Five Canadian cleantech entrepreneurs you need to know

Luna Yu

Our environmental predicament just keeps getting worse. Unprecedented human displacementincreased spread of infectious diseasegrowing economic inequality and, yes, tornadoes that are on fire. While the script as written suggests a tragic ending, there is good news: the solutions we need to overcome this crisis — tree-planting robots, carbon-capturing concrete, batteries born from brine water — already exist, and many of them are being developed in Canada.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency, thousands of Canadian innovators from across sectors have answered the call of duty, applying their skills and resources to the cause of international well-being. And in the coming years, we’ll need that same ingenuity and agility to lead the fight against climate change.

Hot on the heels of funding announcements, new partnership deals and projects in development, these are the 10 Canadian cleantech leaders to watch this fall.

Remi Desa drives transit into the 21st century

Reduced GHG emissions, congestion relief, free-flowing commerce and equitable mobility for all — the benefits of strong public transportation are unassailable. Building and maintaining public transportation, however, is also expensive, forcing most Canadian communities to rely on antiquated technology. Remi Desa and his team at Pantonium are changing that with their intelligent routing system. Like Uber for bus riders, Desa’s product increases ridership and efficiency, while also maximizing existing fleets. “We want to help agencies provide more for less,” he says. “Increased transit access in our communities necessarily means more socioeconomic production.” Just look at the numbers. After deploying Pantonium’s tech on a little-used bus route in Belleville, the city saw ridership triple with an on-time record of 94 percent.

What’s next: Pantonium is launching five new projects in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and another in Lafayette, Colorado. And while Pantonium’s service isn’t designed for subways and streetcars, Desa says it can relieve big-city arteries by expanding to lower-density neighbourhoods and suburban areas.

Luna Yu converts waste into game-changing products

According to Second Harvest, a staggering 58 percent of all food produced in Canada is lost or wasted, representing 56.6 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions. Luna Yu founded her cleantech company to do something about it. Started at the University of Toronto and accelerated by the Women in Cleantech Challenge, Yu’s Genecis converts food waste into biodegradable plastics and other materials. The startup uses bacteria to break down food waste into short-chain carbons, and then another type of bacteria to eat those carbons and convert them into a polymer called PHA. Unlike other types of compostable goods (like oil-based plastic cups), Genecis’s products can be composted within a month, and degrade within a year should they end up in the ocean.

What’s next: Recently crowned the Extreme Tech Challenge’s global winner in the Cleantech and Energy Category, Genecis is scaling up by courting new clients looking to replace existing product lines. “We used the lockdown as an opportunity to reflect on what matters most and empathize with customers,” says Yu. “I’m really proud of how our team excelled in this period of change.”

Jennifer Wagner sequesters carbon — constructively

Dartmouth-based CarbonCure has developed a unique technology that allows for concrete — one of the most used materials in the world — to be both more sustainable and durable. The company’s process involves injecting recycled COdirectly into fresh concrete, which makes the resulting concrete stronger while also permanently sequestering the carbon. “Collectively, we’re facing a major global challenge,” says Jennifer Wagner, president of CarbonCure. “But it also presents an incredible opportunity to reverse climate change.” The company has been gaining global traction: its technology is used in more than 300 plants around the world, and it was named the North American Cleantech Company of the Year. As of June 2020, Wagner says their concrete solutions have “permanently removed 73,000 tonnes of carbon emissions from the atmosphere — the equivalent to the carbon absorbed by 95,000 acres of forest in a year.”

What’s next: “We’re only just getting started,” says Wagner. The company has the ambitious goal of reducing 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. While they are already involved in 90 percent of the world’s carbon utilization projects, Wagner says there is still a massive untapped market of concrete plants. CarbonCure was recently announced as one of the recipients of Amazon’s $2-billion climate pledge fund, which aims to help global companies be net-zero carbon by 2040. They have also begun selling carbon removal offsets as the trend for corporate climate models continue to grow.

Stephane Germain monitors emissions — from outer space

Witnessing the devastating effects of climate change can make anyone feel small. Now imagine witnessing them from outer space. As president of Montreal-based startup GHGSat, Stephane Germain has managed to turn this cosmic perspective into an incredible business opportunity. Using satellites and various aircraft, Germain and his team monitor global GHG emissions and air quality to help clients meet environmental, regulatory, and health and safety targets. The company’s tech can be deployed to any site on Earth, measuring the absorption of light in spectral bands for gases of interest. “Our mission is to bring transparency to industrial GHG emissions,” Germain says. “Equipping decision-makers with information allows them to address climate change aggressively.”

What’s next: This September, GHGSat announced a $35.9-million raise to build more satellite and aircraft sensors, allowing for greater analytics capacity in Canada and Europe. Germain hopes to launch the startup’s third satellite (with 10 times the performance power as his first one) in December.

Marc-André Roberge is securing our food supply

Bees play a vital role in the world’s food supply. So as bee populations rapidly decline, entrepreneurs are working to find ways to make hive management easier and more productive. That’s exactly what Marc-André Roberge set out to do when he founded Nectar in 2016. Through in-hive sensors and insights generated by its machine learning platform, the Montreal-based company’s precision technology helps industrial beekeepers gain access to key data that would otherwise be time-consuming and difficult to gather. Information on changes in hive population, queen bee presence and mortality rates can all be communicated through its platform, helping to reduce operation costs and create a healthier environment for the bees under their clients’ care.

What’s next: Roberge says his company is working on securing more partnerships and growing their client base to expand their technology’s reach and impact. “We recently gained a partnership with a major nut and fruits producer to roll out its technology and secure their pollination supply chain,” says Roberge. Nectar’s tech will also be put to use in more settings, including the rooftop of the MaRS building this spring.

Article written by Barry Chong and Veronica Sheppard for MaRS Magazine

Five Canadian cleantech entrepreneurs you need to know

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