Environmental Performance, Sustainability and Enhanced Resiliency – Supporting Natural Gas Innovation

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Today’s heating technology offers Canadians reliability and the peace of mind that they will be able to stay warm even on the coldest winter days. However, in the case of a power outage, furnaces and baseboard heating will stop running, leaving the average home to lose heat rapidly.

The innovators behind a self-powered natural gas furnace that has received funding from the Natural Gas Innovation Fund see a different future for residents and utilities across Canada. The i2 Hybrid Smart Furnace captures flue gas and puts it through a proprietary system to generate the electricity needed to power the furnace – during a blackout, or all winter, with battery integration.

Consumers will also pay less for power – about $150 a year on a $1,000 annual heating budget – for a more efficient furnace that can be serviced like a traditional unit and will be comparable in cost to high-end models, say developers at iGEN Technologies Inc. With funding contributed by Canadian Gas Association member utilities through NGIF, as well as provincial and federal grants, the company is getting ready to pilot 30 to 50 units across the country, in geographically diverse urban and rural settings for the 2017-2018 heating season.

The technology is the first major innovation in furnace components seen in decades, and one that will help showcase the benefits of natural gas, says Sen Kanthaswamy, with iGEN Technologies Inc. “At the end of the day there is no other fuel source that can provide the kind of heat that we need to really heat a home on a cold climate day. This promotes a product that is 100 per cent run on natural gas. In terms of resiliency you can’t beat that.”

“The i2 Hybrid Smart Furnace captures flue gas and puts it through a proprietary system to generate the electricity needed to power the furnace.”

“The i2 Hybrid Smart Furnace captures flue gas and puts it through a proprietary system to generate the electricity needed to power the furnace.”

iGEN Technologies’ innovation matched major goals the NGIF focuses on when choosing a project, says John Adams, managing director of NGIF: promote improved environmental performance, increase the affordability and competitiveness of natural gas and improve resiliency. “Each of our projects is de-risking a technology that can help position natural gas energy in a sustainable way,” Adams says.

The fund is designed to offer capital to entrepreneurs, as well as access to utilities and their technical experts, so innovation can be field-tested either in the back yard of utilities or their customers.  Applicants need to raise funding from other sources as well, since co-funding is a requirement under NGIF.

“We have an investment model that scouts, screens and evaluates projects. And when we decide on a project to be funded, rather than one utility funding it, we now have a combined amount, which is wonderful for the projects because they can leverage their R&D or innovation funding further,” says Adams.

For Edson Ng, principal at G4 Insights Inc., receiving $1.3 million in support from NGIF fund members, as well as an $800,000 investment from Ottawa, will help bring the company’s procatalytic hydrogenation process to the market. After producing renewable natural gas from forestry waste – tops of trees, branches, debris – through the low temperature process at a demonstration project, the company currently is working on launching a commercial plant by 2020.

On a large commercial scale, Ng foresees 10,000 gigajoules of pipeline-ready renewable natural gas being produced from about 750 dry tons of waste matter per day, a boon for Canada’s forestry industry.  “What our technology provides is an opportunity to use that available forestry biomass on a very consistent basis, because it’s an energy supply; year-in, year-out, there will be a steady demand for forestry biomass in our process. So in some ways, it stabilizes the process for the forestry industry by putting a steady demand for biomass.”

The renewable natural gas produced will emit about 85 per cent less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than traditional fossil natural gas, he says. Ng notes the process’ net energy conversion – the energy available in the biomass versus the energy in the renewable natural gas going into the grid – is about 70 per cent.

“NGIF funding will help bring G4 Inisights’ procatalytic hydrogenation process to the market.” Image courtesy of G4 Insights.

“NGIF funding will help bring G4 Inisights’ procatalytic hydrogenation process to the market.” Image courtesy of G4 Insights.

As someone who has lived through a number of cleantech incarnations, Adams says what gets him excited about the fund is seeing entrepreneurial companies such as iGEN Technologies or G4 Insights coming forward with new solutions for the natural gas sector.

“For the natural gas delivery industry we are hoping to have projects and investments all across Canada that are delivering on the three goals of environmental performance, sustainability and enhanced resiliency. This is all about looking at the role of natural gas and natural gas delivery infrastructure in Canada’s future energy mix. That’s key. Being forward thinking is going to enhance their market.”

Dina O’Meara is a former business writer with the Calgary Herald and is now a communications consultant.