B.C. companies finding the green in clean

Province is forming industry clusters focused on smartgrid and water treatment
Ostara CEO Phillip Abrary (right) with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who sits on Ostara's board of directors, in front of an Ostara Pearl system, which turns effluent into fertilizer

For an industry that is only about 15 years old, Canadian clean-tech punches well above its weight class when it comes to exports, job creation and investment in R&D, according to Analytica Advisors' recent 2013 Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report.

Canada's 700 clean-tech companies – about 200 of which are in B.C. – generate $10.6 billion annually and are on track to hit $26 billion within five years, the report predicts. By contrast, Canada's aerospace industry generates $22.4 billion a year.

KPMG last year forecast B.C. clean-tech alone to generate $2.5 billion. It grew 17% between 2009 and 2011. Annually, Canadian clean-tech spends $1 billion on R&D and employs 52,600 people – up from 44,400 in 2010.

That puts it on par with the mining and oil and gas industries, both of which have been huge drivers for clean-tech, because much of the technology
has been developed to help those sectors reduce pollution and energy consumption. Analytica Advisors identifies 10 sectors within the clean-tech industry, and Vancouver has developed hubs in two of those sectors – smartgrid technology and water treatment.

"The water market is growing dramatically," said Jonathan Rhone, a former CEO of Nexterra Systems Corp. who is now CEO of Axine Water Technologies, which developed an electrochemical process for treating polluted water in the oil and gas sector.

"There are a lot of new entrants and innovation, and there is a lot of pain in large corporations."

Axine Water Technologies and Saltworks Technologies are among the newer players in water treatment. More established companies include BioteQ Environmental Technologies Inc. (TSX:BQE), Paradigm Environmental Technologies Inc. and Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies Inc., which recently made the 2012 Global Cleantech 100 list.

"What we've seen in the last five years is a massive adoption of clean-tech by large corporations," said Wal van Lierop, president and CEO of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, a Vancouver-based venture capital firm that invests exclusively in clean technology.

"General Electric will now claim $25 billion in clean-tech revenues in the past two years. This is solar, LED lights, windmills and more energy-efficient engines."

Of the 26 companies Chrysalix has invested in, 12 are in the U.S., seven in Europe and seven in Canada.

The Canadian clean-tech industry is highly export driven. Ostara, for example, has built four of its fertilizer-from-sewage plants in the U.S. Three more are being built – one in the U.K., one in the U.S. and one in Canada.

Smartgrid technology is another cluster that has developed in B.C. Local companies in that space include Tantalas Systems Corp., Clevest, Awesense Wireless, Energy Aware and Enbala Power Network, which, though headquartered in Toronto, has its R&D plant in North Vancouver.

"I think we've got a real emerging cluster of companies that are very strong in that area of smartgrid," said Rhone, who is also chairman of the BC Cleantech CEO Alliance. •

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