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After Carbon

A fast-growing cohort of B.C. companies is pointing the way to a cleantech-driven economy

By Gail Johnson

 The future of Canada’s energy sector is clean, and British Columbia is at the forefront. The province is poised to help propel the expected exponential growth in clean energy and cleantech, which includes not only energy-related technology such as renewable fuels, power generation and storage but also industrial efficiencies, carbon capture and green building.

“B.C. is world-leading,” says Jeanette Jackson, CEO of Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Centre. “We have the technology that can perhaps take a huge market share in what is estimated to be a multitrillion-dollar cleantech sector over the next five to 10 years globally.”

There are myriad reasons to explain B.C.’s position as a standout player. For one, the province has long derived almost all its electrical power from renewable sources and developed considerable expertise there. For another, the province-wide carbon tax, in place more than a decade, is a supportive policy for encouraging investment in emissions-reducing technology. B.C.’s location, including access to ports and proximity to Asia and the United States, is another driver; so is cutting-edge research.

B.C. has nearly 300 cleantech companies, according to Jackson, and has seen more than 25 percent growth in related jobs over the last two years.

The province first left a footprint in cleantech 40 years ago with the founding of Ballard Research, which a decade later became Ballard Power Systems, a pioneer of hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology. The hydrogen movement continues to gain ground in B.C. today. HTEC, for instance, opened Canada’s first publicly accessible retail hydrogen station. The company is also building a central electrolysis production facility, which will supportthe deployment of more than 1,000 zero-emission fuel cell electric vehicles, or FCEVs.

Electrification goes far beyond cars, however, and B.C. is powering the shift. There’s the impending arrival of BC Ferries’ first hybrid-electric vessels, and Harbour Air Seaplanes has partnered with magniX to build the world’s first electric-powered commercial seaplane fleet.

Different types of power generation are being explored, too. Burnaby-based General Fusion just last fall received $160 million in venture capital funding to build the world’s first fusion power plant.

Carbon capture is a major component of cleantech industry that is burgeoning as well. Svante (formerly Inventys) has developed technology that’s being piloted in the field in the energy and cement manufacturing sectors. At a plant in Squamish, Carbon Engineering is extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and using it to produce a carbon-neutral fuel—the remaining question being whether the process can be done cost-effectively at massive scale.

Unique developments are happening on B.C. soil related to solar usage, with industry-leading core competency here. Day4 Energy, which produces photovoltaic (PV) panels for power generation, for instance, is headquartered in Burnaby and has customers across North America and Europe.

Water technology companies like Vancouver’s Axine Water Technologies and Richmond’s Saltworks Technologies, among others, are thriving. “With traditional cleantech, people often think of zero-emissions vehicles or energy with biofuel, but water is used for everything from fabrics to pharmaceuticals, so cleantech related to water only is starting to integrate into so many different market sectors,” Jackson says.

“B.C. as a market is quite small,” Jackson adds, “but our impact and our footprint on cleantech is huge.”

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