Published 4 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: Pond Technologies
Pond Technologies is a Canadian cleantech company using nature’s filters to combat climate change, while also providing a model to help existing industries join the shift towards a low-carbon economy via value-added, recycled-carbon products.
The move towards a low-carbon future is often seen as a binary choice. On
one side, shifting to a sustainable economy; on the other, the current state of business affairs and its varied interests.
The path forward is generally presented as a zero-sum proposition: one or
the other. With so much at stake both commercially and environmentally, this
adversarial juxtaposition often forces conversations and perspectives
inward, rather than forward.
In reality, we will neither flip some easy switch to a carbon-free
future, nor remain static in this fossil-fueled model. Change will happen —
and as with most big things, it will likely be a process of collaboration
and compromise, using existing structures and bold ideas to eventually
arrive at something new.
CO2 is the most abundant byproduct of our industrial world. Expelled from
our factories, our power plants, and our cars — it’s the biggest contributor
to greenhouse gas emissions. Algae, like plants, live and grow via
photosynthesis — in goes the CO2 and out comes oxygen. Algae may have a
slimy reputation, floating in our lakes and swimming pools, but in the fight
for a cleaner environment, they are turning into a powerful potential ally.
Pond Technologies is a Canadian
cleantech company using nature’s filters to combat climate change, while
also providing a model to help existing industries join the shift towards a
low-carbon economy via value-added, recycled-carbon products.
About a decade ago, there was a scientist who loved studying light.
Wavelengths, spectra, frequencies — he couldn’t get enough. Then he
discovered algae. They reacted well to his light experiments and loved
to eat carbon dioxide (CO2). As he and some friends began to tinker with
light and other growth conditions, the algae grew faster — more algae eating
more CO2. And Pond was born.
With Pond’s system, emissions from smokestacks and other industrial
facilities are redirected to large tanks, called bioreactors. The reactors
are plug-and-play, container-size tanks that integrate easily with existing
industrial facilities. The emissions are moved through the algae-filled
reactors where Pond’s proprietary technology capitalizes on algae’s natural
appetite for CO2. Conditions are optimized using lighting, sensors and
computer algorithms, maximizing algae growth and CO2 conversion. Emissions
are cleaned, oxygen is created and algae is grown — cleaning would-be
pollutants before they have a chance to hit the atmosphere, all while using
a natural low-footprint technology that provides potential new revenue
One tonne of algae sequesters nearly two tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of
not burning 4.5 barrels of oil. Algae produced from a large, 1M-litre
facility could sequester 2,700 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of taking 600
cars off the road for a year. Yet carbon
is only half the story — it’s more about carbon recycling. The algae
produced during the sequestration process can then be upgraded into
value-added products with wide-ranging commercial and social benefits. Algae
can be used to create green
such as chlorella and spirulina, clean
for farm animals and fish, natural
and food additives, and even biodegradable plastics. Algae is on its way to
becoming a sustainable raw material and ingredient of the future.
Pond has developed a multi-leveled model that combats climate change,
derives value from emissions, and produces a valuable, planet-friendly
byproduct. If the future of the environment and the economy are inextricably
linked, then sustainable and commercially viable options will be a crucial
part of the way forward.
Having recently secured $7 million in project
from Inventiv Capital Management, Pond has pilot sequestration
installations underway in Ontario and has been granted patents in the
US, Europe, China and the Gulf Region. Pond is also the
commercial partner of the Canadian National Research Council’s $37
million Algae Carbon Conversion project, designed to reduce CO2
emissions from Canadian oil sands operations.
While Pond is at its core a technology company, it does have a wider, and
ambitious, commercial vision. Animal feed, bioplastics, fertilizers,
ingredients for cosmetics, food dyes, and a range of valuable nutraceuticals
are among the many algae-derived all-natural products that can be produced
from Pond’s bioreactors.
Aware of algae’s vast market potential, Pond has acquired two strategic
players at various levels of the commercial chain: The company has acquired
RFI Canada, the Canadian arm of a major natural food-ingredient
supplier. With this leading distributor of spirulina and chlorella in the
family, Pond now has a vertical
integration channel to move its high-end algae and related products. RFI Canada
now operates under the Pond umbrella as Pond
Naturals, and is a key player in the company’s
Astaxanthin pills | Image credit: Pond Technologies
Pond (through Pond Naturals) has also joined forces with Regenurex
Health. As Canada’s only commercial producer of
Astaxanthin supplement pills — one of the most valuable algae-derived
products and a rising star in the nutritional supplement industry — the
acquisition of Regenurex is a significant move in building Pond Naturals into a
vertically integrated manufacturer, distributor, and retailer of bulk and
branded nutraceutical products.
By growing its own algae while owning the commercialization channels, Pond
seems well-positioned to become a leader in cleantech and algae-based natural
Some environmental advocates may be hesitant to accept CO2 emitters’
continued role in tomorrow’s economy, yet the fact remains — carbon-based
energy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The Paris Agreement, for example, has China committing to reach peak
carbon emissions around 2030 — meaning that the world’s second-largest
economy and largest polluter will likely continue its emissions growth for
at least another decade.
India, currently producing greenhouse gases at a rate well below developed
nations’ per capita output, has a vast population waiting to enter the currently
fossil-fueled middle class. Some estimates have India’s CO2 output doubling by
Furthermore, despite valiant efforts by some leading governments, a major study
recently showed worldwide carbon emissions increasing by 2.7
percent in 2018.
The need for solutions that work with carbon-based emitters is, for now, a
reality of existing infrastructure. Sustainable energy
simply aren’t ready yet, not at the scale required. The Chinese example
illustrates this well. China is currently
the world in clean-energy development, with massive investments in solar and
wind. Yet, despite this impressive shift towards renewables, the country’s
CO2 emissions keep rising; China’s need for energy is growing faster than
its ability to produce it sustainably.
While environmental concerns and moral imperatives can and should be the
ethical drivers setting the course for business, an economy and its
industries are slow-moving vessels that require a well-rounded argument to
risk change. Commercial incentives must align or at least track in a similar
direction. If not, untreated emissions will continue to play a perilous role
in our energy portfolio.
If the sustainable economies of the future will indeed be built by a series
of collaborative steps — a structural evolution that blends old and new —
then integrated solutions such as Pond’s will help overcome the roadblocks
towards a truly flourishing economy.
Published Apr 24, 2019 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Jason Najum is a freelance writer and environmental advocate. A regular contributor to the Lonely Planet, HuffPost and other publications, his goal is to help push conversations forward and be part of projects that matter.