.

The trick to making solar clothing for the masses will go beyond simple cost. Just because a jacket can keep an iPod charged doesn’t mean it will be worn, particularly if it looks goofy. That said, I wonder if the plan is to make this clothing capable of being networked. In other words, if 5,000 Konarka-clad teenagers at an outdoor rock concert held hands, could they collectively power the band’s sound system? Welcome to the human grid… 🙂


Clean coal… should we give it a chance?

Most of the content on this blog is focused on renewable energy technologies or technologies that help homeowners, businesses and entire industries use fuel and resources more efficiently and economically. But what about clean coal?

Here in Ontario, there’s a huge debate going on regarding what mix of coal and nuclear will power the province over the next few decades. Obviously, it would be nice to get as much hydro, wind and other renewables into a mix that includes some serious conservation efforts, but that’s not realistic. In Ontario, the ruling Liberal government has decided to phase out the province’s coal-burning power plants, but this will undoubtedly require a renewed commitment to nuclear power. We simply won’t be able to fill the power vacuum with other alternatives. In Germany, the opposite decision was made: kill the nukes and reluctantly stick with coal as more renewables and cleaner options become economical.

I like the German approach. If we commit to new nuclear plants today, we’re locked in for the long run with the knowledge that the risks of operation and disposal will really never go away. On the other hand, we know coal well, there’s lots of it, and new technologies and processes have emerged to make it a hell of a lot cleaner. We can pretty much guarantee that new builds will be cleaner, and we can pretty much assume that retrofits to old plants will to lead to dramatic improvements.

Am I sold on clean coal? Heck no — there’s still a lot for me to learn, personally, and I believe the jury is still out on whether it’s the way to go. That said, it shouldn’t be ruled out and more should definitely be explored. If you want to learn more, I refer you to this article and this post, courtesy of the Clean Energy Blog. In Canada, the clean coal movement is being led by the Canadian Clean Power Coalition, which is a group of major coal and coal-fired electricity producing hoping to convince Ontario to give coal a second chance.

I’m making no judgements here, other than to say it’s worth looking at rather than outright ruling out. It’s also worth serious exploration by the government before it locks Ontarians into outrageously expensive nuclear projects.

Will Canadian project take tree-free paper mainstream?

My Clean Break column in today’s Toronto Star is about a consortium of companies, lead by Praire Pulp and Paper Inc. out of Winnipeg, that’s trying to perfect a process for producing high-grade photocopy and printer paper out of agricultural residue. Backed by money from Sustainable Development Technology Canada, the group believes it can produce tree-free paper from wheat straw and flax straw at high enough quality and volume that it could compete against tree-based products. If the group can pull it off, it would reduce stress on forests, give farmers a new revenue stream, and reduce the amount of crop waste that might otherwise get burned (not nice from an environmental perspective).

There are many challenges to overcome and it may be many years before the process proves viable, but SDTC remains hopeful. Meanwhile, Alfred Wong of Vancouver-based Arbokem Inc. has his own process for producing tree-free paper and is involved in many projects in Europe. After 10 years of trial and error, Wong is certain he’s got the right approach, and he’s even trademarked the name “Agripulp” in anticipation of his success. If either Wong or Prairie Pulp can get it right, this would be a “game-changer” in the pulp and paper industry, says SDTC’s Rick Whittaker.