Last fall, an ambitious survey covering 10 countries found that 84% of young people aged 16 to 25 are at least “moderately worried” about climate change – and 59% are extremely worried. They don’t see the “adults” – in business or government – making any of the hard decisions required to avoid the climate crisis. Instead, they see our net-zero targets slipping away and they feel betrayed.
But daunting challenges bring out the best in people. And that’s what Corporate Knights found when we went looking for the Future 50 – Canada’s fastest-growing sustainable companies.
Our objective was to identify outstanding Canadian entrepreneurs and companies that are gaining significant traction in the fight against carbon – with exciting new solutions that most of the world hasn’t discovered yet. The result: a power-packed list of companies whose products and services bring bold new ideas to the sustainability front – and raise hopes that we can win the climate war.
These game-changing innovators include Calgary-based Eavor Technologies, which has a system to produce geothermal energy almost anywhere in the world, using looped water streams that tap the heat deep underground to augment solar- and wind-powered electrical grids.
Toronto-based Hydrostor has another plan for augmenting wind and solar grids, to free utilities from fossil-based backups such as natural gas and nuclear. Hydrostor uses off-peak energy to heat utility-scale quantities of compressed air, which is stored in underground chambers until peak energy demand requires the air to drive a turbine again.
In Squamish, B.C., Carbon Engineering – founded by a Harvard professor – has created technologies to suck carbon dioxide right out of the atmosphere, for underground storage or processing into synthetic fuels. Bill Gates is an investor.
Oneka Technologies, founded by entrepreneur Dragan Tutic in Sherbrooke, Quebec, at age 23, brings affordable drinking water to coastal communities with scalable desalination systems, sustainably powered by ocean waves.
And one of the women leading the cleantech charge in Canada is electrical engineer Miriam Tuerk. Her company Clear Blue Technologies is bringing light and wireless service to remote regions through “smart” off-grid wind and solar systems.
What’s most remarkable about the Future 50 is the many different business niches they represent: from green economy basics such as renewable energy, biofuels and batteries to sustainable products ranging from vegan butchers to low-carbon cement, as well as innovative services ranging from climate-monitoring satellites to a green taxi company.
The Future 50 should reassure those who worry the green energy transition will drag us back to a pre-industrial stone age. The list’s sheer variety confirms climate experts’ contention that net-zero will create infinite opportunities for entrepreneurs and inventors with vision, grit and persistence.
Pioneering has always been long, hard work. Dig into almost any firm on this list and you’ll find scrappy entrepreneurs who have laboured for years in the shadows, slowly developing their theories and prototypes, waiting impatiently for investors and customers to embrace change.
“We’re now at an inflection point,” says one Future 50 CEO, James Larsen of e-Zinc, a Toronto company whose zinc-based technology creates utility-scale batteries with storage power measured in days rather than hours.
The Future 50, like other green leaders around the world, are being powered by a confluence of events. First, new technologies (such as AI, nanotech, cloud computing and advanced materials) are coming together in innovative combinations to generate solutions that weren’t possible even a decade ago.
Next, the leading Future 50 entrepreneurs report there’s no shortage of capital for promising environmental solutions. At e-Zinc, for instance, which just raised US$25 million, Larsen is confident he can raise another $100 million or more – and still be able to choose investors who will add technology expertise and customer connections, not just cash. Because the secret sauce propelling many of these upstart innovators is the growing willingness of big companies to partner with them to co-create ground-breaking climate solutions.
Still, most of these companies are works in progress, their ultimate fates unpredictable. In publishing this list, Corporate Knights makes no promises about their prospects, or their suitability for investment. Innovation doesn’t work that way. But the future depends on their success.
Top 25 fastest-growing publicly traded companies
growth rate*: 8,800%
At the COP26 climate conference in November, the United Nations identified hydrogen as the “backbone” of our clean energy future. But separating hydrogen from water, through a process called electrolysis, takes substantial energy. During the transition, “grey” hydrogen produced with natural gas may be acceptable, but net-zero will require “green” hydrogen produced with emission-free renewable energy. Yet most electrolysis systems today work only with the steady electricity provided by major power grids.
Enter Next Hydrogen, of Mississauga, Ontario, a maker of electrolyzers specially designed to produce large quantities of hydrogen using intermittent renewable electricity sources, such as wind and solar.
Founded in 2008 by veterans of Stuart Energy, a Toronto-based pioneer of hydrogen power, Next Hydrogen is now scaling up to deliver commercial solutions to the transportation and industrial sectors. The company is partnering with industry leaders such as Hyundai, Kia and global engineering firm Black & Veatch.
Modern Plant-Based Foods
GROWTH RATE*: 2,660%
Founded by accountant Tara Haddad, Vancouver-based Modern Plant-Based Foods aims to benefit “people, animals and the environment” by popularizing healthier, more natural plant ingredients. Its offerings range from plant-based, no-additive burgers, meatballs, roasts and sausages to a line of vegan potato crisps.
“We wanted ingredients people can understand,” Haddad says.
The company has had its challenges – just last year it changed its name from Modern Meat. Two years ago, the company had just signed lucrative food-service contracts when COVID shut down the restaurants it had targeted. It struggled for months to navigate complex packaging rules to pivot to retail sales. Fortunately, the company’s two Vancouver retail stores, called Modern Wellness Bar, sell vitamins, supplements and healthy foods that give the company a heads-up on changing consumer tastes.
On December 31, food-industry veteran (and third-generation farmer) Avtar Dhaliwal took over as CEO, promising “a heavy focus on cutting-edge products, marketing techniques, and acquisitions.”
GROWTH RATE*: 831%
With lithium, the active component of EV rechargeable batteries, quadrupling in price over the past year, it’s a great time to own this mineral. And the good times extend to Mississauga, Ontario–based Li-Cycle, which recycles metals from electronic waste – including nickel, copper and cobalt, but especially the lithium ion in consumer and EV batteries.
Founded in 2016 by mining consultants Tim Johnston and Ajay Kochhar, Li-Cycle has raised more than US$700 million to perfect its technology and build a hub-and-spoke network of recycling centres in Canada, the United States and Europe. (A deal announced in early May with mining giant Glencoe could up that total another $200 million.)
Based on existing supply deals with industrial clients such as GM and LG, Li-Cycle estimates it could supply 15% of North America’s battery manufacturing capacity by 2025. Better still, the company says its services will reduce the need for new mines, lower the burden on landfills and shrink battery costs.
Growth rate: 735%
“Plant-based protein bars: so soft you’ll say, ‘No whey.’”
How do you sell new, healthier, more sustainable foods to a skeptical public? Winnipeg-based Burcon NutraScience is redefining dinner with creativity, rigorous agricultural science, nearly 600 patents issued and pending, and a soupçon of sass.
It all starts with protein: Burcon has figured out how to make smoother, tastier and more blendable pea proteins, called Peazazz – suitable for use as meat and dairy alternatives, ready-to-drink beverages or baked goods – and the first purified, human-grade canola proteins (marketed as Supertein®, Puratein® and Nutratein®). Producing these delicacies and marketing them to food companies around the world is the task of Merit Functional Foods, a partnership between Burcon and three food-industry veterans that just opened a $130-million production facility in Winnipeg.
Burcon recently told investors that consumer products using Merit’s protein ingredients are now available on retail shelves in the United States and Europe.
Growth rate: 264%
Halifax-based META Materials was founded to solve an unusual problem: protecting pilots from blinding laser light. With help from Europe’s Airbus, META developed a windscreen film that reflects hazardous beams. Today META is a global leader in “smart,” functional surface films derived through nanotechnology. One of its films – an invisible metal mesh that adheres to walls and windows – enhances the reach of 5G radio signals, saving businesses from spending millions on signal boosters.
CEO George Palikaras says META’s surface films replace outmoded industrial processes that require six times as much energy. Its “metamaterials” also reduce the need for rare-earth minerals that are hard to find and dirty to mine. With 150 employees, the company focuses on five key markets: medical, automotive, aerospace, energy and consumer electronics. Coming soon, a new generation of 3D glasses for the metaverse – which could spark a collaboration with another firm called Meta – the former Facebook.
Growth rate: 208%
Sales of organic foods in the United States grew 12.8% in 2020. But in the European Union, they grew 15%, their fastest jump in a decade. Seeing this trend coming was Vancouver-based Organto Foods, which focuses on supplying sustainable, traceable and organic fruits, vegetables and herbs to key European markets.
In recent years the company has evolved from an owner of agricultural and packaging operations in Guatemala into an “asset-light” importer that builds relationships with high-quality producers throughout Europe, the Americas and Africa. With these trusted partners, the company boldly offers consumers QR codes that trace the origins of every product.
Organto is also building its own brands: “I AM Organic” and “Fresh Organic Choice,” for its wide range of products, including fresh avocados, spices, packaged mushrooms and fruit-salads-in-a-cup. To keep things global, Organto has two co-CEOs: one in Vancouver and one in the Netherlands.
Growth rate: 164%
Founded in 2016 by two brash B.C. foodies, The Very Good Food Company has a mission to produce tasty, nutritious plant-based meat and cheese alternatives that “put the fun back in functional.” (Brand names include Smokin’ Burger, Stuffed Beast, Ribz and The Very British Banger.) A $600,000 crowdfunding campaign and then a $4-million IPO in 2020 gave the company the capital and confidence to expand its retail presence, boost production and distribution, and open a plant in California.
But growth costs. In 2021, sales nearly tripled, to $12.3 million, but Very posted a $55-million loss. Soon after releasing those results, the company announced cost cuts, fired CEO Mitchell Scott, and accepted the resignation of co-founder James Davison, chief R&D officer. Former Nestlé executive Matthew Hall took over in May as interim CEO, reassuring investors that “With its excellent products and brand, Very is poised to be a leader in the growing plant-based market.”
Growth rate: 161%
Thanks to the pioneering work of innovators like Ballard Power, Vancouver is fast becoming a world capital of fuel cell design. Fuel cells mix hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, but the transportation and industry sectors are demanding more powerful cells before they welcome clean, renewable hydrogen power.
Vancouver’s Loop Power is trying to cross that chasm with its patented eFlow fuel cell, which produces 16% higher fuel efficiency than competing designs, the company says, and generates nearly twice the power. Loop claims its technology can reduce hydrogen costs by $23,000 a bus every year.
The company targets myriad markets, from transit, heavy trucking and urban delivery to the construction, mining and marine sectors. In April, Loop announced that Hylife Innovations, a Dutch developer of sustainable power solutions, will integrate Loop’s hardware into its “InnovaHub,” which uses hydrogen to power residential buildings.
Growth rate: 146%
Marc Bédard was a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers when he joined the board of Quebec school-bus maker Entreprises Michel Corbeil – and fell in love with that business. After that firm went bankrupt, Bédard teamed with a former Corbeil executive to bring yellow-bus manufacturing back to Quebec – with a green tinge. Their start-up, Lion Electric, would produce low-emission vehicles at first, and eventually electric ones.
By 2016, the company was producing all-electric school buses, followed two years later by electric trucks. In May, Lion celebrated a milestone: its 600 electric buses and trucks have clocked a total of 10 million miles. With the International Energy Agency insisting that electric vehicles need to represent 79% of global bus fleets and 59% of heavy truck fleets by 2050, Bédard says, “The need to take immediate action to decarbonize transportation is clear.”
Just to make sure, Lion is now building a $185-million battery factory.
Growth rate: 146%
It’s been said that Vancouver-based Greenlane Renewables has the wind at its back. Commentators weren’t mixing metaphors. They were referring to the shift toward renewable natural gas (RNG) as more gas utilities and waste producers begin to transform decomposing organics into a natural gas replacement – and as governments legislate tighter renewable quotas for utilities’ natural gas supplies.
Greenlane’s biogas-upgrading systems produce low-carbon RNG, which can be inserted directly into the natural gas grid, with waste from landfills, dairy farms and water-treatment plants. Over 30 years, it has sold 135 systems, including the first of their kind in a dozen countries. Greenlane says its systems have collectively removed more than six million tonnes of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere – equivalent to removing 1.3 million cars from roads every year.
But that’s history. Over the next 28 years, Greenlane expects that demand for biogas upgrading equipment will total $90 billion.
Growth rate: 118%
This Blainville, Quebec, firm helps global companies in energy, mobility and industrial markets generate and capture renewable biogas from waste. Founded in 1967 as an industrial gas-drying firm, today’s Xebec is a “quilt of acquisitions,” says CEO Jim Vounassis, united by a clear strategy based on accelerating the world’s charge to net-zero.
With revenues exceeding $100 million for the first time last year, Xebec recently unveiled a new strategic plan intended to triple sales by 2024. Two key pillars: developing decentralized “hydrogen production hubs” and serving the growing shift to carbon capture and sequestration. But the end goal, says the company, is hydrogen: “Xebec is technologically positioned to be a global leader and participate in the end game of every hydrogen supply scenario.”
Growth rate: 113%
Vicinity Motor was formed in 2008 to meet B.C. Transit’s need for more compact community-sized buses. William Trainer, a longtime heavy-equipment dealer with manufacturing experience, formed a team that met the specs, and today Aldergrove, B.C.–based VMC has more than 700 buses on the road.
But today the company faces even more demanding specs. VMC specializes in green vehicles, with trucks and buses powered by electricity and compressed natural gas now accounting for 71% of its vehicle sales, a figure expected to rise next year to 88%.
To tap the booming U.S. market, VMC has just built a plant across the border in Ferndale, Washington, capable of building 1,000 units a year. VMC is counting on projections that the number of electric buses in North America will rise from 2,000 currently to 30,000 in 2030, and 88,000 in 2040.
Growth rate: 103%
You can’t connect every corner of the world to centralized power grids. Enter Clear Blue Technologies, which develops “smart” off-grid power systems, marrying solar- and wind-powered equipment with the software to remotely monitor and control it. Clear Blue’s energy-as-a-service model, mainly for lighting and telecommunications, provides sustainable, affordable power in remote areas and developing countries where grid-based connectivity is problematic or cost-prohibitive. The Toronto-based firm manages thousands of systems in 37 countries, from “smart” pathway lights in Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment region to supermarket parking-lot lighting in the United States and telecom services in sub-Saharan Africa.
As telcos face growing pressure to provide universal connectivity, Clear Blue ensures consistent service and maximum uptime by giving customers a full slate of remote management controls, says CEO Miriam Tuerk. “You’d never buy or build a telecom network without those management tools, and you need to do the same thing for power.”
Growth rate: 75%
PyroGenesis Canada’s edge is white-hot innovation. Its plasma-based technologies, developed over 30 years, use temperatures as high as 5,500°C – as hot as the surface of the sun – to improve on four traditional industrial processes: atomizing metal powders; producing iron ore pellets; maximizing recovery of aluminum, copper and zinc from waste metals; and improving on conventional incineration techniques to reduce hazardous and medical waste to inert, harmless residue. PyroGenesis’s solutions cut the costs of each process and slash their carbon footprints – a double whammy the firm labels “Transformlutionary.”
For years, plasma was a process looking for an application. Now, in a recent report the company claims that “PyroGenesis has harnessed the many advantages of plasma and developed economic processes which are challenging the status quo.” At its Montreal headquarters and manufacturing facility, PyroGenesis is also exploring new applications for its technology, such as transforming quartz into high-purity silicon metal and converting hazardous residues from aluminum production into a low-carbon fuel and safe, recyclable components.
Growth rate: 65%
As consumers and regulators seek alternatives to plastic packaging, Vancouver-based Good Natured Products offers a solution: products made from plant-based materials that are renewable, recyclable and certified compostable. It designs and produces bioplastics for more than 400 products, from food packaging and takeout containers to pallet stretch-wraps – all free from toxins such as BPA and phthalates. Good Natured also offers custom thermo-formed packaging (think plant-based clamshell containers for cupcakes) and recently filed a patent application for its tamper-evident containers, to secure the safety of ready-to-eat meals.
In the past 18 months, Good Natured has also acquired two manufacturers of plastic packaging. “By developing a wide assortment of high-frequency products and packaging, we’re able to drive out the adoption of renewable, plant-based materials more quickly than if we focused on a single niche,” says CEO Paul Antoniadis. “Ultimately, it’s less risky for our business model and more beneficial for the environment.”
Growth rate: 59%
If you’ve ever wanted to beam into the future with Captain Kirk, here’s your chance. Toronto-based Solar Alliance Energy is a “solar architect” that develops solar-power systems in the southeastern United States. In fact, Kirk’s alter ego, William Shatner, boasts a custom 6.3-kilowatt system at his home in Los Angeles.
Since 2003, Solar Alliance has developed $1 billion worth of renewable energy projects, generating enough energy to power 150,000 homes. In 2020, Shatner partnered with Solar Alliance to promote the benefits of solar: cost savings, energy independence and building a sustainable future. Shatner’s mantra: “Save money, save the world.”
Solar Alliance’s strategy is to focus on the high-margin sectors of the solar industry, especially commercial buildings, utilities and data centres. It’s also working on a “Live long and prosper” strategy, by owning its own solar projects that will provide recurring revenues for 30 years. Next item on the duty roster: expanding into Canada.
Growth rate: 58%
Village Farms International has learned a lot in 30 years of growing tomatoes, peppers and lettuces year-round in B.C. greenhouses, using recirculating water, organic pesticides and clean energy. Now it’s leveraging that experience to bring sustainability to the cannabis market.
Since the Delta, B.C., firm moved into cannabis products in 2017, annual revenues have nearly doubled. Its Pure Sunfarms brand produces “B.C. bud” in numerous forms, including CBD oils, vapes, pre-rolled cigarettes and dried flowers with splashy names like Jet Fuel Gelato and Black Cherry Punch.
Estimates say the global cannabis market will reach US$90 billion by 2026, up from US$20 billion in 2020. To grow beyond Canada, Village Farms has “surgically” selected markets with mature client bases, including the United States, as well as Australia and the Netherlands. VF is betting that its ability to combine sustainable farming with legacy practices for growing cannabis will give consumers a distinct choice.
Growth rate: 37%
Founded in 1999 by college friends mixing “smart” drinks in Montreal nightclubs, Guru Organic Energy now aims to conquer the US$15-billion energy drink market with its line of organic vegan energy drinks.
But to take market share from Red Bull and Monster, which own 75% of the category, great products aren’t enough, says Guru CEO Carl Goyette: “You have to have a great brand.” So Guru eschews the industry’s traditional dirt-bike/sex-sells ethos, targeting progressive millennials interested in getting their energy from natural, functional foods.
Clout also helps. In 2021, Guru landed an exclusive distribution deal with PepsiCo Canada, augmenting Guru’s 40-person sales force with more than 400 PepsiCo reps. The partnership fuelled a 39% rise in sales last year, solidifying Guru’s first-mover advantage. Now it’s planning more growth, especially in the United States, powered by cash reserves of $67 million. Says Goyette, “You have to be ready to play the long game.”
Growth rate: 36%
Vancouver-based BQE Water uses advanced technology and an innovative business model to help the global mining industry go beyond the goal of “doing no harm” to doing actual good for the environment and local communities. Its consulting and operations expertise helps mining and metallurgical companies such as Centerra, Glencore and Kinross Gold manage toxic wastewater to meet or exceed ever-tightening government regulations. Specializing in four major contaminants (metals, sulphate, cyanide and selenium), the company earns recurring revenue from the clean water its systems produce – while its clients offset the costs of mitigation by reselling the recovered metals.
BQE approaches water treatment as part of a larger environmental and social strategy. In April, it entered into a joint venture to provide mine-water services in eastern Nunavut – giving Indigenous communities more say in protecting their environments while demonstrating that success can be measured by more than market share.
Growth rate: 35%
Longtime business watchers know Dundee Corp. as the centre of a mining empire founded by legendary financier Ned Goodman. Less well known is its foray into technology through its 86% ownership of Dundee Sustainable Technologies, a public company that helps global mining firms extract metals from mineralized concentrates and tailings that can’t be processed conventionally because of metallurgical or environmental issues.
DST has invested $45 million to develop its technologies. Its CLEVR process helps mines extract gold without cyanide and is faster and more efficient than conventional methods. Its GlassLock process removes arsenic linked to metal mining and smelting, stabilizing it in a non-hazardous glass waste product.
Speaking to a mining publication, president and CEO David Lemieux said DST’s technology offers new life for mines that can’t otherwise meet their countries’ strict environmental regulations. “[It] has proven to be an environmental asset for mining companies.”
Growth rate: 34%
Underperforming electrical systems afflict 80% of commercial buildings, costing owners US$100 billion a year, according to Vancouver-based Legend Power Systems. The company was founded in 2001 to better match buildings’ electricity needs with the varying voltages coming from the power company. Along the way, LPS discovered that managing the electrical supply not only cuts a building’s energy bill, but optimizes the performance of the equipment inside – reducing maintenance and replacement costs. Today Legend’s SmartGATE platform provides active power management (APM) for landlords, schools, governments and other building owners, optimizing building systems while reducing their carbon footprint.
As conscientious property owners explore new decarbonization initiatives – and as unstable energy sources such as wind and solar supply more power grids – LPS expects accelerating growth. A third-party study by Emergent Urban Concepts and Integral Energysays active power management is “the keystone of large building electrification. Expect APM devices to become as commonplace in large buildings as utility power meters.”
Growth rate: 33%
Founded in 1996 by university friends Steven Bloembergen and John van Leeuwen who working in “green chemistry,” EcoSynthetix was created to prove that natural products can work just as well as petroleum-based chemicals, and needn’t cost more. The Burlington, Ontario, company produces industrial adhesives and binding agents using renewable biomaterials, such as corn starch, rather than fossil-based ingredients and toxic compounds like formaldehyde.
Focusing on three key markets, EcoSynthetix’s products fuse the wood fibre in particleboard, adhere colour graphics to paper, and create better-holding hairspray. Expanding into too many sectors is a temptation for many green companies, says CEO Jeff MacDonald. “We were definitely in that camp, trying to do everything. We were burning through cash, so we decided to focus on a few things that matter.” For five years, EcoSynthetix invested 75% of its efforts in the wood-fibre market. The payoff: it landed a new client named Ikea.
Growth rate: 29%
Vitreous Glass makes crushing glass sexy. At its waste-glass processing plant in Airdrie, Alberta, the company collects post-consumer beverage containers from commercial and industrial sources in Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan. After cleaning and crushing, Vitreous sells its “GlasSand” product as a raw material to manufacturers of fibreglass building insulation. GlasSand requires less energy to reheat compared to coarser conventional “cullet,” reducing costs and carbon output for customers such as Johns Manville Canada and Owens-Corning Canada.
Founded in 1995 by president and CEO Pat Cashion, Vitreous was the first company in Western Canada to recycle large quantities of waste glass (about 90,000 tonnes a year), which until then went to landfills. It also regularly rewards investors with special cash dividends. As one investor newsletter noted, “It is a very simple, very well-run business that has found a great niche. Who knew crushed glass would be so sexy?”
Growth rate: 28%
Building on scientific research that began in 2005, Earth Alive Clean Technologies has developed a platform called “Soil First”: a portfolio of innovative biological and microbial technologies that reverse today’s global trends toward soil degradation. Its eco-friendly Soil Activator biofertilizer uses a blend of soil microorganisms that remediates degraded soils, while Mineralized Seaweed builds plant health and tolerance.
Other products include a hemp biofertilizer and the world’s first organic/biodegradable dust-control solution for reducing water use at open-pit mines.
Gearing up for a wave of growth, the Lasalle, Quebec, firm appointed a new CEO in October. Nikolaos Sofronis, an Earth Alive director and private banker, has more than 20 years of finance and mining experience. In April, Earth Alive closed a $6.1-million private placement that will help the firm grow its sales and technical teams and access new markets through acquisitions and joint ventures.
Growth rate: 25%
Toronto health-food retailer Organic Garage has what it calls a “Dump It” list of undesirable ingredients it asks grocery vendors to review before they pitch their products. Artificial colours? Out. Benzoates in food? Bad. Bleached flour? Nu-uh. And in case vendors have any questions, the company adds, “WE DON’T COMPROMISE!”
Founded in 2006 by Matt Lurie, a fourth-generation grocer, Organic Garage strives to bring organic food to the masses – using funky, mid-sized stores of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet with minimal frills (no in-store butchers or chefs) to beat the prices of competing health-food stores, Whole Foods and even general supermarkets by at least 10%. As more consumers are exposed to organic alternatives, Lurie says, their biggest concern shifts from “What’s quinoa?” to “How much?”
With five stores in the Toronto region, Lurie is eyeing further expansion. His current vision: two dozen stores across Ontario and 10 in B.C.
Top 25 fastest-growing private companies
GROWTH RATE**: 17,175%
The Romans heated baths with water from the earth, but attempts to commercialize geothermal energy from hot springs have generally failed for lack of scaling potential. Still, there’s lots of heat beneath our feet: Earth’s molten core will keep warming the planet for billions of years.
Founded in 2017, Calgary-based Eavor Technologies plans to tap that heat. Using the oil patch’s latest drilling technologies, its “Eavor-Loop” projects would drill deep into bedrock, where the temperature is 75° C or more. By continuously flowing cold water through the rock (where the water heats up), and then running that water through a heat exchanger topside, the company can produce emission-free energy, 24/7, for 100 years. CEO John Redfern says Eavor can bring energy security anywhere: “We’re going to put thermal where it’s never been used before.”
Following a successful demonstration project in Alberta, Eavor will soon break ground on a project in New Mexico. Redfern says the firm has a half-dozen global projects in its pipeline.
**Growth in capital raised
GROWTH RATE: 4,262%
Founded in 2007, Vancouver-based Svante (previously called Inventys) has a faster/cheaper solution for scrubbing carbon dioxide from the emissions of oil refineries, or plants producing cement and steel. At Svante’s first pilot, in a Husky heavy-oil plant in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, a nanotech mesh ensnares C02 and diverts it into a pipeline for transport underground.
Svante tells its story better than we could: “With the ability to capture CO2 directly from industrial sources at less than half the capital cost of existing solutions, Svante makes commercial-scale carbon-capture reality, and positions global industries to play offense in the fight against climate change.”
The company is now working with Lafarge to clean up two of its cement plants, in Vancouver and Colorado. In Vancouver, the captured CO2 will be injected into the concrete, producing a stronger product. Svante says a full-scale plant would capture a million tons of carbon a year, equal to eliminating the annual emissions of 200,000 cars.
GROWTH RATE: 3,382%
Toronto-based Hydrostor is a 12-year-old company with a unique, emission-free technology for storing utility-sized quantities of surplus energy. Its systems provide the backup power that will allow communities to rely on wind and solar for all their power needs – hastening the energy transition.
Hydrostor’s patented technology uses off-peak energy to produce heated compressed air, which is stored in deep underground chambers until it’s needed to drive a turbine to create electricity again. Founder and CEO Curtis VanWalleghem says Hydrostor’s plants, which will cost $500 million and up, will displace diesel and natural gas generation and store greater quantities of energy than even the latest battery technologies.
In January, the company announced a US$250-million investment from Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, which will finance construction of its first three commercial plants, in California, Australia and the United Kingdom. VanWalleghem says the investment will also fund Hydrostor’s pursuit of “dozens” more contracts around the world.
Growth Rate: 2,400%
After 20 years and $25 million of research in recovering metals from industrial waste, the team at Toronto-based Yava Technologies is finally getting to show what they can do.
The Yava team, led by veteran mining and cleantech executive Bob Pepper, has developed hydrometallurgical processes that recover minerals such as alumina, silica, gold and silver from mined ore and low-grade industrial compounds. Its technology eliminates the need for traditional equipment such as smelters, virtually eliminating the release of toxic gases or particulates.
Through subsidiary Yava Alumina, the company is building a Montreal demo plant for recovering high-purity alumina – used to produce high-strength glass for smartphones, LED lighting and surgical instruments – from coal fly ash and other low-cost feedstocks. Sustainable Development Technology Canada has invested $10 million into the project. In Cape Breton, subsidiary Yava Silica is designing a plant to recover precipitated silica from the waste streams of foundries and steel mills.
Growth Rate: 1,329%
When Dragan Tutic travelled overseas after graduation, the mechanical engineer couldn’t help wondering why so many coastal communities thirst for fresh water. Desalination plants are expensive to build and energy-intensive – but couldn’t there be a cheaper, cleaner alternative?
Back home in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Tutic spent two years solving the problem, by focusing on wave energy. His solution: clusters of offshore buoys that purify seawater through reverse osmosis, powered by restless ocean waves. A pipe laid on the sea bottom brings the fresh water to users, who pay a fee per cubic metre that’s priced less than the rate they previously paid.
After proving the technology in Nova Scotia, Tutic’s company, Oneka Technologies, is now commissioning its first two commercial systems, for an island community in Florida and a beach town in Chile. Since Oneka’s “water as a service” technology is modular, Oneka is also targeting bigger clients, such as resorts, municipalities and mining operations.
Growth Rate: 1,161%
Toronto-based e-Zinc is developing a powerful, zinc-based electrochemical cell that could make energy storage a bigger player in the coming energy transition.
The low cost of zinc, coupled with its ability to absorb high quantities of energy, makes the firm’s “Zn” cells ideal for storing electricity produced by intermittent solar and wind power. CEO James Larsen says the firm’s cells can discharge stored energy over several days, versus just a few hours for conventional batteries. The company believes this capability will transform solar and wind power into reliably continuous power sources – and thereby reduce demand for natural gas or nuclear as backup energy sources.
In April the company, operating as e-Zinc, closed a US$25-million financing deal that will enable it to begin pilot-scale manufacturing. Larsen is pleased that his new investors include Toyota – with its manufacturing and supply chain expertise – and Italian oil giant Eni, with its experience in global energy markets.
Growth Rate: 1,024%
A full 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cement production. Montreal-based CarbiCrete wants to revise that shameful statistic with its patented process for producing concrete that contains no cement – and is carbon-negative.
Concrete is normally made of aggregate (e.g., sand or crushed stone) mixed with water and cement. But CarbiCrete’s technology, developed at McGill University, replaces cement with waste slag from steel factories. The formed mixture goes into an absorption chamber to cure. CarbiCrete’s curing process injects CO2 into the chamber, where it converts into stable calcium carbonates that fill the voids in the mixture and give the concrete its strength.
The company says its products are as strong and durable as conventional concrete but outperform in terms of compressive strength and resistance to freezing/thawing. A commercial-scale pilot is underway at Patio Drummond, a manufacturer of concrete landscaping products such as slabs, borders and outdoor fireplaces in Drummondville, Quebec.
Growth Rate: 583%
Some analysts have questioned why, if humans can pump so much carbon dioxide into the air, we can’t just suck it back out again. Well, we can: it’s a process called direct air capture (DAC).
A leader in this technology is Carbon Engineering (CE), of Squamish, B.C. Founded by David Keith, a Harvard University professor of both physics and public policy, CE is pursuing the global deployment of DAC plants that can affordably capture one million tonnes of CO2 a year – equalling the impact of 40 million trees.
CE’s technology uses fans to suck in atmospheric air, then extracts the CO2 through a series of chemical reactions. The CO2, in compressed form, can be reused or stored. CE will validate its tech through a large-scale DAC facility now under construction in Texas. Among those crossing their fingers is early investor Bill Gates.
Growth Rate: 545%
Toronto-based Morgan Solar was founded by brothers Nicholas and John Paul Morgan in 2007 to bring advanced optics and sunlight-capturing capabilities to solar panels. Only problem: over the next decade, the industry collapsed as competition from Chinese producers saw solar array prices fall 90%.
But CEO Mike Andrade, who joined the company from Celestica in 2016, saw a light in the dark. Morgan now exploits its light-focusing and analytics expertise in “urban sunlight management.” It develops customized cladding and accessories for managing sunlight’s impacts on buildings. The company’s translucent, photovoltaic awnings and blinds, along with shading slats and free-standing pergolas, help building owners reduce their cooling bills – while, in many cases, they also generate energy to defray renovation costs.
With 30 employees and a track record of successful pilot projects, Andrade says Morgan is set for a new growth spurt: “The future of solar is in cities.”
Growth Rate: 525%
Vancouver-based Ionomr Innovations is supercharging the hydrogen economy with the development of ion-exchange membranes and polymers that will enhance the performance of fuel cells and cut the costs of hydrogen production. Its solutions also open up new technologies for battery development and advanced energy storage. As CEO Bill Haberlin said in a recent interview, “Ionomr solutions enable a step change in the economics of water electrolysis for hydrogen production and fuel cells.”
Founded in 2018, using technology developed at Simon Fraser University, Ionomr is making waves. It was recently selected to join the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers, which brings together 100 companies from around the world that are solving critical global problems. Earlier this year, Ionomr made the 2022 Global Cleantech 100, a list of innovative companies considered by the San Francisco–based Cleantech Group most likely to move the planet “from commitments to actions” in the fight against climate change.
Growth Rate: 467%
Founded in 2015 by tech entrepreneur Alexandre Taillefer, Montreal-based Taxelco is a taxi company operating 1,500 traditional, hybrid and electric vehicles under the banners Téo Taxi, Taxi Diamond and Taxi Hochelaga. While the road hasn’t been smooth, Téo’s goal is to automate and electrify the Quebec taxi industry by 2030.
Téo Taxi’s 100% electric strategy proved too ambitious in the era of Uber. In February 2019, despite a $17-million injection a year earlier, Taxelco filed for bankruptcy protection owing $10.2 million. Although the two senior taxi firms kept running, Téo’s 220-car fleet shut down, and Taillefer lost his $4-million investment.
But that’s not the end of the histoire. Two months later, media baron Pierre Karl Péladeau personally bought Taxelco for $5 million. A year later, Téo launched 55 new EVs in Montreal and Gatineau, and Péladeau announced Téo would grow throughout Quebec by adding 120 new EVs a year.
Growth Rate: 427%
In the heart of oil country, Calgary’s Greengate Power is leveraging what CEO Dan Balaban calls a “phenomenal” Alberta resource: wind and sun.
Founded in 2007, Greengate developed Canada’s largest wind-energy project, the 300-megawatt Blackspring Ridge, on the dry prairie north of Lethbridge. Forty kilometres away is Travers Solar, Canada’s largest solar-panel project, which will produce 465 megawatts – mainly for Amazon.com – when it enters full operation later this year.
Counting all of its projects now underway, Greengate is developing nearly a billion watts of clean energy, enough to power more than 350,000 homes – and it plans to build more. “This,” says the company, “is how we take the planet to net zero.”
In a 2020 TEDxYYC talk, Balaban said choosing between renewables and fossil fuels is a “false, unproductive and unnecessarily polarizing” narrative. Both industries will be needed for years to come, he said: “But make no mistake, the age of renewables has arrived.”
Growth Rate: 425%
Over more than a decade as a technical consultant to wind, solar and hydro projects, mechanical engineer Gareth Brown learned that most operators don’t understand how to manage their assets properly. In 2017, he co-founded Vancouver-based Clir Renewables to give wind and solar projects the data they need to green the world faster. Says Brown, “Poor operations led to lower annual energy production and fewer investments into the industry.”
Clir uses AI and data from a massive 200 gigawatts’ worth of renewable energy sources to help industry players optimize performance. Its reports help clients catch problems sooner, improve their maintenance processes, reduce insurance costs and negotiate smarter when buying or selling renewable assets. The result: Clir’s revenues more than tripled from 2018 to 2021. Thanks to a $27-million funding round in 2021, Clir is investing further in its tech and expanding into Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Growth Rate: 410%
Montreal-based Enerkem says it’s first in the world to produce commercial amounts of renewable methanol and ethanol from non-recyclable, non-compostable municipal solid waste that would otherwise go to landfill. Its products are used in making paint, solvents, plastics and textiles, as well as in such hard-to-decarbonize sectors as aviation and marine fuels.
Founded in 2000, Enerkem has more than 200 employees and has raised more than $850 million in private investments from investors such as Waste Management Inc. and U.S. investment firms Avenue Capital and BlackRock. Now under construction near Montreal is a large-scale commercial facility in partnership with the Quebec and federal governments, Shell Canada, Suncor and Swiss methanol giant Proman.
With the support of strategic investors Suncor and Spanish energy giant Repsol, Enerkem is supplying technology for a Spanish plant that will turn waste into 240,000 tonnes of methanol a year when it opens in 2026.
Growth Rate: 337%
Claire, Hugo and Iris are hurtling through space, 500 kilometres up, orbiting Earth at more than seven kilometres per second. These 15-kilogram micro-satellites, developed by Montreal-based GHGSat and named for employees’ children, monitor global methane levels, which have been notoriously underreported in the past. Clients such as Chevron, Shell, Total, Exxon and Suncor use the data to identify and fix problems such as gas flares and hotspots.
GHGSat says its technology can detect leaks 100 times smaller than rival systems can, with 100% greater precision. In early 2019, GHGSat’s first satellite, Claire, spotted a leak in central Asia that emitted the CO2 equivalent of a million vehicles a year. GHGSat communicated the news to the operator, which eventually plugged the leak. In May of this year, GHGSat launched three more methane-tracking satellites. Having raised $103.5 million since its founding in 2011, the 100-employee firm expects to have 10 satellites in orbit by 2023. Luca, Penny and Diako will join the family via SpaceX rocket later this year.
Growth Rate: 260%
With climate risks and regulations always evolving, how can companies keep up? Laura Zizzo and Jeremy Greven founded Toronto-based Manifest Climate in 2020 to help companies with their climate-change homework.
Manifest’s AI platform offers clients reports and training related to climate science, benchmarking and market intelligence – along with industry-specific consulting. Clients include Scotiabank, Manulife, Teck Resources and Boston investment firm Loomis Sayles.
Manifest’s climate-intelligence-as-a-service model has helped it raise capital fast, from a $6.5-million seed round in 2021 to a $30-million Series A raise this March. Manifest says its software helps organizations meet changing regulatory obligations, increase internal competency on climate issues, boost their resilience and pounce on climate-related opportunities.
With its newfound cash, Zizzo says Manifest will invest in sales and marketing to push into new markets, especially the United Kingdom and Europe. “Our platform just keeps getting smarter, and it’s to the benefit of all our clients.”
Growth Rate: 258%
Montreal-based BrainBox AI makes buildings smarter. Its artificial intelligence plugs into a building’s ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems to manage indoor environments sans human intervention.
Used in offices, retail outlets, hotels and airports, BrainBox’s AI collects data such as building occupancy, time of day, utility costs and weather forecasts. Its zone-specific instructions to the HVAC system save money and energy and extend equipment life. The system “learns” a building’s patterns and generates savings within a few months.
To develop its tech, BrainBox works with research partners such as the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Quebec’s Institute for Data Valorization, and Montreal’s Institute for Learning Algorithms.
With more than 150 employees, BrainBox serves more than 295 buildings covering 100 million square feet in 18 countries. Industry site AutomatedBuildings.com hailed BrainBox as the first to automate indoor environments with AI, “placing it at the forefront of the autonomous building movement.”
Growth Rate: 226%
Toronto-based Encycle has generated a lot of buzz by cutting buildings’ carbon footprints using a system that models the swarming habits of honeybees. When foraging bees return to the hive, they perform complex aerial dances to direct other workers to the best nectar sources. Similarly, Encycle’s “Swarm Logic” software uses artificial intelligence to turn a mass of environmental data into precise instructions for optimizing the performance of HVAC systems.
Encycle’s analysis of data, such as energy draw, run time, thermal load and weather, enables its clients (including big-box retailers, warehouses and theatres) to save energy and cut costs by 10 to 20%. With more than 1,000 sites in North America, Encycle claims to have eliminated 60,000 tons of CO2 emissions.
Last year, Encycle raised $7.5 million from a group of sustainability-oriented investors led by Montreal-based Cycle Capital. The company is using the funds to strengthen its partnership program with major industry players such as Carrier and Honeywell.
Growth Rate: 195%
The Independent Electricity System Operator (the Crown corporation that manages Ontario’s power grid) says electrification of the province’s transportation industry (especially electric vehicles) will boost the sector’s power demand by 20% a year. Where will Ontario find all this power? Ottawa-based BluWave says its AI-based solutions can optimize system efficiency and head off billions of dollars in grid upgrades.
Founded in 2017, BluWave has created a software service that makes power grids smarter. Its products connect to sensors in utility networks and independent mini-grids, then use the data to predict, manage and optimize energy use. This makes grids more efficient and prioritizes use of renewable energy, boosting wind and solar generation by 10 to 20%. Clients include corporations, governments, utilities and electric fleet operators.
Next, BluWave will roll out EV Everywhere, subscription-based software that predicts and incentivizes off-peak charging of EVs. Ottawa Hydro is taking the lead in a $4.8-million pilot project.
Growth Rate: 190%
Soon after joining the building industry in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, brothers Ben and Michael Dombowsky found the sector rife with inefficiency. Over the years Michael developed Nexiite, a concrete alternative that’s stronger, cheaper and 20 to 30% less carbon-intensive.
Since its founding in 2018, Nexii has built residential and commercial buildings for firms like Scotiabank, Marriott and Starbucks. It’s also attracted big talent, such as U.S. serial entrepreneur Stephen Sidwell as CEO and former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson as executive vice-president. The company has raised $125 million in capital, with its most recent round valuing the company at $1.55 billion.
Nexiite panels are manufactured in seven Nexii factories and bolted together at the job site, which slashes build times by 75%. Excitement is building: NFL quarterback Joe Flacco partnered with Nexii in opening its first U.S. plant last year, and actor Michael Keaton is a partner in its new Pittsburgh plant. Says Sidwell, “It’s good to have Batman on the team.”
Growth Rate: 158%
Once upon a mountaintop, geophysicist Amanda Hall saw a Tibetan monk pull an iPhone out of his robe. Smartphones are everywhere, she thought. But as a geophysicist, she immediately started worrying about potential shortages of lithium, the key ingredient in high-tech batteries, whose very extraction often risks air, water and soil pollution.
To discover easier, greener methods of mining lithium, Hall founded Calgary-based Summit Nanotech in 2018. Instead of traditional hard-rock mining or water-intensive brine mining, Summit’s solution uses nanotechnology to filter lithium from waste saltwater brine used in oil wells. The multiple-award-winning technology could double lithium yields versus conventional processes while reducing land use, halving greenhouse gas emissions, and almost eliminating chemical waste.
Currently pre-revenue, Summit will sell extraction services to oil and gas firms and other owners of mineral rights. Step one to commercialization: a fresh US$14 million in funding and a six-client pilot project in Chile.
Growth Rate: 139%
When Solenne Brouard Gaillot was looking for a green start-up idea, she spotted a leak in the recycling stream: polystyrene, the lightweight, petroleum-based plastic that’s found in everything from food packaging to Styrofoam. She founded Montreal-based Polystyvert in 2011 to find a circular solution for this troublesome plastic, which is often so contaminated – by food waste, labels and industrial residues – that it goes straight to landfills. Not to mention that recycling polystyrene costs more than buying new.
Polystyvert’s patent-pending process uses a special chemical solvent to dissolve the plastic like sugar in water. It then purifies the dissolved polystyrene and turns it into reusable feedstock almost indistinguishable from virgin polystyrene, but cheaper.
The company has proven its concept at a demonstration plant. Now Brouard Gaillot is planning a full-scale recycling facility, confident that she can sell polystyrene for less than her customers will pay anywhere else.
Growth Rate: 135%
Founded in 2007, Toronto-based Woodland Biofuels turns biomass into cleaner, cheaper transportation fuels. To create its hydrogen, renewable natural gas, methanol and ethanol, it uses cellulose-rich wood and plant material, such as wood chips, demolition scraps and corn stalks, from forestry, construction and agriculture. Says CEO Greg Nuttall, “Every one of these products is expected to play a significant role in the energy transition.”
Being a low-cost commodity producer with biofuels that are actually carbon-negative (creating them removes more CO2 than they emit) translates to high margins and anticipated strong growth. As Nuttall recently told BNN Bloomberg, “We expect to be one of the lowest-cost automotive fuel producers on the planet, even compared to regular gasoline from oil.”
Woodland is planning its first commercial facility in Sarnia, Ontario, which is home to its first pilot plant and handy to waste supplies, a major natural gas pipeline and multiple oil refineries eager for low-carbon hydrogen.
Growth Rate: 133%
Didi Horn discovered drone aircrafts’ potential for data collection and positive change during a decade as a drone pilot and commander of special-ops in the Israeli Air Force. He founded Toronto-based SkyX in 2015 to provide “drones-as-a-service” to companies that need to inspect assets spread over long ranges, such as railways and power lines. “We’re redefining long-range asset monitoring forever,” the company claims on its website.
SkyX’s immediate focus is oil and gas pipelines. Images from the company’s purpose-built drones are analyzed by SkyX’s software to identify issues such as corrosion, leaks or unauthorized human activity. Technology makes this routine process safer, faster and easier than using in-person crews. For a client in Mexico, SkyX inspected a 100-kilometre pipeline in just an hour – a task that takes human inspectors a week.
With clients in North America, South America and Africa, SkyX has landed more than US$10 million in new contracts in recent months.
Growth Rate: 114%
Just can’t wait for the hydrogen revolution to get real? Delta, B.C.–based Hydra Energy can outfit your truck fleet now with the hardware, storage tanks and monitoring systems to convert diesel vehicles to hybrid hydrogen. Benefits: no conversion costs, extended range (up to 1,000 kilometres) and emission reductions of up to 40%.
Hydra is pioneering hydrogen-as-a-service. It pays the conversion costs for truckers who want to go green in the rigs they have now, earning its return from multiple-year hydrogen-supply contracts.
While heavy-duty trucks account for just 1.4% of road vehicles in Canada, they generate 30% of road-related emissions. But few viable, clean-trucking solutions are available for fleet operators concerned about their environmental impact, says Hydra CEO Jessica Verhagen. “As hydrogen begins to play a more important role in both Canadian and American climate plans, scalable solutions such as Hydra’s are imperative for the transportation industry to cost-effectively reduce its growing carbon footprint.”
**Growth in capital raised
How did we find the Future 50?
Corporate Knights used two different but complementary criteria to determine which companies made the Future 50. We drew from 1,100 publicly listed and 4,015 privately owned companies headquartered in Canada and determined the ones that earn the majority of their revenues from clean energy themes (including energy efficiency), according to the Corporate Knights Clean Taxonomy. The public companies were then ranked according to their one-year revenue growth rates (generally, 2021 sales over 2020 sales). For privately held companies, Corporate Knights tapped the S&P Capital IQ database, with data on recent fundraising rounds, and sorted them based on percentage growth of capital raised from the two most recent years of fundraising rounds. This enabled us to identify qualifying companies that are still “pre-revenue” – giving us early access to new ventures. From this, we pulled out the top 25 private and 25 public companies that earn the majority of their revenue from clean energy themes to form our Future 50
Alberta Innovates is the launch partner for the Future 50.
Future 50 Advisory Panel
Thanks to the members of the Future 50 Advisory Panel for their invaluable insights in conceptualizing this ranking and refining the methodology.
Andrée-Lise Méthot (Founder, Managing Partner, Cycle Capital)
Caitlin Walsh (Managing Director, Private Equity Growth Equity, CPP Investments)
Céline Bak (Ordre National du Mérite France, Associated Partner, Kearney)
Fate Saghir (Head of Sustainability, Mackenzie Investments)
Joel Solomon (Co-Founding Partner, Renewal Funds)
Thomas Park (Partner, BDC Deep Tech Fund)
Tom Rand (Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Arctern Ventures)
Vicky Sharpe (Corporate Director and Founding CEO, Sustainable Development Technologies Canada)