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  • Toronto Star

For real climate solutions, look to the private sector

Original article can be found here.

Marc Schaus | Toronto Star

With temperatures in British Columbia topping the hottest days on record for Las Vegas this week — climate change is once again top of mind for people feeling the heat. And this might sound surprising, but Canada is now internationally renowned for producing new climate solution innovations. The catch is that it isn’t our government turning heads around the world. It’s our private sector.

Consider the so-called “intermittency problem” for renewables like solar and wind: the fact that the sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow. A global front-runner in solving this challenge is actually located in Toronto. Hydrostor Inc.takes excess energy produced during times of plenty and puts it to work, powering up air compressors that can then be vented during times of need. The force of decompressed air can be turned back into electricity after hours, anywhere.

An excess of green energy increases with every new solar cell going up. Hence another possibility is placing solar panels in surprising new locations. Edmonton-based Applied Quantum Materials Inc., for example, is helping to bring transparent solar cells, which capture the energy in wavelengths of sunlight we cannot see while letting the visible range pass through, to consumers in the form of new solar windows.

But remember, there are 24/7 sources of renewable energy. Eavor Technologies Inc. in Calgary has created a unique closed-loop geothermal heat exchange system, offering continuous thermoelectric energy.

Tidal power is another continuous source of renewable energy. Think of it like placing wind turbines underwater, where a mechanical force (the tides) pushes turbine blades to produce electricity. Researchers estimate that one Canadian water system alone, the Minas Passage in the Bay of Fundy, under development by Bedford-based Minas Energy, will provide roughly two football fields’ worth of solar panels in energy equivalence, regardless of the size of tide continuously (and maybe over five football fields’ worth of solar panels at peak tide.)

Some companies are experimenting with floating, buoyant solar pads that rest atop bodies of water. Markham, Ont.-based CEV Canada is helping to open more solar cell real estate with this technology.

Nuclear energy can also potentially help add to our portfolio. We need to lower our emissions rapidly, so everything should be on the table. Oakville-based Terrestrial Energy Inc., whose board even features former prime minister Stephen Harper, offers a safer form of nuclear fission that significantly lowers the risk of an explosive reaction (already very unlikely), while also offering the bonus of free community-level heating for anyone near the plant. Burnaby, B.C.-based General Fusion is also among the front-runners developing nuclear fusion energy, commonly viewed as the Holy Grail of clean energy. Unlike fission, nuclear fusion offers continuous power with no risk of meltdown or weaponization of materials.

Canadian businesses are also developing solutions for the climate crisis at large in the effort to draw down global carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Squamish, B.C.-based Carbon Engineering, a “direct air capture” company, can literally pull carbon dioxide from the surrounding air. Reportedly, just one of their facilities can capture the carbon equivalent of roughly 40 million trees, or the annual emissions of 250,000 average cars. Burnaby, B.C.-based Svante Inc. is also helping with technology that allows emitters to capture their carbon before it escapes at roughly half the cost of competitors.

What can we do with all that captured CO2? Dartmouth, N.S.-based CarbonCure injects it into concrete, creating a stronger and more efficient product while simultaneously storing carbon dioxide in long-term projects.

Better yet: CO2 can also be upcycled into valuable chemicals and products. Consumers can already purchase carbon-embedded products that help to offset global emissions by way of using captured CO2. Calgary-based Expedition Air sells everything from planters and yoga mats to paintings illustrated with CO2-embedded paint. The team is an offshoot of Carbon Upcycling Technologies Inc., also in Calgary — famously a finalist for the Carbon XPRIZE, a global competition to empower technology that converts CO2 into products. Likewise, Toronto-based CERT Systems Inc. upcycles waste CO2 emissions into fuels and valuable chemical feedstocks.

Another climate solution simply involves planting more trees in locations that will not negatively impact albedo (reflective power), water tables or biodiversity. And in this effort, Toronto-based Flash Forest is aiming to automate reforestation and afforestation campaigns with flying, seed-deploying drone technology. The drones are roughly 10 times faster than us and work for a fraction of the cost.

For transport, Windsor-based Project Arrow will soon become the automotive industry’s first all-Canadian, zero-emissions vehicle being designed, engineered and built here. Meanwhile, Mississauga-based Li-Cycle has reported that they can recover a stunning 95 per cent of the valuable materials from spent batteries with a zero-wastewater, low-emissions process.

Ultimately, governments can play an important role with good policy. But for more efficient, more powerful clean energy technology — a no-brainer option for consumers, regardless of whether they think we have a problem here — we must look to the private sector.


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