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Technology isn’t enough: Canada needs collaboration to meet its net-zero goals

March 11, 2022   by Jayson Myers

Photo: © VectorMine / Adobe Stock

It’s been over a month since COP26 ended in Glasgow with big commitments and ambitious emission-reduction targets from Canada and many other countries. Now, let’s get down to business. We need a strategy that will marry our best technological solutions with industry partners to meet our objectives.
New transportation systems are one answer, as we have seen lately with the great rush to build smart urban infrastructure and new supply chains for electric vehicles. Another is industrial decarbonization. Industry is a vital source of our employment, wealth and economy, but it also expends vast amounts of carbon; about a quarter of global GHG emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

We need to find a way that will accelerate the path to net-zero emission facilities while presenting business opportunities for manufacturers to add value for customers and investors, and eliminate waste from production processes. In other words, we need a decarbonization strategy based on basic lean principles that manufacturers can incorporate into their business plans and that will deliver bottom-line results at the end of the day.

With world-leading innovation, plentiful carbon-free electricity and a disproportionately high number of cleantech companies, Canada is in a great position to accelerate the development of a new domestic cleantech industry, help global industry meet its emissions targets and transform our industries into low-carbon competitors, with all the jobs and growth that would entail. But our start-ups can’t do it on their own. They need to find partners and customers – other companies that can help apply tech for industry and industrial customers that see the business benefits of deploying lower emission solutions.

To maximize adoption and create the greatest potential for growth and employment, we need to connect and strengthen collaboration between our cleantech sector and industry, manufacturers and resource processors in particular, and that depends on enrolling the support of other tech companies, business services, research organizations, educational institutions and investors from across Canada.

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World-changing ideas are plentiful in advanced manufacturing. But it’s also clear that very few companies have the ability or expertise to develop and fully commercialize or adopt world-beating technology on their own. Industrial companies don’t buy technologies. They need cost-effective, manageable solutions. And those usually come in the form of integrated engineering projects that combine cleantech with other new digital, materials and production capabilities to deliver sizable business benefits for industrial customers. Simply put, young ventures need to integrate their solutions into larger networks, or value chains, that can commercialize their technologies in global markets.

That’s where collaboration is key, because it doesn’t always happen naturally. The free market eventually tends to push partners together, but our climate timeline is too urgent for an eventual, piece-meal approach. Market-driven partnerships work best when everyone knows what everyone else is doing and where investment risks are low. Innovation doesn’t work that way. We need to find other ways to encourage and accelerate the market-driven adoption of industrial cleantech today.

I see this all the time at NGen. Whatever work we do to facilitate collaborations among researchers, tech companies, and manufacturers, is more important than the investments we provide. We do fund industry-led innovation projects, and over the past year, those projects have returned over 40 times our investments in sales. That comes from building collaborations and integrated solutions that generate economic benefits for business while making a positive impact on the environment.

Collaboration is facilitated by bringing a network together. In our case, that’s more than 4,500-member organizations, researchers, education partners and businesses in industries ranging from steel, low-carbon mobility, high tech to food processing. Anyone who has the capability to solve advanced manufacturing problems and take advantage of emerging opportunities is welcome to become a member of NGen’s advanced manufacturing network.

Take the case of Aspire Food Group, a Canadian start-up in the food protein world. Canadian media outlets have written stories recently about Aspire’s giant indoor cricket processing facility that is being built in London, Ontario. The headlines have focused on the potential for human food, but the company’s core markets are actually pet food and cricket fertilizer – products where Aspire’s automated factory can optimize the time, cost and environmental impact of producing food protein. The opportunity is truly global.

Early on, Aspire recognized that it needed partners to scale up and commercialize the business. Other partners joined the project to help with sensors, automation, quality control and market development for the protein. The result was a Canadian start-up commercializing its products, creating jobs and getting its clean technology implemented faster than it ever could have alone. All in a zero-emissions facility that is slated to come on stream next year.

Aspire CEO Mohammed Ashour told the London Free Press that, “We would have had to hire a lot of people and develop our own infrastructure, but thanks to our collaborative approach we get something better than we could have done ourselves, more effectively,
more quickly.”

If Canada wants to reach net-zero with the greatest economic benefit, then this is the formula for achieving its goals. Cleantech plus collaboration paves the way for net-zero manufacturing and future business growth. Collaboration is the missing link between innovation and our future market-driven
emissions policy.
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Jayson Myers, the CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, is an award-winning business economist and advisor to private and public sector leaders. E-mail jayson.myers@ngen.ca.  Visit www.ngen.ca


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