Toyota and its green machines

Interesting post here on Joel Makower’s blog about Toyota wanting to do an even better job at coming out with clean vehicles, part of its new president’s mission of doing “much more” in the green field, post-Prius.

As Makower writes: “Something strange and wonderful seems to be going on here. A major automobile company — the world’s second-largest, well on its way to besting General Motors… is embracing sustainability and environmental and safety issues as a core operating principle.”

More important than Toyota’s warm and fuzzy comments about clean cars is the fact that, in just making these comments, the Japanese car giant realizes that pushing in this direction is a sound business decision based on a thorough analysis of market demand. That, in itself, is quite encouraging.

SDTC funds 15 new cleantech projects

As someone who closely follows the cleantech industry in Canada, it’s almost like Christmas when Sustainable Development Technology Canada releases a round of funding for cleantech projects. Seriously, these funding announcements are a goldmine of information about little-known companies operating in the cleantech space (seriously, many of them don’t even have corporate Web sites) and the sometimes very cool projects they’re working on.

Today’s funding announcement — the sixth round since SDTC began in April 2002 — is no exception. The government-created foundation is investing $43.4 million on 15 new Canadian cleantech projects, bringing its total investments to $132 million spread over 61 projects. This is complemented by $347 million in private contributions from project partners.

So where’s this round of money going? Of the 15 projects, here are a few highlights of what sparked my interest:

1) A “free-stream” tidal power demonstration project near Victoria, B.C., where project partners — led by Vancouver’s Clean Current Power Systems Inc. — will enable a marine park to covert tidal energy to electric power. The goal is to replace, by early 2006, power supplied to the island park by two diesel generators. “The mult-year demonstration project will involve the installation, operation and monitoring of a 65 kW free-stream tidal turbine generator. It will be the first sustained field testing of a new electricity-generating technology in this harsh marine environment.”

2) Electrovaya Corp., which I’ve mentioned before in this blog, plans to develop and demonstrate its lithium-ion superpolymer battery system in an electric vehicle fleet. Perhaps this is the kind of project the Mississauga-based company needs to draw more attention to its technology. If its battery system can achieve the range and high energy density it promises, then perhaps this could even appeal to an auto manufacturer serious about building a next-gen plug-in hybrid.

3) Group IV Semiconductor Inc. of Ottawa, which I first heard about at a cleantech conference last year, is going to develop and demonstrate a “new breed of energy-saving solid-state lighting products.” Forget LEDs. This company, still largely in stealth mode, uses a silicon thin-film process that can lead to an entirely new approach to mass-market light bulbs. The company claims it can develop a light bulb with the same performance and price of existing conventional bulbs but with a much higher efficiency. The end result is energy-consumption savings approaching 80 per cent, it says.

4) I find this project quite interesting. A Winnipeg company called Prairie Pulp and Paper Inc. is working with Manitoba Straw Producers Co-op Ltd. and SNC Lavalin Engineering on a project that will turn agriculture waste materials into high-quality paper products. “Employing an innovative, agricultural fibre pulping process, this project has the potential to reuse otherwise discarded agricultural residues and help offset the demands on Canadian forests.” The project will develop and trial a process for producing “tree-free” paper — i.e. 8.5×11 sheet paper used in computer printers and photocopiers. Talk about huge potential.

5) One more project that caught my eye is a plan by Ottawa-based SAIC Canada, along with consortium partners, to develop and demonstrate “high-temperature thermal underground energy storage” that would work with a solar thermal energy system. It would apparently be the first project of its kind in North America. The concept goes like this: “Store the energy (cold or heat) underground when it is available and use it when the stored cold or heat is needed in the next season.” They claim it has never been done in the Canadian energy market. Personally, I’ve heard of this method of heat/cold storage before, but I think it’s more popular in Europe. Coincidently, I had an older gentleman call me a few months ago from rural Ontario telling me he’s spent decades working on such a project in his own back yard. I should have taken him more seriously.

Out of the 15, these are the five I plan to track quite closely. I’ll keep you all posted on what I learn. Meanwhile, SDTC is already preparing for its next round of funding and plans to call for statements of interest on Aug. 24.

“The upcoming call for SOIs will include, for the first time, a request for projects with technologies that address water and soil quality issues, as well as climate change and clean air, reflecting the expanded mandate given to SDTC in the 2004 federal budget.”

I’ll place a bet right now that Sonic Environmental will get a piece of the 7th round. Any takers?