7 ventures on a mission to green our cities

7 ventures on a mission to green our cities

The new Mission from MaRS: Net Zero program aims to make it easier for communities to adopt climate solutions. This cohort has the potential to mitigate tonnes of greenhouse-gas-emissions.

When it comes to tackling the climate crisis, the problem isn’t a lack of ingenuity. The problem is one of scale. The solutions we need to tackle climate change already exist, but to limit global warming we need to commercialize these technologies in every sector in the economy — as quickly as possible. But that’s easier said than done.

There are myriad challenges facing cleantech ventures, and they vary according to each company’s stage, product and expertise. However, one common barrier popped up throughout the Mission from MaRS: Climate Impact Challenge: public procurement. Many of the participating ventures in the 13-month program reported that the toughest market to crack was right here at home.

Canadian cities and towns spend billions of dollars each year to procure goods and solutions. But budget constraints, a lack of resources and awareness, as well as the way governments write RFPs often favour incumbent traditional technologies that, in turn, favour large corporations and competitive pricing, leaving no room for innovation. To speed up climate action, we need to make it easier for municipalities to implement home-grown solutions.

“Innovation without adoption is a dead end,” says Tyler Hamilton, who is the director of cleantech at MaRS. “Canada needs to adopt the innovations it has been funding to break the overarching global barrier to adoption — and we are running out of time.”

At the United Nations COP27 Climate Change Conference last month, MaRS launched Mission from MaRS: Net Zero, a series of initiatives to do just that. Its first mission centres on public procurement. MaRS has selected a new cohort of ventures with solutions across different sectors such as energy, real estate and transportation, and is recruiting key representatives from municipalities, governments and think tanks to join a specialized coalition. Over the coming months, this working group of ventures and industry leaders will be developing best practices for procurement to help governments champion innovative domestic climate solutions.

The Mission from MaRS team used the Carbon Reduction Assessment of New Enterprises (CRANE) tool to estimate the potential impact these seven ventures could have on reducing emissions. The modelling indicates that if these technologies achieved even a 1 percent global market share in their respective sectors by 2030, they’d collectively cut GHG emissions by 62 megatonnes — a significant impact.

Meet the new cohort of Climate Champions.


BrainBox AI reduces energy use in buildings

Its solution: BrainBox AI’s system makes any building energy efficient and can be installed remotely without structural or HVAC change. The Montreal-based company uses AI to examine the weather, seasonal climate change and usage to predict perfect room temperatures, then automatically adjusts heating and cooling, reducing HVAC energy consumption by as much as 25 percent. BrainBox AI, which was part of the inaugural Mission from MaRS cohort, found selling to government particularly challenging and was eager to join this latest mission to help pave the way for other ventures.

Its impact: Making buildings more energy efficient can have an outsized effect. Buildings are responsible for nearly a third of all carbon dioxide emissions globally, and HVAC systems make up more than 50 percent of that. Retrofitting the HVAC systems of tens of thousands of older public and private buildings using advanced AI to control heating and cooling could substantially reduce those emissions. And because of the rich data sets that BrainBox AI’s platform collects, outcomes can be audited by third parties to ensure organizations meet climate objectives and carbon emission reductions are accurately reported.


eleven-x makes parking less painful

Its solution: Hunting for a parking space is frustrating — it wastes time, adds to congestion on city streets and is a significant contributor to carbon emissions. Waterloo-based eleven-x’s IoT, image processing and wireless smart sensor system aim to ease that pain. It uses patented sensors that incorporate multiple wireless technologies, a fully scalable wireless network and a full suite of software to monitor parking spots occupancy on streets, surface lots and parking garages to transmit real-time location and navigation data to drivers using a simple app.

Its impact: eleven-x’s smart parking system creates a profile of the number of available spots, how long each visitor stays, and how that differs throughout the year. The system is about more than finding parking spaces. It makes it easy for cities and academic institutions to manage existing parking, make long-term plans for supply and demand, increase revenues, lower operating costs and reduce emissions. Its parking system is being used in many municipalities across North America, including Arlington County, Virginia; Spruce Grove, Alta.; and Fredericton, N.B. Plus, its scalable wireless network can be used by customers to monitor indoor air quality, outdoor environmental monitoring, residential water metering and other smart-city applications.  


Enersion makes heat waste cool

Its solution: Headquartered in Toronto, Enersion offers an onsite energy solution that converts solar radiation into refrigerant-free cooling, heating and electricity. The integrated solutions of hybrid photovoltaic panels produce both electricity and heat, providing four times the energy output of solar photovoltaic panels. Plus, its novel cooling technology converts heat to cooling without electricity or synthetic refrigerants.

Its impact: Enersion’s solution replaces the electricity used for air conditioning and natural gas used for heating, providing up to 70 percent energy cost savings. Its cooling technology was first piloted at a data centre in 2019. The technology was integrated with hybrid solar panels and was deployed for the Royal Canadian Navy at a large administrative building in Victoria earlier this year.


LED Roadway helps cities become street smart

Its solution: When LED Roadway added sensors and smart software to its existing LED streetlights, it was a game changer for urban planners. The Halifax-based venture’s low-cost wireless sensor system collects and analyzes anonymized data for lighting control, speed and traffic management, air quality, noise and increased security.

Its impact: In 2019, only one percent of the world lived in locations that met WHO air quality guidelines. Cities, large and small, need insights to optimize traffic, improve air quality and community safety, and make life more, well, liveable. LED Roadway has been delivering insights to smarter municipalities and utilities in Brazil, Aruba, Bermuda and Atlantic Canada, which has reported energy savings of up to 62 percent.

Morgan Solar harness the power of the sun

Its solution: Sunlight has the power to transform a space, by creating electricity, heat and natural lighting. Toronto-based Morgan Solar uses proprietary software to model the impact of the sun to minimize its problems and maximize its promise. Its building solutions includes blinds and architectural solar facades that capture and convert sunlight into electricity, as well as intelligent shading that controls the thermal load on the building. Sensors on the equipment provide high-frequency data as often as once per minute for real-time measurement. AI-driven technology creates a digital twin of the installation to monitor, predict and improve performance.

Its impact: Building owners and city planners can use Morgan Solar’s technology to test the outcomes and effectiveness of adding various solar products to generate power, manage heat and reduce energy consumption. The result? Light-filled, energy-optimized spaces.


QEA Tech’s drones scout out energy loss

Its solution: QEA Tech sends its drones on unobtrusive flight paths around houses and mid-size buildings to discover energy loss. The drones capture thousands of visual and thermal images, which are used to create a 3D model of the building and a building health report, made accessible through a cloud-based dashboard.

Its impact: QEA Tech quickly pinpoints areas of energy loss so that building owners and managers can prioritize energy-retrofit projects. Since 51 percent of heat loss occurs through the building envelope, the technology is an easy way for municipalities to optimize building energy efficiency and meet climate commitments. The Toronto-based company has worked on more than 160 sites, including schools, apartment buildings, hospitals and industrial facilities.


RUNWITHIT Synthetics lets you see the future and be ready for it

Its solution: What if there is an energy crisis? A natural disaster or a pandemic? How might a policy change affect a city? RUNWITHIT models AI-based 3D synthetic environments and scenarios — digital twins — to simulate buildings, utilities and entire cities. Its program helps visualize how different scenarios could affect transportation, energy needs and resilience. This information can help clients design, optimize and maintain complex systems using innovations like microgrids, automated vehicles and response systems for natural disasters.

Its impact: The award-winning, women-led, certified Aboriginal Business has created modelling studies for organizations working with government, scientists, engineers and academics in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The Edmonton-based company’s hyper-localized models have helped support planners in their decision-making.

Mission from MaRS: Net Zero is working to promote the wide-scale adoption of climate technologies to build a more sustainable planet.

Image source: iStock