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Sustainability : Innovation + Job News

189 Sustainability Articles | Page: | Show All

Province & MaRS partner to create the new Clean Energy Institute

Ontario has been making a concerted effort to develop its clean energy sector for a number of years. Now a new venture will help that sector take its innovations around the world. This month the provincial government, in partnership with MaRS Discovery District, announced the creation of the Clean Energy Institute.

"The overall goal," says Jonathan Dogterom, the practice lead for cleantech at MaRS, "is to be able to put a bit more of an economic development focus on energy technology."

Which is to say: the institute's key objective will be to help the community of clean energy innovators that has started to cluster here by creating new export opportunities that will allow them to expand their businesses in foreign markets.

"Energy represents a huge market around the world," Dogterom says, "and we have some of the best innovations in energy technology."

We don't, as of yet, have the international presence to match.

The project is still in the very early stages of development. MaRS and the Ontario government will be reaching out to industry stakeholders in coming months to get input into the project; they also expect to add some private partners as the Clean Energy Institute takes more concrete shape. Their immediate goal: develop a detailed plan for setting up the institute over the course of a year.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Jonathan Dogterom, Practice Lead (Cleantech), MaRS

Siginik Energy to bring solar power to Ghana, creating 50 local positions

"It's the biggest project we have done to date, and the second biggest in Africa," a slightly rushed-sounding Daniel McCormick tells me over the phone—understandably, since he's having a rather busy day.

McCormick is a managing partner of Siginik Energy, which just announced that it has signed a deal to provide solar energy to Ghana, one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, and a nation seeking not just new energy sources but renewable ones. The deal will see Siginik build a 50-megawatt ground solar installation, from which the Electricity Company of Ghana will purchase power for a 25-year term.

Siginik, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Toronto-based Episolar Inc., is "a full turnkey solar energy provider," says McCormick, and also one of the beneficiaries of Ontario's Green Energy Act. That act was passed in 2009, and McCormick says that "it created a labour force that is highly skilled."

Ghana is hoping to draw on those skills to help meet its own energy needs, which are substantial and growing. To help the country expand its power sources, Siginik will be hiring both abroad and here at home—about 50 full-time, part-time and contract positions in the Toronto area, says McCormick, ranging from engineering consultants to components providers. Some of those hired here will also work in Ghana to train local workers.

Recently Ghana's Parliament passed a Renewable Energy Act; the country has set a target of obtaining 10 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Daniel McCormick, Managing Partner, Siginik Energy

Temporal Power claims wind breakthrough: 'This will change energy storage completely'

One of the primary problems facing the world of sustainable energy is storage: since solar and wind power are "intermittent"—that is, they generate electricity at the whims of the sunshine and wind, rather than constantly or on demand—energy needs to be stored until there is demand for it. Batteries capable of doing so have so far been too large and expensive to be a solution.

Ryerson electrical engineering researcher Kamran Masteri Farahani has been conducting research for Toronto-based startup Temporal Power for the past 18 months. And he says the results show a breakthrough.

"This solves the problem of storage for wind power," he says. "This will change energy storage completely."

Temporal Power
has developed a storage technique that involves flywheels spinning to store the energy kinetically. The company, in collaboration with Hydro One and Toronto Hydro, has created flywheels that are cheaper and easier to maintain than batteries. Masteri says his research, conducted at Ryerson's Centre for Urban Energy, shows that it works.

"After 10 hours, the flywheels still maintain 95 per cent efficiency," he says. "They also hold up to twice as much energy as competitor techniques, and 50 times as much energy as most commercially available materials." He says that the technology also regulates voltage and can feed or draw from the grid as needed, making much of the existing (and expensive) regulation technology redundant.

If Hydro One's own tests confirm the Ryerson result, the company will begin implementing the technology in its own system by the end of the summer.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Kamran Masteri Farahani, Electrical Engineering Researcher, Centre for Urban Energy, Ryerson University

Markham eco-muffler manufacturer Novo Plastics lands $975K investment for global growth

Markham-based injection-molded plastics manufacturer Novo Plastics has developed a muffler system for cars that it says is more ecologically friendly, cheaper, lighter and more durable than conventional mufflers. And with a recent investment of $975,000, it will be expanding its GTA manufacturing facility to improve distribution.

Founded in 2006, the company has grown to employ more than 70 people in its 80,000-square-foot factory in Markham, manufacturing plastic parts for heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as automobiles. Its innovative muffler system has been undergoing testing and continued development over the past year.

Novo Plastics CEO Baljit Sierra says that because plastic is far lighter than steel, the muffler system vastly improves gas mileage. "There's been a huge push by car manufacturers to take weight out of the vehicle, and this muffler represents a significant weight reduction, which makes the car much lighter. It also has a far cooler surface temperature which eliminates the need for other equipment."

The injection of capital comes courtesy of the federal government's Ontario economic development arm, FedDev Ontario, which announced the funding last week under its Prosperity Initiative. The repayable investment is targeted to allow the company to tool up to be the first to bring this type of system to market and to distribute it around the world.

Sierra says he expects to be growing the size of the company's workforce over the next year or two, once the ongoing testing phase of the product is complete; he declined to guess at a specific number of hires at this stage. In addition to its Markham headquarters, the company operates sales and distribution offices in the US, Germany, India and South Korea.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Baljit Sierra, President and CEO, Novo Plastics

Cleantech financing sector picks up steam with launch of SAIL Capital's $100M fund

Less than two weeks ago, MaRS announced the launch of Canada's first dedicated cleantech fund, the $30 million MaRS Cleantech Venture Fund LP, to support the burgeoning industry in Toronto and Canada. Now California-based SAIL Capital Partners has jumped into the game locally with the announcement that it's launching a $100 million cleantech fund, a partnership with Stifel Nicolaus Canada Inc., to invest in Ontario energy, water and and other eco-innovation technology startups.

In a statement, SAIL managing partner Walter Schindler said Ontario was becoming "the capital of cleantech in Canada," and noted that in addition to directly supporting innovation, funding will put local companies "at the forefront of this burgeoning industry and job creation."

Analysis predicts that the global cleantech sector will be worth an estimated $3 trillion by the end of the decade, and Ontario Minister of Energy Chris Bentley issued a release welcoming the growth of the local sector, which is supported by the province's Ontario Emerging Technologies Fund. "The clean-tech sector is a key part of Ontario's plan to create and support good jobs, replace dirty coal and build a healthier future for generations to come," Bentley said.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Andrew Block, Office of the Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, Province of Ontario

MaRS launches $30M Cleantech fund, first of its kind in Canada

The Toronto innovation incubator MaRS announced last week that it was launching Canada's first private dedicated cleantech venture fund. The MaRS Cleantech Venture Fund LP opens with a goal of $30 million in capital to invest—about half that amount has been closed so far—from a group of private investors including Greg Kiessling of Bullfrog Power. It will be managed by Tom Rand and Murray McCaig of MaRS.

"Great companies will go where they can find the capital, and we want those companies to stay right here in Ontario," Rand writes on the MaRS blog, a point he elaborates on in the fund's announcement. "We have great companies here at MaRS. They've got strong intellectual property, and many have a real chance at global leadership if they can get to market fast enough. Finding that first million or two has always been a challenge in Canada, and we intend to fill that gap."

Elaborating on the phone, Rand says that access to seed capital is more than just a perk for the sector. "Without healthy venture and seed funding, there is no cleantech sector," Rand says. "It's an absolutely fundamental part of the sector." He says that up until now, there hasn't been much appetite in the Toronto private sector for some of the risks in the cleantech sector, risks New York and Silicon Valley are fine with.

Moving quickly, the fund has already announced its first two investments: in GreenMantra, a company whose technology promises to recycle plastics into usable waxes and greases; and in Smart Energy Instruments, whose technology may help build the smart electricity grid.

MaRS points to estimates showing the global cleantech sector will be worth $3 trillion by the end of the decade. It aims to see Canada capture two per cent of that market—equivalent to a $60-billion industry nationally.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Tom Rand, Managing Partner, MaRS Cleantech Fund

A Don Mills showroom targets high-end customers with its low-emission electric vehicles

Fisker Automotive bills itself as a maker of the "world's first true electric vehicle with extended range"—and they're luxury cars, to boot. This month the company opened its first Toronto showroom, employing one staffer, with its Fisker of Toronto location at the Shops of Don Mills.

General manager Michael Cornacchia says that so far, customers have been very impressed to see the two models on display.

"It's been very positive. We've got a good mix of people, and I think they're just excited to see a car dealership in the mall," says Cornacchia. All Fisker vehicles are custom-made; Toronto customers can expect delivery within three months of ordering.

The cars boast high-end sedan performance with low energy consumption: "It can travel from  zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds," states the news release, "yet was recently given an astonishing emissions rating of just 51g/km CO2 by the TUV [an independent European inspection agency] and a 112mpg equivalency rating."

Shops of Don Mills marketing representative Lauren Genz says the Fisker location was a natural fit with the mall's concept. "It's a good pairing. We're re-thinking the retail experience and they're re-thinking cars as a sustainable luxury product."

The Fisker Karma—that's the model Justin Bieber got on The Ellen DeGeneres Show for his 18th birthday—will sell for $102,000 when it becomes available in the coming weeks.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Michael Cornacchia, Fisker of Toronto; Lauren Genz, Shops of Don Mills

Eco-friendly, water-free on-demand car wash service Washly launches in Mississauga

Karan Walia was working at his cousin's startup company GoClean—a waterless car-washing product that hit it big on the CBC program Dragon's Den and wound up in Canadian Tire stores—when he was struck by inspiration.

"I realized while I was there that it was a big inconvenience to drivers to go out to the car wash, and they'd often spend a lot of time there waiting in line," he says. "And most car washes use an average of 300 litres of clean drinking water, while our waterless process uses less than 170 millilitres, so there are major eco-benefits."

The resulting company, launched last week in Mississauga, is Washly, a service that allows people to park their cars in a publicly accessible spot, call or check in online using a computer or smartphone, and have experienced car detailers arrive to wash their car using the waterless system.

Walia, the company CEO, and his business partner, CTO Aysar Khalid, have financed the project themselves. "I guess in the startup world they'd say we're bootstrapping," Walia says. They work with six licensees, experienced car detailers, who do the washing. Walia says that in the first week demand has been high—they're already planning their expansion.

"We're getting a lot of calls from people in Toronto, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, so the demand is there," he says. "We're moving quickly to offer our service in Toronto by mid-April."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Karan Walia, CEO, Washly

Toronto startup Lowfoot's innovation: turn energy conservation into cash

Lowfoot founder Philip Playfair says that when smart meters were introduced in Ontario, he had a revelation.

"I realized with smart meters we'd be able to measure when people were and weren't using power," he says. "And when you can do that, you can turn conservation into a tradable, viable commodity." His own background was in running a billing company, and he was going "stir crazy' in retirement after he sold it. So he recruited a partner and in 2009 Lowfoot was born in an office near the airport. 

The company offers energy consumers reports on how much energy they consume and when, and offers them targets for reduction. When they exceed those targets, they get credits that are paid out in cash via PayPal. For now, Playfair says, the money "mostly comes from our bank account," and is generated through advertising and sponsorships. But down the road, Playfair says he expects most of his company's revenue to come from utilities themselves who will see real value through the energy reductions. A utility could spend hundreds of millions on new production plants, he says, or could instead spend substantially less reducing consumption to meet existing supply.

The service is active in Ontario, where consumers own the right to their own energy-usage information, and has launched for users of some utilities in Texas and California. Playfair says they are finalizing a pilot project in the Netherlands now. The idea is just beginning to take off. "We're moving from a culture of energy entitlement to one of efficiency," he says.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Philip Playfair, founder, Lowfoot

Hydro One updates to Toronto generators creating 65 construction jobs

Hydro One, Ontario's public electricity generation company, is overhauling three Toronto-area transformer stations as part of province-wide updates to 80 per cent of the generating system.

The Leaside, Hearn and Manby transformers will be completely rebuilt by 2013, in a move a spokesperson for the utility says will enhance the environmental sustainability of the plants. "All three projects will be more reliable and efficient because Hydro One is replacing old equipment and technology with new equipment. The upgrades to all three projects will also support future renewable generation connection," writes Tiziana Baccega Rosa of Hydro One's media relations department.

The reconstruction will create approximately 65 direct jobs during the construction phase, as well as offering apprenticeship electrician opportunities.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Tiziana Baccega Rosa, Hydro One

Switchable Solutions' Mississauga test recycling facility could create 5 jobs this year

Switchable Solutions, a startup that formed to commercialize technology developed at Queen's University in Kingston and developed by Greencentre Canada, is working to open an innovative recycling test facility in Mississauga.

President and CEO Mark Badger says the plant will begin operating in late 2012, and could employ about five employees when it opens. "The nature of these things is to start small and scale up," he says. "So we'll grow from there."

The company will use the plant to demonstrate its plastic waste recycling process, which can recycle expanded polystyrene plastic waste, including packaging foam and coffee cups. In tests, the company claims, their process produces materials "displaying similar characteristics to virgin polystyrene." Formed last year, the company is headed by Badger, a former head of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. In addition to the recycling process, they are testing a process to process bitumen from oilsands while creating fewer toxic byproducts.

Switchable Solutions completed an equity offering last November that generated $3.23 million, and Badger says that recently announced federal development funding of $5.48 million to Switchable Solutions and GreenCentre Canada will help the demonstration plant's progress. "Some of that funding is destined for the plastics recycling facility," Badger says.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Mark Badger, President and CEO, Switchable Solutions

Greengauge draws new investment, reaches 2.5 staff as they approach beta launch

Greengauge founder Lindsey Goodchild doesn't think of herself as a "typical entrepreneur." About 18 months ago, she finished her post-graduate work at Ryerson in sustainability and started doing consulting work for corporations. "I started consulting with really large companies and saw a lot of really good strategies, but when it came to executing those strategies they fell flat." What they needed, she realized, were tools to allow them to better implement their well-intentioned strategies after they left the boardroom.

She submitted an idea to a GreenApp challenge sponsored by Ryerson and Blackberry to develop an application for mobile devices and the web to allow companies to better monitor and implement their green strategies. She won the contest, and Greengauge was born. She raised $30,000 in seed funding last fall, around the time she was finally able to quite her full-time job to focus on the company. She hired a full-time CTO at the start of this year, bringing her staff to "two-and-a-half," she says, including their part-time CFO.

Just as Ottawa-based Coral CEA has invested in Greengauge as part of funding it announced for four Ryerson DMZ companies, Goodchild says the company is now weeks away from launching its first product for limited private beta testing.

"We're really focussed on researching how to embed sustainability into organizations," says Goodchild, noting that she's drawn invaluable support from the academic community, the Ryerson DMZ and some advisors at MaRS.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Lindsey Goodchild, CEO, Greengauge; Coral CEA

Social gardening enterprise Young Urban Farmers CSA wins $10K in ClimateSpark Challenge

When the winners of the ClimateSpark Venture Challenge were announced early this month, local "mini-farming" social enterprise Young Urban Farmers CSA (YUFCSA) got a $10,000 shot in the arm. More than that, says the organization's sales manager and board president Chris Wong, they got valuable community feedback and advice during the process of working through the competition.

"It was very helpful for us, as I'd guess it was for most or all of the participants." Through rounds in which feedback was offered by members of the public and by industry experts, the organization was able to hone its message and model. "One example is, we had the chance to focus, hone and quantify our measuring of the greenhouse gas reductions that result from our gardens." The amount of reductions, it turns out, in 2011, was 2091 kg of C02, or 84 kg per participant in the program.

Those reductions come from YUFCSA's efforts to convert residential backyards and front yards into community gardens. Shareholders receive produce farmed by volunteers from neighbourhood mini-farms. In 2010, the organization's first year, they established seven gardens; last year the number grew to 14. This year, with the help of the funding from ClimateSpark, Wong expects to have between 20 and 25 gardens operating.

Wong notes too, that as one round of the competition, participants pitched their ideas directly to potential investors. Many of the companies and organizations who participated hope to gain investment as a result.

The other big winner at the ClimateSpark challenge was Zooshare Biogas, winners of $40,000 for their plan to create energy from the Toronto Zoo's animal waste. 

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Chris Wong, YUFCSA; Toronto Community Foundation

MaRS startup Smarter Alloys signs orthodontics development agreement for innovative alloy technology

Less than one year after spinning off from the University of Waterloo and setting up office at the MaRS incubator's downtown Toronto office, Smarter Alloys has signed a development agreement that could change the shape of the orthodontics industry. The technology developed by Smarter Alloys founder, Dr. Ibraheem Khan, allows special alloys to remember multiple "shape memories." The process means such materials may be programmed to perform multiple functions.

The implications of Smarter Alloys technology extend to multiple industries, including printers and hard drives, automobile components and energy conservation. Last November, the company won the CleanTech North Innovator of the Year Award for its technology's potential to harvest wasted heat and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

The deal announced this month, according to a statement by Khan, "is poised to greatly improve the functionality of smart materials used in orthodontic applications.... We’re especially pleased with this agreement because our partner has a proven track record of taking innovation and converting it into improved dental care."

The announcement is the first of four to six development agreements that Smarter Alloys expects to announce this year, to accompany further growth. They recently hired a business development manager with the help of a $50,000 grant from MaRS and expect to double the size of their technical team. They also plan to open a manufacturing facility in 2012.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Chris Stevenson, Director of Communications, MaRS; Ibraheem Khan, Smarter Alloys

Scarborough's Pond Biofuels will hire 10 in pilot to turn emissions into fuel

The Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation announced last week that it would help Scarborough innovators Pond Biofuels hire 10 new staff to demonstrate their technology. Pond takes industrial smokestack emissions and converts them into algae that can then be converted into diesel fuel. According to Pond, one tonne of algae can produce 100 litres of diesel, while the residual matter can be used as a coal substitute. The process cuts an industrial plant's carbon emissions while simultaneously producing fuel.

The process, with help from a grant from the provincial government's Innovation Demonstration Fund, is currently being piloted at a test with St. Mary's Cement in Bowmanville to convert smokestack emissions. Pond anticipates rolling out a full-scale plant in about two year.

In a statement, Pond CEO Steven Martin said that the collaboration with St. Mary's Cement and the provincial government would pay dividends that extend to other sectors. "Going forward, Pond's made-in-Ontario technology can be applied to other essential industries, like steel, power generation and resource extraction."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Andrew Block, Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation; Corporate Affairs, Pond Biofuels 
189 Sustainability Articles | Page: | Show All
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