Canada Is Lagging On Clean Tech Commercialization: SDTC

Canada has an opportunity to leap ahead of the U.S in the development of clean technologies, particularly in the context of the new U.S. administration under President Donald Trump, says the president and CEO of an Ottawa-based, federally-funded clean tech funding agency.

Leah Lawrence, who was appointed to head Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) in 2015 after 10 years heading Calgary-based Clean Energy Capitalists Inc., says that the election of Trump, who has suggested the threat of climate change was a creation of the Chinese and is dismantling GHG-reducing regulations, gives Canada “a chance to take some leadership” in supporting and advancing clean tech.

But that doesn’t mean that Canada can rest on its laurels, says Lawrence, an engineer with a master’s degree in economics who takes a pragmatic approach towards clean tech development.

She points out that China, South Korea and the U.S. lead in the commercialization of clean technologies.

Despite Canadian companies having developed hundreds of clean tech innovations, the country lags in the commercialization of such technologies, she says.

Fifteen-year-old SDTC has helped many Canadian clean tech companies move from taking “baby steps to becoming young adults,” but Lawrence says it’s now time to mature to the next level. That would enable Canadian companies to hire many individuals and export their products and services.

Since its launch in 2001, SDTC has invested $928 million in 320 clean technology projects, and leveraged more than $2.45 billion from other project partners, with more than 80 per cent of investments coming from the private sector.

Collectively, these investments have created more than 9,200 jobs and are responsible for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 6.3 megatonnes per year.

That funding has supported technologies involved in most of the key drivers of Canada’s economy.

For instance, over $480 million has been invested in the forestry sector, $212 million in energy utilization and $177 million in energy exploration and production, $171 million in power generation and the remainder in agriculture, transportation and water technologies.

The recently released federal budget builds on that past funding, proposing to invest $400 million over the next five years.

This funding will support projects across Canada to develop and demonstrate new clean technologies that promote sustainable development, including those that address environmental issues such as climate change, air quality, clean water and clean soil.

However, Lawrence says, despite SDTC’s success, it needs to do a better job of helping the companies it nurtures and funds advance to the commercial stage.

Last year SDTC retained consultants to analyze that gap and now its mandate has been advanced, beyond taking companies to the pre-commercial phase to helping them, with the participation of venture capitalists and other government agencies, to become commercial successes.

She says a common pattern with clean tech companies, as with Canadian tech companies in general, is that they grow to become $40-$45 million per year corporations, but then are taken over by companies from outside Canada.

In addition, she said Canadian clean tech companies have not been granted a large number of patents, which is the ultimate measure of successful technologies.

Lawrence points to several successful companies SDTC has helped achieve commercial and export success, but adds that there need to be more companies that succeed on that scale.

For instance, Saltworks Technologies Inc., a Vancouver area company that develops clean water technologies, has been called “the Apple of clean water,” having developed desalination and other technologies it exports. It has won 40 patents.

Another SDTC success story is Carbon Cure, a Halifax-based company that developed a technology that captures carbon dioxide from the cement manufacturing process and sequesters it within the concrete.

She also cited Calgary-based Hifi Engineering, which has developed a pipeline leak-detection technology that is being deployed by several of the major pipeline companies worldwide.

Lawrence will talk about those success stories and drive home her point about the need for Canada’s clean technology sector to go commercial when she speaks at the Conference Board of Canada’s upcoming event, Reshaping Energy 2017, to be held April 11-12 in Ottawa.

“Canada is a small economy,” she says. “60 to 70 per cent of the revenue of the companies we helped fund is driven by exports, so we must advance globally to succeed economically.”

In addition, she says SDTC’s mandate is to reduce GHG emissions globally, so the success of Canadian companies in doing so outside of Canada is vital.