A Canadian roundup of underappreciated cleantech happenings

Toronto-based RuggedCom continues to defy the economic downturn and prove the smart grid is the market to be in by posting a 52 per cent increase in fourth-quarter revenue and 49 per cent increase in same period profits. For the fiscal year, the company’s profit jumped 154 per cent. The company’s annual revenue now tops $60 million, 63 per cent of which is coming from the utility industry through sales of smart-grid networking gear. Find me another company that has seen its stock value jump 75 per cent higher than what it traded at just before the October 2008 market crash. RuggedCom is indeed a rare bird. It’s why I’m always amazed to see the U.S. media ignoring this story. There is so much attention to Cisco getting into the smart grid that nobody has noticed that little RuggedCom leads the market in the sale of networking equipment for the grid, or that RuggedCom plans to leverage that leadership position and expand its presence throughout other aspects of grid modernization. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cisco is doing its due diligence on RuggedCom as a possible acquisition. It fits the Cisco purchase profile, and compared to other smart-grid plays its P/E ratio isn’t that rich.

Another company that’s overlooked by U.S. media is Ottawa-based Cyrium Technologies, which just announced record performance from its commercially manufactured multi-junction solar cells, which are based on quantum dot technology. “Cyrium’s first generation solar cells offer efficiencies of 40 per cent or higher together with a nearly constant conversion efficiency for solar concentrations from 200 to greater than 1,000 suns,” the company said. This is a big deal, given that the other “records” touted to date, which range from 40.8 to 42.8 conversion efficiency (these claims are in dispute — see Wikipedia entry), have been limited to the lab. Cyrium, on the other hand, is actually manufacturing limited quantities of its cells for testing by potential customers. And the company isn’t resting on its laurels, either. “Cyrium anticipates its second generation product will reach 43 per cent efficiency within one year and third generation products are targeted to be at 45 per cent within two years,” the company said.

Meanwhile, Montreal-based Enerkem has been granted a permit to commence construction of what it’s calling the “world’s first commercial municipal waste-to-biofuels facility.” The $70 million facility, located in Edmonton, Alberta, will take┬ámunicipal solid waste that’s left over after recycling and composting and will convert that waste into ethanol using Enerkem’s process. The project is a joint-venture between Enerkem (technology supplier) and Greenfield Ethanol (ethanol producer). “This unprecedented project is set to change the dynamics of the waste and fuel industries by making waste — that would otherwise be landfilled — a resource for transportation fuels,” said Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet. I know I won’t be the only one following this project closely.

Finally, honorable mention goes to Toronto-based WhalePower, which has just made it as a finalist at the prestigious INDEX international design competition in Copehagen, Denmark. You may recall WhalePower’s new wind-turbine blade design, which is inspired by the humpback whale’s tubercle-line flipper. This bumpy leading edge gives the whale more agility in water. WhalePower has adapted the design to turbine blades, allowing for more efficient capture of wind energy and access to this energy at lower speeds. There are five categories in the Copenhagen competition, and the winner of each category gets 100,000 Euros. Winners will be selected in August and the winning designs will also become part of a touring show through Asia and Europe. WhalePower is competing in the “community” category against some tough competition, including Shai Agassi’s Better Place.

But enough with the bragging Canuck — let’s end on a more negative note. First Ballard Power’s stock-market bubble burst, then it sold off its stake in the automobile fuel-cell portion of its business, and now it’s leaving the residential micro-CHP market. Vancouver-based Ballard announced today it was dissolving its joint-venture with Japan’s EBARA Corporation, which through EBARA Ballard Corp. manufactured, sold, and serviced residential cogeneration systems based on Ballard’s fuel-cell technology. The business case just wasn’t there, said Ballard CEO John Sheridan. With the micro-CHP market now dumped, that leaves forklifts and backup power for telecom towers. You’ve got to credit Sheridan for keeping it focused and realistic, but it’s difficult not to contrast the humbled company of today with the overhyped, overvalued Ballard of 10┬áto 15 years ago.

2 thoughts on “A Canadian roundup of underappreciated cleantech happenings”

  1. Ballard has made a big mistake. The micro CHP market in Japan is the biggest in the entire world with well over 30,000 residential cogen units installed. The major problem with Ballard’s market is that fuel cells are still pretty expensive as Japan has only installed a couple thousand.

    They should have gotten into the natural gas end as European countries are developing their technical standards as we speak. Whispergen and Plug Power are moving into the European market next year. We will see how they make out.

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