Clean tech/energy roundup

* District energy supplier Enwave Energy Corp. announced today that the new 70-floor Trump International Hotel & Tower under construction in Toronto will use Enwave’s deep lake water cooling system for all its air conditioning. The system extracts energy from the icy cold water deep in Lake Ontario. By using the system instead of traditional air conditioning, it amounts to taking 290 homes off the grid.

* The vice-president of Dupont’s bio-based materials division outlined today what the company is doing when it comes to supporting the alternative energy market, including solar PV, biofuel and fuel cell products.

* The U.S. Postal Service took the wraps today off its first hybrid-electric delivery vehicle, which was converted by Canada’s Azure Dynamics. The vehicle will be monitored for a while in regular service to see whether it meets up with expected emission reductions and fuel-economy improvements in the range of 30 to 50 per cent. (For the record, Canada’s Purolator Courier has already placed an order for 115 of Azure’s vehicles, putting it well ahead of the U.S. Postal Service)

* Interesting story here on China Economic Net about the prospect of solar energy in this massive, fast-growing economy. The story focuses largely on Suntech Power, and if you can get past the poor writing and bad grammar, there are some insights on the Chinese market.

* Red Herring — love that Red Herring — has a story about solar startup Stellaris and how it won first place at an MIT clean energy business plan competition earlier this year. “The company has a concentrating solar technology that it said will cut the cost of solar modules by 40 per cent and convert 20 per cent more sunlight into electricity,” the magazine writes. The company plans to commercially launch its modules next year.

* A Red Herring Q&A with Mark Huang, a senior vice-president of technology lending at General Electric. Another look inside this massive company with cleantech ambitions.

* A nice little “Hydrogen Reality Check” from MIT’s Technology Review.

Sonic making inroads on PCB remediation?

The Sydney Tar Ponds of Nova Scotia are the result of a century of coal mining and steelmaking, which left behind 900,000 tonnes of chemical waste. About 5 per cent or 45,000 tonnes of this waste is contaminated with high levels of PCBs. Two years ago a federal-provincial plan was announced to clean up the Tar Ponds over 10 years at a cost of $400 million, and this led to the creation of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency.

So where am I going with this? Well, the agency proposed that incineration techniques be used to destroy the PCB materials, resulting in substantial public opposition to the idea. So a special federal-provincial review panel was set up to do an environmental assessment of the remediation plans, including two weeks of hearing that just completed last week. At the hearings, Cape Breton University — acting as intervenor — presented a report that assessed Sonic Environmental’s technology as an environmentally friendlier alternative to incineration. The university brought soil samples to Sonic’s pilot plant in British Columbia in March and ran them through the system. They then brought the processed soil back to Nova Scotia, and after analysis determined there was no detectable PCB levels.

To recap, Sonic’s technology would take contaminated soil from the tar ponds and this soil would be mixed with a solvent into a big slurry. The mixture would then be pumped into the company’s sonic generator — basically a 14-foot, 2.8 tonne steel vibrator — where extreme agitation literally shakes the PCBs from the soil. Sodium is then dispered into the PCB-filled solvent, and the intense vibration accelerates a chemical reaction that strips chlorine from the PCBs — i.e. the PCBs are destroyed and, once the solvent is recovered, all you’re left with is clean soil. The bonus is that Sonic’s technology can be taken to the site, rather than requiring contaminated soil be shipped elsewhere for incineration, which is often the case.

Who knows what will come out of this panel review, but if Sonic ended up being chosen to deal with the Synday Tar Ponds PCBs, it would be a tremendous opportunity to prove the effectiveness of the technology around the world. “If the tribunal says no to incineration, we hope we’re in,” Adam Sumel, chief executive officer of Sonic, told me during a telephone interview today. “We’re hoping the tribunal says you cannot build an incinerator there.”

Sonic is also eyeing opportunities in Ontario, where there are a number of groups now looking at ways to clean up old industrial “brownfield” locations and then flip them for a profit. The company recently got Ministery of Environment approval to use its process in Ontario, and Sumel says he’s had talks with some parties already regarding brownfield clean-up projects.

Sonic’s share price has lost two-thirds of its value over the past year, so investors are obviously getting impatient with the company. This year could be a make or break year, and the tar ponds and projects in Ontario could be the key to making it.