Merry Christmas, and wishing you a sustainable New Year!

Happy Holidays to all my readers. Thank you for visiting over 2009. I can’t believe I’ve been writing this blog for nearly five years. When I first started, I wrote about anything and everything related to cleantech and green energy. There weren’t as many blogs back then, and certainly no dedicated “news” coverage of the area. Today, there are a number of sites dedicated to cleantech news, hundreds of blogs, and the mainstream press — the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, etc… — are actively covering the sector. This is all great to see, for obvious reasons, as we’ll need these technologies and the innovators behind them to help us deal with humanity’s most pressing problems, including climate change, water scarcity, energy security, sustainable growth, you name it.

Over the past couple of years, I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been more selective about what I write about. I’m largely focused on Canadian happenings and companies, and there’s a reason for that. Few others are covering it. Beyond Canada, there’s no shortage of sites reprocessing press releases, linking to studies, covering announcements, and tracking the latest mergers, IPOs, deals, partnerships and financings. I figure there’s no reason to offer more of what’s already out there. Besides, I have a day job and a young family — I can’t be on top of this stuff 24-hours a day, like many sites now are. If I do cover non-Canadian events, I try to come at it with a different perspective.

There appears to be 15,000 to 20,000 of you who regularly stop by. I hope you’re finding that most of what I offer is information you won’t find elsewhere. As always, I’m open to suggestions.

So again, thank you, have a happy holidays, and more importantly, have a safe and healthy break with family and friends.



Canada’s biggest industrial emitters make progress on CO2 reduction, and economy still grows — imagine that!

Corporate Knights, Canada’s sustainable business magazine, crunched some recent numbers from Environment Canada and found that the country’s Top 10 industrial CO2 emitters reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 9 per cent in 2008 compared to 2007. At the same time, the Canadian economy grew by 0.5 per cent. Given that the impacts of the economic downturn were felt mostly in 2009, an even greater drop is expected this year. Canada’s Top 350 emitters reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 6 per cent during the same period. Toby Heaps, the magazine’s editor, said it’s proof that Canadian industry can meet carbon-reduction obligations while maintaining economic growth. “While our government says that reducing emissions by 20 per cent over 15 years is a heavy lift, our companies are showing the art of the possible: how almost half of that target can be pulled off in just one year,” said Heaps in a statement issued out of Copenhagen, where he attended the recent international climate talks. Corporate Knights is expected to have a more thorough analysis of the numbers in its January issue.

Ontario is pulling its weight, largely as a result of its coal-phaseout strategy, renewable energy deployment and conservation initiatives. As of the end of October 2009, greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel (coal and natural gas) power generation is down 40 per cent compared to same 10-month period the previous year, according to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator. What can we expect with the introduction of carbon prices and a cap-and-trade system?

A recent research brief of New Energy Finance looks to Europe for answers. It found that five years after the introduction of a greenhouse gas emissions-trading system the European power sector is factoring carbon prices into future investment decisions. It also found that carbon prices are pushing the sector toward lower-carbon sources of electricity and accelerating the closure of the oldest and dirtiest fossil-fuel plants. “The answer is clearly that European power generators see that the EU ETS is here to stay and that it is starting to affect how they make multi-billion euro investments in new generation capacity,” said Guy Turner, the research firm’s director of carbon market research. “By 2020 the European generating fleet will be materially cleaner than it is today.”

Something to hope for? Let’s hope so. I’m more a fan of carbon taxes than cap-and-trade, but if the latter is designed correctly, and if we can learn off some of the early mistakes made by the Europeans, clearly it will drive emissions down. The question, then, will be how much it will drive them down, and whether it will be fast enough. That will ultimately depend on the price of carbon, and how many freebie carbon allowances are handed out to industry.

Two Canadian CO2-suckers get funding: CO2 Solution, Pond Biofuels

Algae or enzymes? That is the question. Both are moving forward as an approach to capturing CO2, and both are getting funding. Quebec City-based CO2 Solution announced last week that Codexis Inc. acquired a 17-per-cent stake in the company for $2 million. The two companies have signed a joint development agreement whereby they will collaborate on the use of “enzymatic carbon capture” technology.  CO2 Solution has developed a process that relies on the enzyme carbonic anhydrase to extract carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of coal power and industrial plants. This particular enzyme is used by humans and other mammals to extract CO2 from the blood stream that is later exhaled. Codexis brings to the table a way to improve the ability of this enzyme to thrive in harsh industrial environments. The companies are betting that this approach will be less energy-intensive and therefore less expensive than other solutions in development or on the market.

Meanwhile, Toronto-based Pond Biofuels Inc. says one of its CO2-to-algae demonstration projects has been approved as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate program. The company, in partnership with cement manufacturer St. Marys Cement, has established a microalgae facility that uses CO2 from the neighbouring cement plant as a source of nutrients for the organisms. The algae is then expected to be harvested and used as biomass fuel in the plant’s cement kiln. Pond Biofuels will now get funding under the Asia-Pacific Partnership for a feasibility study that will assess the suitability of its technology for the cement industry in China.

Vancouver startup Saltworks working on desalination game-changer

A story I wrote last week for MIT Technology Review takes a look at a new energy-efficient approach to desalination developed by a Vancouver-based startup called Saltworks Technologies. Conventional desalination relies on reverse-osmosis and costly membrane technologies. Pumping the water at high pressure through these desalting membranes takes a lot of energy, which drives up the cost of this form of desalination. Another approach is to evaporate and then condense the water, another energy-intensive approach.

Saltworks has a completely different, and quite novel approach. It starts by using the sun or industrial waste heat to evaporate one pool of seawater until it becomes concentrated with 18 per cent salt (compared to 3.5 per cent for regular seawater). This concentrated stream is pumped into a desalting unit along with three other regular seawater streams. The concentrated stream is connected by specially designed “bridges” to two regular streams, and because it has a higher concentration it is compelled to diffuse its salt content — sodium and chloride — into the weaker streams. But the bridge connecting to the one weaker stream only allows sodium ions, which are positive, to flow through; the bridge connected to the second weaker stream only allows chloride ions, which are negative, to flow through. The end result at this stage is that one of the two weaker streams now has surplus positive ions, mostly sodium, and the other has surplus negative ions, mostly chloride. The two streams, now out of balance and eager to pick up ions of opposite charge, are separately “bridged” to the third regular seawater stream. The one stream with surplus positive ions strips the third stream of all its negative ions, and the second stream with surplus negative ions strips the third stream of all its positive ions. This leaves the third stream completely stripped of all ions — i.e. it’s de-ionized, or pure drinking water.

It’s a brilliant process because most of the energy that’s required comes at the front end through evaporation, which is accomplished in a low-tech way with abundant solar energy, or waste heat from a neighbouring industrial facility. The rest is accomplished through electrochemical reactions requiring no outside energy source. If Saltworks can scale this approach up, it could bring cheap desalination to the many parts of the world that need it.

After seven productive years, SDTC grant money soon to run out

Sustainable Development Technology Canada, the not-for-profit government agency founded in 2002 to support Canadian cleantech ventures, began its mission with $550 million in funding. For every dollar SDTC invests, it requires that another $2.40 is invested from elsewhere — mostly from the private sector. The result has been investment of more than $1 billion in 190 or so clean technology demonstration projects, ranging from solar, wind and biofuels to waste reduction, water treatment and soil remediation. In seven years, it has gone through 14 funding arounds. This January will be the last round for climate and clean air projects, and water/soil projects will run out of funding later in 2010 — unless, of course, the federal government decides in its next budget to recharge SDTC’s fund, allowing it to continue along the path of investing $80 million to $90 million a year in cleantech projects, which leverages twice as much from the private sector.

Not recharging SDTC’s fund would be unfortunate, in light of recent momentum around investment in climate innovation. SDTC isn’t perfect. Small companies routinely complain of the complexity of the application process, and how they simply don’t have the time or resources to commit to jumping through hoops when that time could be better devoted to the innovation that funding is intended to support. Still, SDTC has played a vital role in helping emerging ventures get through the “valley of death” — that funding chasm that many startups fall into just when they’re prepared to demonstrate and commercialize their products. For this reason, SDTC and its continued funding path is considered crucial to the health and success of Canada’s cleantech sector.