The annual Oil & Gas Cleantech Challenge organized by the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association (CCIA) draws a lot of companies from north of the border.

A big reason for that: The Consulate General of Canada in Denver has sponsored the event since 2016. “CCIA has really hit on a great idea with these challenges,” says Stephen Davis, the consulate’s trade commissioner for cleantech.

Davis says feedback from presenting Canadian companies has been uniformly positive. “Usually, they’re saying, ‘This is the best event I’ve been to. It would have taken years to meet these companies.'”

Colorado provides a great entry point into the U.S. oil and gas market, adds Stan Pence, Davis’ counterpart at the consulate in oil and gas. Houston is tougher. “A lot of times, it’s easier to come to Colorado,” says Pence. “A lot of times, companies will get a foothold here and move on from there.”

Davis credits Pence for connecting the dots between cleantech and oil and gas. “Stan is a wealth of knowledge in terms of knowing everybody in the oil and gas industry,” says Davis. “We’ve been able to bring those contacts to CCIA.”

Notes Pence: “Most of them have some follow-up with the many companies that are there. By and large, it does get them into the track where they can get into the supply chain.”

Take GHGSat. The Montreal-based startup won the Oil & Gas Cleantech Challenge in 2016. “I’ve always had a passion for commercializing space since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to bring space down to Earth and help people,” says CEO Stephane Germain.

A 2010 cap-and-trade proposal involving the Quebec and California sparked Germain’s idea for the company. “People are going to care a lot more about what their real emissions were,” he says. “That was the epiphany.”

After working in aerospace engineering and business development, Germain indulged his entrepreneurial aspirations. He bought into a technology company, Montreal-based Xiphos Systems Corporation, with the express intent of spinning off a sensor as the core intellectual property of GHGSat. The sensor — a powerful spectrometer — was envisioned as a method to detect greenhouse gas emissions via satellite.

Staked with CDN$2.3 million from a Canadian government fund, about a third of the seed funding, GHGSat started building its first satellite in 2013, and successfully launched it in 2016. “It travels seven kilometers per second and orbits the earth 15 times a day,” says Germain. “It’s going north-south while the Earth rotates east-west underneath.”

That allows the microwave oven-sized satellite to cover the entire planet with absorption spectroscopy, a traditional method for terrestrial detection of greenhouse gas emissions. “What we’ve done is taken that to space,” says Germain.

The system can target specific industrial sites to measure emissions and detect leaks for five target industries: oil and gas, power generation, coal mining, landfills, and agriculture.

As GHGSat eyed the U.S. market, and officials at the Consulate General of Canada in Denver nudged Germain to apply to present at the Oil & Gas Cleantech Challenge. The company applied and ultimately won the 2016 event, setting the stage for business development in the U.S. “It was a great opportunity to get better known in Colorado and more broadly the United States,” says Germain. “There were several things that came of that.”

One was an introduction to ConocoPhillips. “That then led to a multi-year contract. We are still working with them. That has been a fantastic relationship.”

Karl Fennessey, manager for corporate public policy for ConocoPhillips, says gas fields often have thousands of wells operating 24/7 all over a large and rugged geographic area. “We have people out in the field all the time driving to them and conducting scans,” says Fennessey. “[T]echnology that advances a branch of science that may be useful for the detection of emissions over a large area is very appealing.”

Existing satellites weren’t up to the task, but GHGSat showed promise. “For us, it had a lot of advantages,” says Fennessey.  For that reason, ConocoPhillips entered into an agreement to evaluate GHGSat’s technologies in the wake of the 2016 oil and gas challenge.

In its first two years in orbit, GHGSat’s first satellite is measuring emissions from sites in the Canadian oil sands, the Permian Basin in Texas, and a hydroelectric reservoir in Africa.

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is using GHGSat to track the methane and carbon dioxide emissions from mine faces and tailing ponds in northern Alberta.

The early results are good. “We have proven the underlying technology works,” says Germain. “For it to be operationally useful, we need a lower detection threshold.”

That’s coming soon. The company closed a second round of venture financing totaling US$10 million in September 2018, bringing the total to US$20 million to date. “We’re now building two new satellites and also an aircraft system to complement the satellites,” says Germain. The second satellite will launch in 2019; the third in 2020.

GHGSat remains active in Colorado, participating at the 2018 CH4 Connections, a methane-focused conference in Fort Collins, and working with the Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center, or METEC, at Colorado State University.

But this story is not about GHGSat alone: It is one of many Canadian cleantech companies that’s using Colorado as a springboard into the U.S market.

Modern Wellbore Solutions is one of them. The Calgary-based startup is developing multilateral drilling technology that could be a game changer for fracking industry.

“When we commercialize this, it brings emissions down tremendously,” says Klam, noting that an industry-wide deployment would be the equivalent of planting 44,000 trees, cutting megatons of emissions. Judges at the 2018 Oil & Gas Cleantech Challenge liked Klam’s pitch, and Modern Wellbore won first prize at the event.

Founded by Canadian CEO Chris Tesarski, CoResource Solutions moved to Colorado by way of West Texas in 2016 after participating in the Oil & Gas Cleantech Challenge.

Consulate General of Canada in Denver

Consulate General of Canada in Denver

Tesarski, who now splits time between Calgary and Littleton running his clean-water startup, sees a natural synergy between Canada and Colorado, and it revolves around cleantech. “A lot of things have been innovated in Canada because we’ve had to,” he explains. “We’re at the forefront of green oil.”

That also is a big reason why the Consulate General of Canada in Denver also sponsors the annual Mining Cleantech Challenge. Notes Davis: “Clean mining and cleaning up mining is a big priority for the Canadian government. This fit right in for what our mandates are.”

This post was sponsored by the Consulate General of Canada in Denver.