Clean Tech

Lithium Producer in Central Alberta Aims for Net-Zero Facility

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Lithium Producer in Central Alberta Aims for Net-Zero Facility

Chris Doornbos has always been interested in energy systems, but it was hard to find opportunities in clean energy for geologists like him. Until he started thinking about lithium.

Lithium – soft, silvery-white alkali metal, similar to potassium or sodium – is one of the main components of batteries, and a crucial resource for the energy storage industry.

In 2014, Chris began looking for lithium projects, first in South America, which supplies about 75 per cent of the world’s lithium, as well as in the U.S. and Australia. Then, he came across a report from the Government of Alberta about lithium, and discovered the availability of an unexplored, underappreciated asset right in his own backyard.

Decentralized energy is the future, and that will need efficient batteries.
— Chris Doornbos

“The ground wasn’t owned by anyone, so we went in and picked it up,” said Doornbos, who went on to found a lithium development company, now known as E3 Metals Corp, where he is the CEO. “We have literally developed this project from nothing.”

The Leduc Formation was first explored for oil and gas in the 1940s and led to the oil rush in central Alberta. Over the past 70 years, more than 3,000 wells have been drilled in the area. Because of the existing wells – as well as collaborative relationships with other companies working in Leduc Formation reservoirs – no further drilling or land disturbance has been needed for E3 Metals to develop their lithium project.

“As a mineral company, the biggest expense you have is drilling and we haven’t needed to do that,” said Doornbos.

Based on their sampling, the company estimates there is 6.7 million tonnes of lithium in the reservoirs of the Leduc Formation, making it one of the largest sources of lithium in the world.

The standard process for extracting and producing lithium relies on huge evaporation ponds, taking 18 to 24 months to concentrate lithium to a point where it can be refined. What makes E3 Metals unique is that, using a chemical filter process called Ion Exchange, they have developed a method to concentrate lithium in only three hours. Not only is it fast, it is also likely inexpensive compared to the evaporation process, and removes 99 per cent of the impurities found in lithium brine.

In addition to speed, the lithium brine extracted is hot, and could be used to produce geothermal power to run the process. E3 Metals hopes to make their facility net-zero, and in doing so create the an environmentally friendly source of lithium.

“We have the potential to be a near zero-greenhouse-gas lithium producer,” said Doornbos.

The company is still in the development stage, to date achieving a 20x concentration in lithium with their process. They hope to soon have a demonstration of this process and then plan to build a pilot plant facility in the field this year.

With an increase in electric vehicles and energy storage, global lithium demand is expected to triple by 2025.

“Decentralized energy is the future,” said Doornbos. “And that will need efficient batteries.”


Learn more about E3 Metals Corp here.

For more information on clean tech projects and opportunities in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

Geothermal Innovation in Alberta

Geothermal innovation in Alberta

The world’s first geothermal power plant was completed in 1914 in Italy. Fast forward more than 100 years, and Canada still does not have a single large-scale geothermal facility. Alberta company Terrapin hopes to change that.

Geothermal energy is a form of renewable energy harnessed from converting heat stored deep underground into electricity. Terrapin plans to build an eight-megawatt geothermal power generation facility near Hinton, Alta.

Sean Collins has worked in sustainable energy for about a decade, beginning with co-founding Student Energy – a global non-profit energy organization – and working for clean-tech companies in the province. After the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan was released in late 2015, Collins said he knew the electricity sector would have to change significantly following the coal phase-out. He founded Terrapin, a company focused on transforming waste heat and geothermal heat into usable energy. Now, he is the company’s president.

By phasing out coal, more renewable energy will be needed to make up for the gap in electricity supply and demand. Much of Alberta’s renewable energy will come from wind and solar power, which are intermittent, only producing electricity when the wind is blowing or when the sun is shining. One of the advantages of coal is that it can produce electricity all of the time. An advantage of geothermal is that it too can produce electricity on demand.

There’s not much difference between drilling an oil well and drilling a geothermal well
— Sean Collins

In principle geothermal seems straightforward, but there are at least 27 different technologies used to transform heat to electricity. Depending on the situation and heat source, some technologies perform better than others. Terrapin’s role is bringing expertise and understanding to which solutions are ideal.

Collins sees geothermal as a natural fit for Alberta.

“There’s not much difference between drilling an oil well and drilling a geothermal well,” he said, explaining Alberta has a lot of expertise in building massive facilities, such as billion-dollar oil and gas refineries, and these skills are easily transferable to building large-scale geothermal facilities.

Many predictions on global energy show oil and gas will still play a role 30 years from now, but there will be a massive increase in renewables. Collins considers this balance of energy sources as crucial. He says creating sustainable electricity will allow our oil and gas to be used most effectively, instead of for nearly everything as it has been for decades.

The price on carbon pollution has created an additional focus on renewable energy innovation.

“Alberta may be building our last pipeline,” said Collins. “We need to dig in and see how we play in the new world.”

To achieve this shift to renewable electricity, he says Alberta needs to be more entrepreneurial and ambitious.

“We as a province need to raise our risk factor.”


Learn more about Terrapin here.

For more information on clean tech projects and opportunities in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

You Can Go Far with GoElectric

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You Can Go Far with GoElectric

After seeing an article about Tesla and electric vehicles (EV), Jim Steil realized this was the future. As both an electrical engineer and a “bit of a car guy,” he decided he was going to be part of that future. Six weeks after reading the article, he was laid off from his oil patch job; he decided the time was ripe to pursue his new dream.

His original plan was to convert classic cars into electric vehicles. The first vehicle Steil set about converting was his 1966 Volvo, his “eVolvo” as he called it. Word of his plans soon spread, and requests poured in from locals, many wanting their commuter cars converted, or wanting to know what would be involved in converting it themselves. However, delivering a safe, reliable, high-quality final product requires a lot of time and expensive parts, like Tesla batteries for example.

After more research, Steil and his partner, David Lloyd, found the best option for most folks was simply to buy an EV, and the idea of GoElectric was born. GoElectric is the first exclusively electric vehicle dealership in Alberta, and only the second in Canada.

GoElectric imports used EVs from California. Because of government incentives in California encouraging consumers to purchase new electric vehicles, many lease a new EV for two years, then upgrade. This leaves a bounty of unwanted almost-new electric vehicles.


“Two-year-old EVs cost less than half as much as buying them new,” said Steil.


Many of the used cars at GoElectric are priced under $20,000, with the low-end closer to $15,000. Even a high-end electric BMW with improved range comes in about $30,000, compared with the $65,000 price tag to drive it off the lot brand new.

Thanks to their reliability and incredible efficiency – accentuated by high gas prices versus Alberta’s cheap electricity rates – electric vehicles can be as much as 10 times cheaper to drive than a gas-guzzler. Steil spends $20 a month on electricity for his electric vehicle and drives 80 km each day.

Along with sales staff, GoElectric also employs mechanics trained to service EVs, although one of the benefits of electric vehicles is their low maintenance demands. Of the 10 most common repairs to conventional gas cars, none apply to EVs. In addition to the cost savings, electric vehicles are much more responsive and quieter. But Steil encourages people to test drive an EV to find out for themselves, and get what is known in the industry as “the EV grin.”

Steil and Lloyd are confident they will meet their goal to sell 200 EVs per year. They also want to add 70kW of solar panels to the roof of the dealership to power a quick charging station for electric vehicles.

But their aspirations don’t stop at the used EV dealership: they still want to help people convert their cars, bikes, quads and boats to electric, and will be opening a 7,000 sq. ft. space in the dealership’s basement, dubbing it The GoElectric EV Underground Makerspace.

 “To continue converting our own vehicles, and help others convert their vehicles themselves is where our real passion lies,” said Steil.


Learn more about GoElectric here.

For more information on how to undertake your own clean tech project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


Energy Made Visible

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Energy Made Visible

Have you ever wished you could see where heat was escaping from your house?

This was the quest that spurred the work of Geoffrey Hay, a geography professor at the University of Calgary. After seven years of research, he founded MyHEAT, a Calgary company that helps homeowners visualize the location and amount of heat loss from their homes.

To accomplish this, a high-precision thermal sensor is attached to an airplane, which flies overhead. MyHEAT’s resulting map of rooftop heat loss is created by combining raw data from the sensor with other mapping data sets and some machine learning.

There are only a few other companies in the world attempting similar heat mapping. Some of its competitors use a 360-degree sensor attached to a car (similar to Google Street View cameras), but MyHEAT’s advantage is the speed at which heat loss data can be collected. By attaching the sensor to an airplane, the entire city of Calgary could be mapped in two nights.

MyHEAT is more than just a heat mapping technology. The company’s vision is to help homeowners understand how their home’s heat loss compares to others in their community. By creating heat loss ratings, MyHEAT builds on the power of thermal imaging as a behavioural nudge tool. This thinking is getting some major recognition; with MyHEAT, Hay beat out 400 other contestants to win the grand prize at MIT’s 2013 Climate CoLab Conference.  


“Homeowners are fives times more likely to take action after seeing their heat map.”


MyHEAT CEO Darren Jones said these heat maps can be a quick and inexpensive first step for engaging homeowners.

“Homeowners are fives times more likely to take action after seeing their heat map,” said Jones.

The heat loss maps and ratings are an indicator, he said, and should be used in conjunction with knowledge of the home. Insufficient insulation and poor sealing are two common culprits of heat loss that MyHEAT can often pinpoint. These findings can be the starting point for an energy audit.

So far, there has been a lot of interest from homeowners; 150,000 Albertans have viewed their home’s rooftop map, and 300,000 homes in Alberta have been clicked on. MyHEAT has mapped several cities in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia, but the goal is to eventually map all of Canada. The company just finalized its first deal with a customer in the U.S. and is excited to continue building its global customer base.

The company also wants to continue building the product and offer tools that is invaluable in helping Canadians find resources to improve the energy efficiency of their home. Daygan Fowler, MyHEAT’s program manager of energy efficiency, said many incentive programs are available to help homeowners. Her goal is to use MyHEAT to bring more awareness to these, and develop tools and resources to help answer homeowner questions.

Although often invisible, MyHEAT is improving energy efficiency one rooftop at a time.


You can learn more about MyHEAT here.

Check out the Resources page for more information on how to undertake your own clean tech and energy efficiency projects.

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Up to Speed: Youth Pushing Boundaries of Vehicle Technologies

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Up to Speed: Youth Pushing Boundaries of Vehicle Technologies

The University of Calgary Solar Car team and the University of Alberta EcoCar team are two great examples of Alberta students taking hands-on action to teach themselves and their communities about renewables and clean technology. These student groups design, build and race solar electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in national, continental and international competitions.

University of Calgary Solar Car team

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The University of Calgary Solar Car Team aims to participate in several competitions, but primarily in a three-day race in America. The team is made up of 65 students in four main undergraduate subteams: Mechanical, Electrical, Software, and Business. Engineering Project Manager, Morgan Grab, says one of the team’s main objectives is to involve students in every step of the design, build and troubleshooting process, giving them hands-on experience through working on an electric car and with solar modules.

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Business Project Manager Sarah Lam appreciates how the team enables her to empower other people and connect to her community. She says through its outreach, primarily classroom presentations and talks, team members feel as though they are able to “generate excitement about the possibilities in energy that we will have in the future,” and to teach younger students about the basics of renewable energy and car design. They also engage with the larger Calgary community by showcasing renewables as a viable and tangible option for Albertans. Grab says that by working on solar, they show “it’s not in the background or overseas, but it’s happening here, in the heart of Calgary.”

University of Alberta EcoCar team

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The University of Alberta EcoCar builds two hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: an urban car that emulates the look of an normal car, and a racing prototype. They compete at the Shell Eco Marathon, a continental efficiency competition in the U.S. Their team is composed of undergraduate and graduate students divided in six sub-teams totalling around 80 members.

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The team engages with the community through showcasing their cars at events, going to schools, engaging with political figures, university alum, and staff. Many students are drawn to the group as it allows them to practically apply their degree. Mechanical team lead, Shivam Jasawl, sees the benefit in participating in design and redesign cycles. Shivam says working on EcoCar gives him a chance to “apply what I am learning about, make my own assumptions and test them, and if everything I assumed was completely wrong, I get to ask why was it wrong and iterate it.”

“If the members of EcoCar continue to work in Alberta, we can take the principles we have learned about sustainability and efficiency and apply it to wherever we work in the future,” he adds.


These groups show things can be done differently, and students are ready to be a part of, and maybe one day lead, this innovation.

“This is oil country. When people hear that students are doing something different with hydrogen in Alberta, it makes an impact,” Shivam says.

As Grab puts it, “it’s always in the forefront of our mind that we can do things a different way. I hope that we can be that spark, that starts that innovation and gets people’s minds going about renewables. We want to show that it is possible and that there is an alternative.”


For more information on how to undertake your own clean technology project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Solex, from Fertilizer to Thermal Science

Solex, from Fertilizer to Thermal Science

Solex Thermal Science was born of necessity in the fertilizer industry. A fertilizer plant wanted to increase capacity, but didn’t have additional air emissions permits at the time. This was a problem because fertilizer processing – particularly the cooling stage – typically releases significant quantities of air pollutants like dust and other fine particles. Through ingenuity, the plant developed an industrial technology to cool the fertilizer without producing emissions, and while also reducing energy costs.

Solex’s indirect cooling technology passes material over a hollow plate, which contains a heat exchange fluid that indirectly cools the material through conduction. The process uses 90% less energy than traditional direct cooling and heating processes, resulting in significant cost savings. Solex’s technology also avoids air emissions because the material does not come into contact with air and allows the heat exchange fluid, usually water or thermal oil, to be reused.

Solex’s first sale was to a fertilizer plant in Alberta. Since then, Solex has evolved from its roots cooling fertilizer into a company that provides cooling, heating, and drying for a variety of products, including sugar, oilseeds, plastics, and coffee. Solex currently employs 63 people globally, with 38 of its staff in Calgary. The company has a number of installations in Alberta and operates in most other Canadian provinces as well as numerous countries around the world.

The applications for Solex’s technology continue to evolve. Given the company’s experience working with high temperature materials, it is now in the development stage of a solar thermal project to more efficiently convert sunlight to heat energy to generate power. Specifically, Solex is developing a heat exchanger that can transfer heat from high temperature solids to supercritical carbon dioxide, to be used as a fluid to spin turbines to generate electricity. The hope is to bring the cost of solar thermal from 12 cents/kWh down to 6 cents/kWh.

Solex is also able to store materials, including energy, at a high temperature for long periods of time. This allows Solex to dispatch the stored heat to power turbines when energy is needed and store the energy in the warm materials when it is not needed. When these heat storage capabilities are combined with solar thermal, it creates the potential for dispatchable renewable energy, addressing the energy storage challenge currently facing the renewable energy industry. Solex is building a small-scale system to test this concept, with plans to expand to a pilot scale in late 2018 or early 2019.


For more information on how to undertake your own clean tech project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


Urban Cogeneration: Old technology in New Applications

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Urban Cogeneration: Old technology in New Applications

Cogeneration is an idea as old as the electric power plant itself. In 1882 Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street generating station provided both electricity and heat to lower Manhattan. The leftover steam from the coal-powered turbines was piped to homes and businesses. Despite the inherent efficiency you get from stacking functions, this type of design was cast aside in favour of large remote centralized electricity generating stations.

And while these massive power plants might generate electricity at a cheap price in isolation you need a massive network of wires and infrastructure to get that electricity to the consumer. Also, two thirds of the potential energy you could have extracted is lost up the smokestack as waste heat.

Now, cogeneration has returned as a viable technology. Pulp and paper, manufacturing, oil sands operations all found that given their demands for heat cogeneration made sense.

In Alberta there are 4,000 megawatts of cogeneration capacity running. The largest cogeneration plants are found in those industrial applications, but the technology has scaled down too.

One small 370-kilowatt cogeneration plant provides heat and power for the east tower of Oxford’s Centennial Place office building in downtown Calgary.


"If you’re under 150 kilowatts you’re going to be over a five year payback, and if you’re over a 150 kilowatt you’re going to be a three to five year payback”


Dan Cloutier, the president of Power Eco-Systems, the company that installed the unit, says the basic mechanics of it are similar to a car’s.

“Most of the energy that goes into your car is lost as waste heat. So what we’re doing is instead of turning a driveshaft, our engine is turning a generator and generating electricity, and then we’re capturing that heat off the engine jacket as well as the exhaust.”

Cloutier says there’s a three to four year simple payback on this system and that’s including installation costs.

The other bonus is that though these run on natural gas, because they’re so much more efficient than giant power plants they emit dramatically less greenhouse gas, making them eligible for LEED points, BOMA Go Green points and a variety of other programs and incentives. This building has a LEED Gold certification. To go even greener they can be run on biomassbiogas or biodiesel.

This technology has matured to the point that anyone with a big enough heating or electricity bill should consider it. And while the systems go down in size to five kilowatts (one house-sized system Cloutier set up cost $24,000) the bigger the system is the better bang you get for your buck.

“If you’re under 150 kilowatts you’re going to be over a five year payback, and if you’re over a 150 kilowatt you’re going to be a three to five year payback,” says Cloutier.

In a carbon-constrained world where every unit of energy we consume should be doing as much work as possible, technologies like this will thrive.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own bioenergy project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.