Clean technology in manufacturing

Mario Cywinski   

In-Depth Innovation & Technology Sustainability Automotive Energy Government Manufacturing Transportation automotive Business cleantech climate Climate change energy environment government Innovation manufacturing Sustainability Technology

Recently, PLANT held a roundtable looking at the adoption of clean technology in the manufacturing space, focusing on how manufacturers can be more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. This included a look at using renewable energy, how plants are becoming carbon neutral, and what companies are doing to help. PLANT also dived into the electric vehicle sector and how it is affecting the clean technology space in Canada.

Photo: bernie_photo / iStock / Getty Images

Electrification is usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about clean technology, with many looking to the automotive space, which plays a big role in the manufacturing world. However, it is not limited to simply automobiles, as many vehicles that are used within a production plant can be electrified, and as battery technology continues to improve, electrification continues to be a way for companies to become more sustainable and ‘green’.

One other aspect to keep in mind is that co-ordination among different levels of the process (government, private sector, public sector) is needed for companies to be encouraged to adopt clean technologies. As some (especially small-to-medium-sized businesses) are hesitant to be on the ‘leading-edge’ only for that technology to not be universally adopted.

Our expert panel was a true cross-section of the clean technology space, with representatives from associations, alliances, battery manufacturers, and metal fabrication manufacturers.

Q: Looking at the adoption of clean technology in the manufacturing space, how can manufacturers be more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint?


Dennis Dussin, President, Alps Welding Limited: A lot of manufacturers in Canada are down the curve on adopting lean manufacturing. In the small and mid-sized manufacturing space, there are huge opportunities for companies to improve their efficiency and eliminate waste. Things like scrap and idle time on machines are where there is potential for gains in reducing the amount of energy required in the manufacturing sector. It is basically looking at overall operations and making them leaner.

The other low-hanging fruit is electrification. There’s still a lot of vehicles that could be electrified, as well as warehouse and operating equipment; these can be addressed now without the need for a lot of emerging technologies to be available.

Robert Hornung, President and CEO, Canadian Renewable Energy Association: We see companies worldwide looking to make greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments, and often the first place they look to meet those commitments is what they can do to decarbonize their electricity supply. In Canada, it’s more challenging for companies to do this because of our electricity market structures. Alberta is an exception and in 2021, over 1,200 megawatts of new wind and solar energy projects have been committed to respond to corporate demand for renewable energy. That’s harder to do in other parts of the country, but utilities are responding. Nova Scotia is creating a green choice program to allow their manufacturers to make direct purchases of renewable energy. Saskatchewan is introducing two programs next year to do something similar. Utilities across the country are hearing demands from their customers to move towards greater adoption of renewable electricity, for both cost savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Rajshekar DasGupta, COO, Electrovaya: Supply chain is a big component. It’s too easy to say you are reducing emissions by just moving them offshore. In Canada, we have a clean grid, and the electrification will have a high impact here, expanding domestic supply chain. Also, there are manufacturing standards that have come out, including a standard for environmental manufacturing, which encourages recycling and reduction of waste.

Q: Clean tech encompasses a broad range of technologies related to recycling, renewable energy, information technology, green transportation, electric motors,  etc. Where do you believe Canada is thriving the most? And in which area do you see potential for Canada to adopt cleaner tech?

Daniel Breton, President and CEO, Electric Mobility Canada: We have a lot of critical minerals that are key to making renewables and electric mobility. We must make sure that we are not just extracting the minerals and sending them elsewhere. Right now, most lithium being extracted from Canada goes to China. We have a historic opportunity to make sure that we develop a zero-emission vehicle supply chain and a renewables supply chain that can make Canada a
global leader.

Matthew Fortier, President,Accelerate Alliance: The question is: where are we thriving now in Canada? We have clean energy in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, and we can develop more of that. Alberta is doing a lot of great work. What we need is a policy or government culture which fosters more companies to do higher value work. Also, those companies need to grow and thrive to employ Canadians.

DasGupta: In the U.S., there’s a 75 per cent requirement for domestic content in any federally funded electric bus procurement. Canada has a very substantial electric bus procurement plan, but there’s no significant Canadian content requirement, so for the batteries of those buses, it’s easier to use Chinese systems rather than Canadian-built. In the U.S., there’s a strong incentive for domestic content, so it gets built and then becomes available for other industries, and it gives them a head start.

Hornung: Canada must recognize that it’s competing for this investment and competing for these opportunities. If we don’t provide an environment that’s conducive to that investment, it will go somewhere else. Also, we’re looking at a fundamental transformation in energy systems. New technologies will be needed to facilitate the transition going forward, both hardware and software; it’s a system that we’re changing. Canada, on the renewable side, has a big advantage; 80 per cent of our electricity is already non-greenhouse gas emitting, so we don’t have to pay the same amount of investment and attention on decarbonizing, like other countries are, which gives us the potential to be a leader.

Dussin: When we look at clean tech, we look at what’s kind of new and emerging and how can Canada be a player. What we don’t look at is where we have been; Southern Ontario, for example, has been a leader in water treatment technologies, water filtration and water conservation. It has been a world leader in water technology, and as we move into a world where we’re looking at conserving resources generally, water is going to be a huge issue and here we can be a global player.

Nuclear must also be part of the solution. Going forward, we’re going to get into some issues about where electricity is going to come from. However, Canada, particularly in Ontario, has huge strength in the nuclear industry.

Photo: frentusha / iStock / Getty ImagesQ: What do you think governments can do to put Canada on the right road to a cleaner future and help support manufacturing in the adoption of clean technology?

DasGupta: One example is encouraging domestic content in new initiatives like electric buses or trucks. If a subsidy does exist, our pace of change here has been disappointing, so we need all hands-on-deck in every sector. There is no reason Canada can’t follow Norway’s model and do even better with domestic production of these technologies. We need to do a good job on this now, if we don’t take a leadership position, we will end up being a raw material supplier to other countries, who will then provide us the goods to solve our problems.

Fortier: The lack of coordination across federal, provincial, and municipal governments on these kinds of files is striking. A lot of governments want to position themselves as global leaders in electric or zero emission vehicles and while their heart is in the right place, they don’t seem to be talking with each other, so there doesn’t seem to be any coordinated strategy. There is a huge opportunity for people to be working together, figuring out where the strengths are across the country and determining how to fill gaps. If we were to move the dial 10 per cent, we’d be much further ahead.

Hornung: A more strategic approach for the country is going to be critical. Canada has a commitment to move to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which is fantastic, sends a very strong signal, and the Federal Government has been very consistent with voicing that. However, we have provincial governments that have never mentioned net zero by 2050. It’s clear that we are not all on the same page or are all working towards the same objective. We need to build consensus, and once we have a common objective, we have tremendous potential to collaborate and create economic opportunities in this country.

Breton: If we don’t show leadership, we will end up losing jobs in Canada. For instance, in the automotive sector, if we don’t build a supply chain for EVs from light to heavy duty, they will end up being made elsewhere. We want to fight climate change and create jobs. The oil and gas sector are going to go down over time, so we want to help workers transition from jobs in the fossil fuel industry to the renewable energy or electric mobility industries.

When we talk about being a global leader, if you look at the second quarter EV sales in Canada, they were at about five per cent; 10 per cent in Quebec, and 13 per cent in B.C. In September 2021, we’re at 20 per cent EV sales in China, 22 per cent in France, 30 per cent in Germany, and 91.5 per cent in Norway, which by spring 2022 will be at 100 per cent EV sales.

Dussin: In terms of conventional oil and gas and energy transition, what is important is what the government can do to provide small and mid-sized manufacturers with clarity and certainty as to where our future lies. If you look at Ontario, we had a cap and trade system, and another government gets elected and things change. Now, we have carbon emission targets, but in 2022, things may change again. A consistent roadmap across the country and among the provinces that says it makes sense to develop these technologies is needed, because this is where we’re headed long-term.
Q: What are the main barriers to the development of renewable energy sources? In turn, what actions should be taken to remove or replace these barriers to the chances of developing renewable energy sources?

Hornung: There’s a broad consensus that we must clean up the electricity system and decarbonize, and we must expand it to support electrification across industry, transport, and buildings. Looking at a range of studies on net zero, it can be concluded that a reasonable scenario is that you need to increase wind and solar production 10X in the next 30 years, which means you must build this out at a rate that’s 8X faster than the rate we’ve averaged over the last five years.

Right now, our electricity regulatory frameworks don’t provide a mechanism to allow energy storage to come into the grid or to provide services to the grid. The problem is that until that happens, it’s just a great technology that nobody can use.

The most important thing that must happen is we need to create demand. Nobody is going to invest in new electricity supply unless they think there’s going to be demand for that electricity going forward. Which is why we need comprehensive strategies around hydrogen and electrification, that’s what will stimulate the investment in the supply that can enable those solutions to be implemented.

Dussin: Canada is made up of many small and midsize businesses which have a reputation of being risk averse. Work needs to be done to reduce risk for investments, for residential applications, and for small business applications. Those who are looking at electrifying forklifts in warehouses say, “I don’t know enough about that, I don’t know if that’s the right technology, the technology is going to get better in the next few years, so maybe we’ll wait and see where that goes.” The same goes for solar panels or electric cars, many people will see how things play out.

DasGupta: It’s so easy to do well, for example, Chinese steel is produced with coal in large quantities. Now, on both the electricity and processing side, if you incentivize clean steel, the Canadian industry will flourish. Batteries are the same idea, the way batteries are manufactured, we have a technology that remove solvents, which is environmentally friendly. However, until now, there hasn’t been a strong push to go in that direction, because people are quite happy to have those solvent emissions in Asia. But if you put regulations on that, you would support more domestic innovation, and it’s better for the planet.

Q: What do Canadian companies have to do to become more carbon neutral? Do you feel complete carbon neutrality is an achievable goal?

Hornung: When looking at a country or company moving towards carbon neutrality, there are technological issues out there, but fundamentally, the biggest challenges are market signals and regulatory frameworks that enable us to be incentivized or have access to the technologies, that can help achieve decarbonisation objectives. We need R&D for new technologies, but we are massively underutilizing existing technologies.

Fortier: The best companies are asking themselves through their strategic planning processes, “What does the world want and can we make it for them? How can we make money by being carbon neutral? Because the world is moving that way and it’s important to figure out that process.” It’s time for an honest internal conversation around what your company can be in the future. The future is important, but I’ve had many conversations with directors on big company boards who don’t have these conversations.

Q: What are some of the obstacles (general or technical) that Canada faces in its path to go green? And how can this be overcome?

Dussin: The obstacle is not technical; it is organizational. We have all the pieces, resources, and knowledge; what we don’t have is a coordinated approach across provinces and federally, through the public sector, or the private sector; it’s having everything happening in isolation.
What are things going to look like in different provinces, what technologies are we going to back and get behind, and what are we most well-suited to. It’s a lot of uncoordinated activity going on across the country. That’s our biggest obstacle; the lack of a coordinated roadmap. We have all the pieces to the puzzle, but nobody with all the pieces on the table is trying to put them together into one picture.

Breton: Education and training are very important. We need qualified workers, interested workers, and passionate workers to start working in our industry. We are looking to find workers and it’s not an easy task, and I’m just trying to imagine what it’s going to be after COVID when things pick-up. It’s going to be an issue to find qualified people, so we must have plans to make sure we train or retrain as many people as we can, so they can fill these positions, because otherwise we won’t be able to grow as fast.
Q: What are the most crucial areas or burning issues in energy-based research today?

DasGupta: The amount of research happening in energy is going up exponentially. In terms of battery research, the number of papers being published is increasing year by year. The big push in the battery space research is solid state batteries, which enable much higher energy densities that can potentially enable electric aircrafts and lower costs of EVs. In other sectors, there is hydrogen, where there is plenty of research going. Also, nuclear is a technology which we shouldn’t ignore. France has 70 per cent of their electricity from nuclear energy. It’s a non-emitting technology and Canada has some very valuable technology that hasn’t been exploited or built on in many years.

Q: How will building out Canada’s ZEV supply chain help to ensure Canadian metals and minerals mining supports the domestic production of electric vehicles?

Fortier: It provides a little bit more visibility and certainty to the industry that there are more downstream users of their product, and so, if you can create or help foster a market for that, it encourages production.

A lot of what we produce in the mining sector in the battery space is sent overseas into different markets, and then we buy these things back at a premium. They are built great, but you’re not creating a lot more economic opportunity for the country, so if we can create a viable and integrated supply chain, it allows that product to stay domestic and reassures the industry to some degree.

It is only a segment of that industry, but it creates a market for their product that is domestic and is also an integrated North American market, but it allows predictability and access to the market in Canada.
This Q&A is just a sampling of what our cleantech panel touched on as part of the roundtable. A plethora of topics were covered over the over 90 minutes discussion.

To listen to the complete roundtable discussion, go to:




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