Companies across the sector are reducing their environmental impact while growing their business
By J.D. Baldwin
Many manufacturers in Alberta are getting serious about being lean and green. How that looks, however, can be different for every company.
Even companies servicing and supplying the manufacturing sector are getting behind the movement, and they’re ready to work with manufacturers to tackle environmental challenges head-on.
Meet three companies who are taking the message to heart and making a positive difference for industry and consumers across the province and beyond.
When you think of wastewater, you might not necessarily think ‘innovation’ at first. Calgary’s Swirltex is trying to change that.
Dealing with wastewater – such as sewage effluent, produced water from oil and gas extraction, process water in food & beverage production, and even pond water – is an absolute necessity in today’s industrial environment. While the need to effectively manage wastewater has not significantly changed, Swirltex has set out to change how companies do it and help them do so more efficiently.
Swirltex isn’t a new filter material. Rather, it’s a new way to move the wastewater through existing filtration media.
“We change the way the water moves before it gets to the filter, and we do this using less power than a traditional system,” says Swirltex CEO, Melanie McClare.
“The system separates solids and liquids based on buoyancy,” says McClare. “We manipulate the contaminants in the water to keep them away from the filter membrane, and this lets more of the water through and keeps the filter cleaner longer.”
McClare says, “with our technology, we’re able to deploy membranes where they were previously uneconomical. We can use fewer membranes to achieve full results, and we can process more water for the same amount of input.”
Swirltex is still in the early stages of the business, but McClare says the company is ready to take on more and more challenges.
“We’re selling wastewater treatment as a service to companies, as opposed to the traditional capital expenditure for customers. We can deploy our systems seasonally, if needed, and we can come in to do a retrofit on existing systems and provide a polish on the back end of existing infrastructure.”
It was around 2015 when Calgary’s Thomas Mo decided to do something about all the mass-produced throwaway clothing – often sold to tourists – that he found in shops across Alberta.
Having garments manufactured in low-cost jurisdictions, emblazoned with imagery and slogans from his home province in other offshore locations, then sold for rock-bottom prices in local shops just didn’t sit right with Thomas or his peers.
It was Thomas’s desire to change this situation that was the genesis of Alberta Apparel.
“It was a no brainer to source Canadian-manufactured clothing,” says Mo.
About 80 per cent of the company’s expenditures are in Canada, and that’s about the highest proportion that can be reasonably done in this country, according to Mo.
“Textile manufacturing is about volume – unless you’re doing something really boutique and niche,” says Mo. “There used to be textile plants in Canada, but the industry has shifted and every brand is buying from the same small number of factories.”
While the raw material for many of their garments still comes from abroad, Mo explains that all the design, cutting, sewing, decoration, and packaging is done in Canada.
“The high value work is being done domestically,” says Mo. “We’re keeping as much of the production as close as possible to the customer.”
Asked about his company’s ethos, Mo says, “It’s important to us to be local and to educate people on not just the clothing industry, but the Canadian clothing industry and manufacturing industry overall.”
Instead of trying to compete with the ‘fast fashion’ brands like H&M, Zara, and other international behemoths, Mo says Alberta Apparel is finding a niche in the higher end of the market.
“Our products are going to be a bit more expensive because they’re made in Canada, but they’re definitely much higher quality and will last more than a single season,” explains Mo.
“Our customers are our ambassadors, and they know the difference that Canadian-made clothing can make from a financial and environmental standpoint. The pieces they’re buying are going to be a part of their wardrobes for a number of years.”
Waste isn’t just the tangible stuff that ends up in a bin or down the drain; it includes things we cannot see but can definitely feel: heat.
Gray Alton, Vice President of Project Development with Terrapin explains that excess heat from industrial processing is a huge opportunity for capture and transformation.
“Globally, we’re wasting at least 290,000 petajoules of heat every year,” says Alton. “Globally, we use more than 530,000 petajoules annually to generate the energy we need as a society, so we’re really only getting full value from about 50 per cent of the energy that we use.”
Editor’s note: Just to be clear on the scale we’re talking about, the numbers in the paragraph above – if written out fully – would be 21 digits long (i.e., 290,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules). That’s a LOT of energy, both generated and wasted.
Terrapin works with companies who have significant waste heat in their processes and/or facilities to match them with technology to capture the heat and transform it into the most efficient and effective mode, all the while bringing in financing partners to pay for the technology in the customer’s plant.
“Depending on the specific situation, we may bring in a technology to simply capture the heat and redistribute it via a district heating system,” says Alton. “Alternatively, we can take the heat and use it to generate electricity and feed it into the larger grid, offsetting what might usually be generated from fossil fuels.”
“We look for opportunities where a company’s waste heat might be available 85 to 90 per cent of the time, and that lets us use the waste heat as a baseload generation source – which is usually what coal is used for on the grid,” explains Alton.
“We work with each client to find a number of heat resources within their processes, and then we prioritize the sources that will give everyone the biggest win,” says Alton.
“There’s tonnes of excess heat out there, but not all of it can be captured and efficiently transformed into other forms of energy,” Alton says. “It’s usually the furnaces, industrial process heating, and other ‘big’ sources that will make the most sense.”
“While we’re not necessarily reducing emissions directly in each client’s facility, we are helping to get more value from each unit of energy and its associated emissions,” explains Alton. “Reducing emissions intensity is still very positive.”