PARIS—During the first week of December, a delegation of Canadian clean technology companies—assembled by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) and partly funded by the federal government—attended the Pollutec clean technology trade show in Paris, France.
Our delegation consisted of a small group of companies with specialties including carbon capture, odour and gas emissions detection and real-time monitoring, research, funding/investing, and process equipment manufacturing.
Although Europe is only a few hours away from Canada by plane, it’s a world away in terms of its approach to environmental technology. Its higher population density and relative scarcity of resources have been challenges the Europeans have had to overcome long before we’ve had to deal with them in North America.
As a result, Europeans tend to be more conscious of conserving energy, recycling, and developing uses for materials that would otherwise be considered waste. Regulatory pressures have played a role in this as well.
So it was no surprise to us when we arrived to find a vibrant community of business-minded clean tech companies convened in the Parc Des Expositions de Villepinte, North of Paris.
With over 1,200 exhibitors and more than 26,000 visitors, the show was divided into five main categories—air, water, recycling, energy, and construction. Within each of these broad categories there were interesting technologies that overlapped categories. For example, we saw companies using post-industrial or post-consumer waste to generate biofuel.
At Alps Welding, we manufacture custom-designed industrial process equipment for a variety of industries. Although much of our work is done for energy or chemical companies, we’ve found growth is being driven by efforts to mitigate the environmental effects of these conventional processes, or to take advantage of by-products from these processes to create new commercially-viable products.
We’ve seen growth in water treatment process equipment, and equipment to control and treat gas emissions from plants, or to recover heat or vapour from a process to improve energy and product efficiency.
Our interest in attending the show was to learn where the technology in these industries is headed, and how it might present an opportunity for us, either in North America or in Europe.
The other delegates on the trip had similar ambitions. “My overall objective for the mission/show was to identify companies that might undertake collaborative research with U of Waterloo, license our technologies, and/or hire one of our graduates/co-op students,” says George Wright, director of global industrial partnerships at the University of Waterloo.
Another Canadian delegate was Patrick Dodd, chief technology officer of Mantra Energy, a leader in the development of carbon capture and utilization technology. “In attending Pollutec, Mantra was interested in developing contacts that could ultimately identify a technological collaborator, specifically for a pilot-scale technology demonstration in Europe.”
What we found were a group of forward-looking companies eager to discuss the future, and opportunities for doing business together, both in Europe and in North America. We also found the ecosystem of companies to be much richer and more well-developed than in North America.
Marvin Garellek, international sales manager for Odotech, a manufacturer of municipal and industrial odour detection, measurement, and analysis systems, observed “there is a lot more opportunity in Europe as there is a larger quantity and variety of types of industries to target. Also European governments are more proactive in terms of clean tech and regulation.”
Odotech has made a commitment to pursuing the opportunity that Europe represents by opening an office in Lyon, France.
Over the course of four days, our delegation had the opportunity to meet with business and technology leaders. The consensus among the Canadians was in order to grow a clean tech company, it would be impossible to rely solely on our domestic market.
To some extent, it’s an issue of gaining credibility by being established globally. Says Garellek: “As is mostly the case for entrepreneurs, they must sell their wares outside of their province/country first to gain traction in their homeland. Exporting is a must.”
Attitudes, culture, and regulations play a role as well, and in that regard, Europe is simply more conducive to exploring and adopting clean technology. “The vast number of clean technology providers in Canada, built by sustainability-minded Canadians will likely find more accommodating markets elsewhere, such as in Europe,” says Dodd.
At the same time, we met European research and engineering groups working on exciting technology, and seeking North American partners to gain access to the market opportunity here. There’s no doubt the opportunity exists for industry on both sides of the Atlantic.
Barriers to entry
Despite that opportunity, we also found significant barriers. Perhaps due to the dramatically different cultural and regulatory environment, we found many European companies were focused strictly on the European market and were reluctant to consider technology or partners from abroad.
To some extent, we even found intra-European barriers, with some companies saying they were focused solely on opportunities within France. In that regard, our Canadian delegation was much more open to possibilities for partnership.
We certainly didn’t expect to come away from the show with immediate results. As Garellek has observed through experience: “Working in Europe and exporting to Europe is a slow process. The culture of business is very different from North America.”
We also found it sobering just how far behind our domestic industry is in adopting clean technology, and how little is done to promote it. In conversations with European clean tech companies, we found they received much more government support, both financial and through favourable regulation, than we do here in Canada.
The same was true for other international delegations from South America and Asia, Korea, Argentina, and the Czech Republic. Many other countries had pavilions where their clean tech companies exhibited together as an integrated group, presenting the image of a coordinated industry ecosystem in search of growth opportunities and partnerships internationally.
Our key takeaway from the visit was the Canadian clean tech sector is populated with innovative, creative companies that have a lot to contribute. However, the opportunity to exploit this innovation and promote it domestically and internationally is being missed.
With the right support from government, and greater organization and collaboration among us, we can certainly compete globally and become a world leader in clean technology. There’s now at least one small group of Canadian clean tech companies that are ready to work together to help make that happen.
This article is part of the Manufacturing Growth & Innovation Centre, providing strategies for manufacturers on the move.