In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. If you have an idea for a story, email us at:
In this month’s roundup of energy innovation news:
1. Hydrogen, with a side of Alka-Seltzer
2. Bill Gates goes nuclear
3. Good vibrations, or wind energy from wobbles
4. Is it a car or a vacuum cleaner?
5. Tri-generation: The hat-trick of Canadian resource sectors
6. Crowdfunding clean energy
Hydrogen, with a side of Alka-Seltzer
Sequestering carbon, producing hydrogen, and de-acidifying the oceans – all at the same time? Planetary Hydrogen, headquartered in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, has found a way to do just that. The company’s “SeaOH2” process produces hydrogen through electrolysis—but with an added innovative twist. The process uses a mineral salt during electrolysis, and as a result, produces mineral hydroxides as a by-product. This hydroxide reacts with dissolved CO2 in seawater to produce bicarbonates – the stuff seashells, and eventually limestone, are made of. Through this reaction, the carbon is permanently sequestered and the acidity of the surrounding water is also reduced (which is important, as recent ocean acidification threatens a wide range of marine organisms).
The quantity of carbon captured is no joke either. By using only renewable energy to power the process, Planetary Hydrogen can sequester 40kg of CO2 for every 1kg of hydrogen produced. This 40:1 ratio opens some unique business opportunities for the company. While hydrogen production from electrolysis still faces economic challenges, the net negative emissions nature of the company’s fuel allows it to capitalize on carbon credits. When factoring in these credits, this process is even cheaper than hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is currently the least-cost method.
Bill Gates goes nuclear
Bill Gates’ next-generation nuclear reactor, Natrium, has secured a location for its first demonstration plant. In a June 2nd announcement, TerraPower–the company behind the Natrium technology–stated that the $1 billion pilot project will be constructed at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The state-of-the-art power plant will feature a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor, paired with GWh scale molten salt energy storage. This system allows the energy generated from the nuclear reactor to be efficiently stored as heat within specialized tanks containing super-heated salts, and is capable of boosting the plant’s output to 500MW for over five hours.
As solar and wind technology advances to support a decarbonized electrical grid, a gap still exists around how to provide an emissions-free, reliable source of baseload power that is flexible enough to react to the intermittency of renewables. This is a role that has historically been filled by fossil fuel sources. However, the combination of nuclear generation and large-scale power storage allows the Natrium system to fill this gap. The sodium-cooled fast reactor can produce a clean, reliable baseload, while the stored energy can be rapidly deployed during times when renewables are unable to meet current demand.
Good vibrations, or wind energy from wobbles
Vortex Bladeless, a start-up based just outside of Madrid, Spain, has invented a prototype wind turbine capable of generating energy through oscillations (that is – wobbling) rather than traditional spinning blades. Think of a wind pole that wobbles similar to a car dashboard toy. The Vortex technology is noiseless and also mitigates negative impacts to wildlife or bird migration patterns that are a frequent criticism of traditional wind farms. Unlike conventional turbines, the wind poles can be placed close to one another. This means the Vortex could work in areas where traditional wind farms are not a viable option, such as in urban centers and residential neighbourhoods, or as part of distributed energy generation.
The constructed prototype stands at a height of 2.75 meters and consists of an outer cylinder fixed vertically with an inner elastic rod. While the unconstrained top of the cylinder appears to wobble back and forth in the wind, it is actually oscillating within the wind range, generating electricity through an alternator system, at approximately 30% the levelized cost of energy of conventional wind turbines. The estimated rated power output for the 2.75m prototype is 100w. Eventually, Vortex Bladeless plans to scale up to a 140-meter turbine with a 1-megawatt capacity that can be used in offshore commercial power applications.
Is it a car or a vacuum cleaner?
IM Motors, a new Chinese EV manufacturer launched in early 2021, recently unveiled a concept car called the Airo. What’s novel is that the Airo is also intended to act as an air cleaner: vacuuming up polluted air as it drives, passing that air through a HEPA filter, and spitting out cleaner air as a result—ultimately resulting in a net positive effect on air pollution.
Will this car ever be built? Unlikely. And if it does, will it make a material difference in air pollution? Also unlikely. But that’s not why we have chosen to highlight this story.
The Airo exemplifies a trend that we expect to be seeing more of: products that strive not only to eliminate or minimize their own environmental footprint, but are designed to create additional environmental benefit through their use. This parallels discussions that have been taking place around energy generation and emissions, as well—moving from “pollute less” to “net zero” to “scope 3 net-zero” and beyond. Will energy production ever get to the point of actively generating environmental benefits? If it does, you will certainly be reading about it here.
Tri-generation: The hat-trick of Canadian resource sectors
You may have heard about co-generation – but how about “tri-generation?” Co-generation provides both heat and power from the same energy source. Tri-generation takes it one step further by adding a third value stream – pure CO2 scrubbed from the system’s exhaust. And it isn’t just theoretical – near Lacombe, Alberta, a collaboration between Doef’s Greenhouses and the natural gas producer EnerMerge is a working example.
Horseshoe Power (which is partly owned by EnerMerge) creates electricity, heat, and carbon dioxide that are used by the greenhouses – and that supplies the entirety of Doef’s energy needs year-round. The electricity is used for the lighting system, the heat is used to warm the greenhouses, and the waste CO2 is first scrubbed and then used in the greenhouse to speed plant growth. The collaboration is so successful that a second tri-gen centre is being built.
This is a great example of cross-sectoral collaboration being used to reduce waste, reduce costs, and complete a circular economy model.
Crowdfunding clean energy
Proton Technologies – a Calgary-based clean hydrogen company – has become well known for its novel approach to hydrogen production. The company uses in-situ combustion to produce hydrogen from abandoned oil fields, and – by passing the gas through its patented membrane – leaves the carbon emissions and other by-products underground. However, it is Proton’s approach to its latest round of funding that has attracted our attention for this issue of the EIB.
Proton has partnered with the online platform Wayblaze to crowdfund two rounds of investment. This unique approach to fundraising allows non-accredited investors – whom regulations would otherwise prohibit from investing in a private company – a chance to participate in the growth of the company’s hydrogen technology. Proton hopes the first round, which runs from May 3rd to July 15th, will raise between $100,000 and $250,000 to purchase large-scale hydrogen separation equipment. Round two is expected to follow shortly after and aims to raise another $250,000 for hydrogen storage and transportation equipment.
It remains to be seen if Proton’s fundraising approach will pay off. As is the case with many crowdfunding platforms, investors will only be charged if the fundraising goal is met in full. As of June 28th, Proton is currently 47% of the way to its target with 17 days to go.
The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Marla Orenstein and Brendan Cooke. This month’s edition features contributions by Marla Orenstein, Brendan Cooke, Kevin Franceschini and Mehera Salah. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .
Photo by Ryan Loughlin on Unsplash