Clean tech works for everything from breweries to batteries, say Island summit panelists

Transportation, brewery and First Nation representatives speak at VIEA economic summit in Nanaimo

Representatives from a First Nation, a brewery, B.C. Ferries and an airline talked about everything from beer to batteries while explaining the benefits and challenges of integrating new technologies into their businesses at the Vancouver Island Economic Summit.

The summit at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre this week included The Here, Now and Soon of Clean Tech, a session with panelists Isaiah Archer, partner and head of marketing for Victoria-based Whistle Buoy Brewery; Trevor Cootes, councillor of Huu-ay-aht First Nation; Gerry Egan, Harbour Air Seaplanes vice-president of maintenance and Miles McKinnon, engineer and manager of electrical and control systems on B.C. Ferries’ fleet.

Whistle Buoy Brewery went into business with low environmental impact as a core value.

“Planning from the very beginning as we built our business was pretty key to our success in this regard,” Archer said.

Minimizing impact involved building and brewing with locally sourced and recycled materials and supplies, including creating the bar in the brewery’s tasting room from scrap stainless steel from fabricating the brewing system. The company also employs equipment to capture waste heat from the brewing process to heat water for cleaning and brewing.

“This is something, that I understand, will be legislated in the next couple of years … instead of just pumping all that energy out into the atmosphere along with all the combustibles that go along with it from the process,” Archer said. “So it’s nice to be able to invest in that ahead of time instead of having to get told we have to do it three years down the line.”

Cootes explained how Huu-ay-aht values apply to economic development and stewardship over its lands and waterways, especially regarding hydroelectric power generation and forestry, which is currently the First Nation’s “bread and butter.”

“One thing that’s very unique for us; we have a long-term goal here for a diversified healthy and sustainable local Huu-ay-aht economy,” he said. “Just to put some kind of definition to that, long-term for us is seven generations out … When we’re looking at our economy we’re planning years ahead, so we’re developing relationships with Western Forest Products with the idea that we’ll be here by the time they’re long gone.”

Planning for the future includes investing $5 from from each cubic metre of timber harvested – about 150,000 cubic metres annually – in watershed restoration.

A run-of-river hydroelectric project is planned to make the First Nation’s electricity more reliable – a long power supply line right now means frequent outages. Economic benefits include jobs from building and maintaining the system and from selling excess capacity back to B.C. Hydro.

RELATED: Vancouver Island’s diversified economy expected to slow but not stall

B.C. Ferries and Harbour Air Seaplanes are refitting for futures with low-carbon fuels and propulsion systems.

McKinnon said new 47-vehicle-capacity Island class ferries coming online will use hybrid diesel-electric systems, up-gradable to full electric propulsion as battery technology evolves over the ships’ 40-year lifespans. Large Spirit Class ships have already been retrofitted to run on LNG, which he said produces 30 per cent less greenhouse gases than diesel. Long-term planning calls for at least partial electric propulsion on major routes and energy savings gains from new ship designs that combine propulsion and onboard electricity generation systems. The goal is to cut energy consumption on those craft by 25 per cent.

“We have an initial goal, within B.C. Ferries, which is closely aligned to governance from the International Maritime Organization as well as, more locally, Clean B.C., to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030,” McKinnon said.

But new technologies and supporting infrastructure must undergo expensive testing to ensure safety, reliability and efficiency. McKinnon said those expenses can’t be passed on to customers, so B.C. Ferries is developing partnerships with government, B.C. Hydro and other stakeholders to keep research and development economically sustainable.

Harbour Air Seaplanes intends to be the world’s first all-electric commercial airline. The company partnered with U.S.-based manufacturer MagniX for its electric motors and battery systems.

Potential benefits of converting to electric flight include eliminating fossil fuel consumption and related maintenance costs and much longer motor life plus other unexpected economic spinoffs that include possible retrofit work for other airlines through Harbour Air Seaplanes’ aerospace division, which handles the company’s maintenance, retrofit and repair operations.

“I’ve had phone calls from other operators, one very large one I’m going to be meeting with…” Egan said. “When we came out with the announcement in February he called right away and said, ‘I want you to convert my fleet of 500 aircraft,’ and I said, ‘Whoa. Slow down. We’ve got a few steps to go through first, but we’re very, very interested.’ So now, suddenly, there’s this economic benefit or different revenue stream we didn’t think of before.”

The prototype test flight happens in December in Vancouver and will start a one- to two-year-long Transport Canada certification process to allow commercial electric-powered flights.

RELATED: B.C. Premier talks pipeline, Western separatism at economic summit
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