COMMENT: Canadian carbon reduction and energy efficiency options

Published 05:31 on April 24, 2019  /  Last updated at 12:55 on December 19, 2023  / Carbon Pulse /  Americas, Canada, Contributed Content, Other Content

As corporates across Canada adjust to new federal and provincial carbon regulations, energy efficiency providers are fine-tuning their products and to serve the low-carbon economy. From low-hanging fruit to futuristic devices, there is no shortage of options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

By Melodie Michel, Canadian Clean Energy Conferences

Editor’s note: In the run-up to Carbon Pricing for Canadian Industry, April 25-26, Hilton Toronto, Canadian Clean Energy conferences is running a series of articles on key topics for industries complying with provincial and federal carbon regulations.

As corporates across Canada adjust to new federal and provincial carbon regulations, energy efficiency providers are fine-tuning their products and to serve the low-carbon economy. From low-hanging fruit to futuristic devices, there is no shortage of options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Efficiency improvements

The easiest and cheapest way to cut carbon emissions involves analyzing processes to find where efficiency gains are achievable, even without changing equipment. “When it comes to GHG emissions reduction, we do lots of analysis on our clients’ facilities, starting from very simple to very robust energy audits, dealing with all the different scopes,” says Ryan Duffy, President and CEO of consultancy Blackstone Energy. “One of our most popular services is our GHG Reduction Roadmap, which takes into consideration all the environmental scoping and gives a future look into how we can help our clients electrify their facilities.”

Electrification is certainly a viable option. Goldcorp for example is using mainly electric vehicles for the exploration of its Borden mine in Ontario, and expects to turn its underground mine operations 100% electric by the time production begins in the second half of 2019, cutting GHG emissions by 7,000 tonnes a year. But this type of project requires preparation and investment, and can seem out of reach for many.

“Canadian industry, in some cases, still uses equipment that was designed in the 1950s,” points out Flyn McCarthy, Principal at SysEne Consulting. “It’s pretty robust and viable, but not efficient. In our analysis we have found a theme around large industrial heaters for example, which cost a lot of money and have a large carbon footprint.” To start with, he recommends identifying which facilities are not operating at industry peer level, in line with the output-based pricing system. “Then, we dig into the top facilities that need to be improved, meet with their team and help them identify where anomalies are in their digital systems and in production processes,” he adds.

Sometimes, improving efficiency only requires more adapted software, which can help monitor and control process conditions such as temperature. Other times, it involves rethinking your perception of waste to get into a circular economy mindset.

From waste to resource

“In the natural world, one species’ waste is another species’ resource. That’s why we’ve adopted a circular economy philosophy, where there simply is no waste,” explains John Wilkinson, SVP of Sustainability at Greenfield Global. With this thought in mind, Canada’s largest ethanol producer started to look at what its waste products could do for its neighbours.

Luckily, Greenfield’s facilities are located in the heart of farm country, since its sole feedstock is corn. So there are many other agricultural products nearby, including tomatoes grown in greenhouses. In agreement with its Chatham, Ontario neighbour, Truly Green Greenhouses, the companies set up a system that collects waste heat and CO2 emitted from the fermentation process at Greenfield and sends it via pipes to the 90 acre tomato greenhouse across the road. The project was supported by the federal government.

“Our carbon dioxide increases the CO2 content in the air of the greenhouse, boosting the yield of the tomatoes grown by Truly Green. We also capture heat and send it over to Truly Green, and that reduces their need to turn on their natural gas boilers, reducing the carbon footprint of their product,” explains Wilkinson.

Even if you don’t find such a direct usage of your waste near your facility, there are other ways you could dispose of it and reduce your carbon emissions at the same time, namely by producing renewable or recovered natural gas.

With Quebec having announced an upcoming ban on source separated organics from landfills, to reduce GHG emissions, Greenfield partnered with the municipalities near its plant in Varennes to build and operate a 40,000 tonne a year anaerobic digester. The municipalities collect the organic waste and deliver it to the plant. There, it produces biomethane, which is piped across the street and used to displace a portion of the natural gas consumption at Greenfield’s ethanol plant. This reduces both the cost and the carbon intensity of its final product, fuel ethanol, which is blended by mandate into the Quebec gasoline supply to reduce GHG emissions. Moreover, the other co-product, digestate, is sold as fertilizer to local corn farmers who supply the ethanol plant.

Another such project is being spearheaded by True Energy, a company that uses hydrogen reduction technology, a method created to destroy toxic waste and chemical weapons, to produce recovered natural gas. “It is a heat and chemical process that turns complex organic molecules like plastic into gas by firing a concentration of hydrogen, with heat and pressure. The hydrogen gets inside the complex molecules and takes them apart. What comes out there is the energy content of the molecule, primarly methane and hydrogen. What percolates out, like silica, carbon or metals, can then be recycled,” says Arthur Potts, the company’s strategic advisor.

True Energy has plants operating in Australia, the US and in Ontario to process toxic waste, and has partnered with the Ontario Center of Excellence, the Natural Gas Innovation Fund, Gerdau and Enbridge to develop a pilot plant to test various feedstocks for recovered natural gas production. “Previously, destroying toxic waste was the main focus, but now that we recognize the value of renewable natural gas to move forward into a low-carbon economy, and it’s about retaining as much natural gas as possible,” he adds.

The added value of carbon

As seen in previous examples, reducing carbon emissions involves reconsidering the value of things that have so far been seen as worthless, including waste, leftover heat and, one step further, carbon itself.

An emerging industry is attempting to find value-added uses for carbon emissions in manufacturing processes. One such company, CarbonCure, has developed a technology that takes carbon dioxide emissions from heavy industry and injects this CO2 in the process of making concrete. “If we were able to adopt our process across the global concrete industry, we’d be looking at reductions of about 500 million tonnes of CO2 annually,” says Christie Gamble of CarbonCure. The company has installed 127 plants across Canada, the US and Singapore. One of them helped BC concrete maker Butler Brothers to achieve reductions of 500 tonnes of carbon emissions over the past year.

Because CO2 makes concrete stronger, the extra cost incurred by this process is balanced out by the increased manufacturing efficiency, helping construction companies save on other materials.

In another example of beneficial use of carbon, Advanced Chemical Technologies has come up with a methanol plant design that involves the inclusion of carbon dioxide into the process. “We take the CO2 we emit from our own plant, plus the carbon dioxide from other industrial emitters, and we have a net consumption of a quarter of a tonne of carbon dioxide for every tonne of methanol produced,” says Doug Beynon, Co-Founder, CEO and Director of Advanced Chemical Technologies. “Traditional plants can produce up to a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions for every tonne of methanol produced,” he adds. By displacing current emissions and not releasing new CO2 into the atmosphere, the company aims to achieve half a tonne of CO2 reduction for every tonne of methanol produced.

Advanced Chemical Technologies is about three years away from commercial production, with plans to build a small-scale plant first as a showcase, then partner with emitters for various full-scale plants. By then, the methanol market is expected to be worth C$70bn, with demand for cleaner fuels driving this increase.

Carbon can also be used as feedstock for plants – particularly algae. “The faster algae grow, the more CO2 they consume, just like a plant. When growing algae for industrial purposes, it’s actually very beneficial to us to partner with large point-source emitters instead of using regular air because the concentration of CO2 coming out of smokestacks is much higher than atmospheric CO2. There are also other gases that algae uses as sources of nutrients, including nitrogen oxide,” explains Phil Garber, Marketing Manager at Pond Technologies. The company has spent the past eight years refining its process to find exactly the right tank (a modified shipping container), lighting and amount of CO2 to ensure optimal algae growth.

What to do with all this algae? “Anything you can turn oil into, you can turn algae into: fertilizers, plastics, foam for sneakers, biofuels, but also animal feed, particularly for fish. Algae have 60 to 70% protein, much superior to soy or corn as a feed,” says Garber. Pond Technologies is in discussions with animal feed production companies to start using its algae at commercial volumes, but also sees potential for human consumption in the form of cosmetics, spirulina powder or food colouring – in the case that the algae is fed clean CO2.

After its multi-year showcase project with St Mary’s Cement in Ontario, the company has two commercial plants under way at Stelco’s Lake Erie Works steel mill and Markham District Energy’s natural gas plant, both in Ontario.

Financing options

Unfortunately, when it comes to financing carbon abatement projects, where you are makes all the difference. In Quebec, it was easy for Greenfield and the municipal partners to make a business case for the anaerobic digester: proceeds from the provincial cap and trade program were directly invested in exactly this type of project. “The clarity of having an established cap and trade system allowed the province of Quebec to come up with policies and incentives to achieve demonstrable results,” says Wilkinson.

On the contrary, Ontario’s lack of clarity regarding its carbon pricing – with the province in a court challenge against the implementation of the Federal Backstop – makes it difficult to predict revenue for these projects. “We have yet to come up with clear answers as to how our ability to reduce carbon emissions will be treated with respect to any kind of monetary gains for us,” says Beynon at Advanced Chemical Technologies. “But we designed the plant to stand on its own without looking at cap and trade or carbon tax, and that has turned out to be fortuitous.”

In Alberta, the situation has been stable despite changes in government, and this political certainty has yielded great results. “Through the Carbon Offset funding, the province is paying for every tonne of greenhouse gas reduced from industrial processes, at 135 dollars a tonne, so that tends to really motivate industrial clients to take action. I haven’t heard the final numbers on the federal backstop but I’m hoping for a similar system,” says McCarthy. Alberta also made a more traditional Energy Efficiency funding program available for this type of project last May, with a cap of C$2mn per company.

Government incentives tend to be crucial for this type of project, especially when it involves innovative techology. “Project finance investors don’t always like things they perceive as risky. This is a new technology, a totally new approach that turns centuries-old wisdom on its head: CO2 emissions are a key resource for us, so to get financiers to buy in took patience and persuasion,” says Garber at Pond Technologies. For its current projects, the company has received funding support from the Ontario Centre of Excellence, the Canadian Gas Association and specialized private equity groups that focus on sustainability.

The number of funds focusing on the low-carbon economy is growing, providing a significant source of financing for sustainability projects, but it’s important to remember that carbon abatement solutions can create new revenue streams – and therefore should be considered a sound corporate investment. “Any way to turn a waste into a resource makes business sense: you don’t need government to tell you that,” says Wilkinson at Greenfield.

In order for efficiency projects to be approved by senior management and get financial backing, they need to be sustainable economically as well as environmentally, and the ever-growing range of innovative solutions on the market is proving that by thinking outside the box, this is very much achievable.


Notable projects

Greenfield – Truly Green

Greenfield partnered with a nearby tomato greenhouse facility to pipe excess CO2 from its fermentation process into their greenhouses to boost tomato growth. It also captures waste heat from its grain drying process through a heat exchanger and through closed-loop piping underground to help heat the greenhouses. This has helped Truly Green cut energy costs by 40-50%, and turned waste heat and CO2 into a new revenue stream for Greenfield.

Pond Technologies – Stelco

Stelco and Pond Technologies are currenty building a pioneering commercial algae plant utilizing industrial greenhouse gas emissions, to be completed in Q4, 2019. The project secured C$5mn in grant funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) and the Target GHG Program. The C$13.9mn algae facility will decrease Stelco’s carbon footprint, and generate revenues from the sale of algae grown using GHGs.

True Energy pilot

With financial support from the Natural Gas Innovation Fund and the Ontario Center of Excellence, and in partnership with Gerdau and Enbridge, True Energy plans to start construction on a mobile pilot plant to produce recovered natural gas from various types of waste on May 31, 2019. The plant will have the capacity to process 10 to 20kg of waste including municipal solid waste, sewage sludge, food waste and woody biomass, and will serve as showcase for prospective clients, including Gerdau, Stelco and Enbridge as a potential offtaker.

CarbonCure – Butler Brothers

Noticing the demand for green building materials in British Columbia, concrete maker Butler Brothers decided to install CarbonCure’s technology, which uses CO2 emissions to strengthen concrete. Thee change helped Butler Brothers cut its carbon emissions by 500 tonnes over the past year, as well as giving the company a competitive advantage in its province.

Carbon Pricing for Canadian Industry, April 25-26 at the Hilton Toronto, will provide those heading climate and carbon strategies for organizations included under the Backstop and provincial regulations with key regulatory updates and critical insights from industry peers.

Building on the success of 2017 and 2018’s Ontario Cap and Trade Forums, this event offers Canadian industry with business-critical information for navigating carbon market uncertainties and developing successful mitigation strategies.