Biothermica Technologies Inc.
Founded in 1987, Montreal-based Biothermica Technologies Inc. is an integrated green energy, renewables and clean technology company that focuses on three primary areas of business: carbon and energy project development, landfill gas services and air pollution control solutions. Through its own innovative proprietary technology and services, Biothermica has a deep commitment to focusing on research and development for green energy solutions for its many global projects as a means of cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Biothermica Technologies is a leader in the development, financing, construction and operation of methane destruction projects from landfills and underground coal mines. As an integrated developer, the company also markets carbon credits and energy generated by its projects in domestic and international markets. Biothermica is committed to developing new technologies, which are environmentally conscious, reduce greenhouse gases, and promote clean air.
Most businesses specialize as either technology or equipment suppliers or take to the investment side, but Drouin’s full services organization covers everything from technology to project development and investment, as well as project construction and operation.
Carbon and energy revenues are generated based on Biothermica’s own proprietary technologies, such as VAMOX®, applied to the destruction of coal mine ventilation air methane (VAM).
A full array of landfill gas services are provided to landfill site owners, including the evaluation and monitoring of landfill gas emissions as well as the design, construction and operation of landfill gas collection, destruction and utilization systems.
Biothermica offers turn-key air pollution control solutions, based on its patented BIOTOX® technology, a regenerative thermal oxidation process applied to the destruction of non-conventional emissions such as condensable organic compounds, volatile organic compounds, total reduced sulphurs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as dioxins and furans emitted by various industries.
As part of its impressive portfolio, Biothermica has completed more than US$100 million in turn-key air pollution control and landfill gas recovery projects, more than US$45 million as an equity sponsor for landfill gas collection and power generation systems in Canada and in Central America, and more than US$50 million in carbon credit transactions in both the regulated (Kyoto) and voluntary carbon markets.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Biothermica’s founder, president and CEO Guy Drouin about the tremendous success that has been achieved by his team over the past 31 years.
Driven By Passion
Drouin knew that this was the type of career he was destined to follow from a young age. But he also recognized that any type of push towards green energy and renewables were next to non-existent in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“It was because of the many environmental challenges that I wanted to become involved. When I did my degree at the Polytechnique Montreal I was greatly involved in issues relating to the environment and ecology,” begins Drouin.
Since his days in university Drouin has believed that Quebec, Canada and the world could not continue with the same level of economic development without taking into account the externalities that are being created by the production process of the manufacturing of goods being produced. Those externalities include many types of pollution that goes into the air and into the water as well as waste materials.
“I did my thesis along those guidelines. We had to start thinking about those externalities when building new plants such as coal power plants,” he offers.
Green energy and renewable energy initiatives and programs were not in the spotlight 40 years ago anything like today. Despite being in the minority at the time, Drouin quickly began to develop the sort of thinking about how engineers could create solutions in order to cope with the real challenges of having a plan that could be sustainable over the long term.
“I created my first company at the end of the 1970s called Guy Drouin and Associates specializing in renewable energy, which was itself very new at that time,” he recalls.
In the early 1980s as oil prices began to rise more people began talking about how it would be possible to not only use fossil fuels but also green energy. However, by 1987 the price of oil had dropped to about $10 per barrel, leaving many to speculate that there would be no room for new energy initiatives, which were deemed far too expensive to pursue. But Drouin bucked the trend and continued to forge ahead in spite of many saying it would be too difficult to succeed, oftentimes digging into his own pocket to fund certain initiatives he felt passionately about.
“I felt like I was from Mars, because there were very few people who agreed with me on the need to push forward with this initiative,” he says with a chuckle. “It was at this time I was determined to create my own company, but not to do studies but rather to concentrate on technologies that could make a difference.”
Drouin founded Biothermica with just one employee – himself – and $1,000 to get it off the ground. He had a dream and followed through on it, ignoring the negativity and immense challenges in front of him. In addition to his vast knowledge it was also his incredible passion that guided him to where he is today.
Despite the vast inroads that have been made by Biothermica and other like-minded enterprises, it is still very much a carbon world. Biothermica has sold many carbon credits on the California-Quebec market with its proprietary VAMOX® technology and has recently signed a very important deal in Alabama to build and operate a large-scale VAMOX® plant in order to produce about half a million carbon credits that will be sold in 2020 under the California-Quebec cap and trade system.
“Unfortunately sales won’t be made to Ontario because Premier Doug Ford has decided to get out of the cap and trade system with California and Quebec,” laments Drouin.
It’s estimated that about 65% of Biothermica’s business has been generated in Canada and 35% in the U.S. although international destinations such as El Salvador and Haiti are likely just the beginning for an increased global expansion. Despite having technology that is considered state-of-the-art today, Drouin is well aware that his company must continue to innovate to remain at the head of the pack.
“It’s a continuous process. If you want to stay in business and not become obsolete you need to keep developing and be leaders in new technology,” he confirms. “We have also developed a new method for measuring landfill emissions with a special apparatus and can measure and map the methane emissions and also how many megawatts of electricity we can produce if we capture all the methane.”
Developing proprietary technology such as VAMOX® and BIOTOX® takes a great deal of time and effort; it’s not like developing software.
“When we develop something, especially when we have to treat methane or organic compounds in order to destroy the compounds, you have to operate at 1,000 degrees Centigrade. You cannot afford to make mistakes,” he emphasizes.
The company also routinely goes through a litany of extensive hazardous and operational reviews to ensure that safety is always the top priority. One of Biothermica’s engineers is an expert in this area and was previously employed in a similar capacity with the Shell Canada refinery.
An extensive amount of due diligence must be completed in order to obtain all the environmental permits and have the authorization to build our system from the various levels of government such as in Alabama, Quebec or elsewhere.
“We have a dedicated team of professionals here at Biothermica. Some have been with me for more than 25 years,” Drouin proudly states. “We are always looking for ways of solving greenhouse gas and methane emission problems, volatile organic compound problems and solid waste problems but we always apply the same type of knowledge of the thermal process treatment. As a company we have more than 30 years of experience but are always still learning new things.”
In May, 2016 Biothermica sold its interests in Montreal’s Gazmont limited partnership to Groupe Helios. In 1987, Biothermica and its partners developed and implemented the valorization project for the biogas from the Montreal landfill site, which materialized by the commissioning of a 25MW power plant in June of 1996, the largest of its kind in Canada.
“We are proud of this innovative project that turned out to be a technological showcase in the heart of Montreal. But we decided to divest of these assets in order to focus on eligible projects on the carbon market,” says Drouin.
Between 2006 and 2008, Biothermica managed a full-scale landfill gas to electricity Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project in Nejapa, El Salvador, developed under the Kyoto Protocol. Biothermica was responsible for the development, financing, construction and operation of this project, as well as the monetization of the generated Certified Emission Reductions (CERs). Meanwhile, the VAMOX® project in Alabama has been registered with the Climate Action Reserve, a California-based carbon offset registry.
In the absence of an international climate change agreement such as the Kyoto Protocol, Biothermica continues to monitor the development of regional climate change agreements that are suitable for the North American marketplace.
“One of the major reasons why we succeed is because in Canada we have a unique fiscal advantage for our research and development, where the tax credit is a key reason why we’re able to develop these technologies,” Drouin says.
The next step would be to apply such a credit, with similar rigorous requirements, to the commercialization phase.
In developing new technologies and programs, Biothermica has worked closely with a number of partners throughout the years in an effort to increase the viability of the renewables sector and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. One of those partners has been Montreal-based Optech, a college centre for technology transfer in optics/photonics specializing in optical fibres and sensors, imaging and illumination, metrology and microsystems. Research projects at Optech are designed in collaboration with private companies such as Biothermica with an experienced team that specializes in applied research in industrial settings.
“Our VP of technology spearheads work that we have done with them. We have worked with them on the development of the landfill gas measurement system,” says Drouin. “We worked with them under a technology grant from the Quebec government and involved a professor and students. The final report was approved by the government about a year ago.”
In August, 2017 the International Climate Cooperation Program provided nearly $1 million to Biothermica for an innovative biogas valorization project in Gonaïves, a city of about 300,000 people, making it the second-largest municipality in Haiti after Port-au-Prince. The project includes the first phase of the implementation of an integrated waste management and recovery system. It will create jobs for men and women of Gonaïves, contribute to clean energy production, lessen pollution levels and provide the issuance of carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.
Biothermica has joined a local non-profit organization, Bioénergie Haiti, which will be responsible for the management of the installation in addition to headlining the ownership.
Drouin visited Gonaïves where he quickly observed there were no garbage trucks to haul away the waste. Instead, all the refuse is dumped into the streets and the rivers. There are no concrete roads in Gonaïves and the per capita income is about $600 dollars. It is a daunting challenge but one that Drouin is certain Biothermica will overcome.
The mayor of Gonaïves told Drouin he had $4 million in the budget per year. The first request from Drouin was that he required a clear title for an appropriate parcel of land for the landfill. Within six months Drouin and Biothermica received a presidential decree, signed by the president of Haiti.
“We signed a long-term agreement in 2011 where I told them I would provide the technology through a non-profit organization. The company would be the owner of the infrastructure relating to waste collection, the waste landfilling and the power plant,” explains Drouin.
The key element of the project is the power plant, which will sell electricity to the national electricity producer.
“We are now doing something to combat the externalities of garbage, which is being discarded into the environment without any concern for the long-term sustainability of the country,” continues Drouin.
Following the Paris Agreement all the industrialized countries such as Germany, England and France committed themselves to contributing $100 billion per year beginning in 2020 in order to finance mitigation projects in these developing countries.
In Gonaïves the long-term operation of the garbage collection system – the landfill and the power plant – will be financed by the sales proceeds from the electricity and the selling of the carbon credits.
Greenhouse gas emissions are predominantly being generated from poorer countries that are unable to implement programs to reduce their carbon footprint. The conundrum is how to develop projects within those impoverished nations that cannot afford to pay. Some of the biggest greenhouse gas offenders today include countries such as Gabon, Somalia and Haiti.
“It’s sad that a poor country cannot afford to pay for clean technology,” says Drouin.
As part of his future plan for Biothermica, Drouin and his two sons have had many discussions about the continuing evolution of the global renewable energy industry and have also considered a plan to take the company public. Drouin believes there are many more opportunities to develop projects such as the one in Haiti and that it will be the model for future medium to long-term projects.
“If we do nothing there will be big problems on this planet,” he concludes. “It’s no longer time to study how to extinguish the fire. It’s now time to extinguish the fire. At Biothermica, we want to be a major player in this field.”