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Interview with Lucie Andlauer of Subterra Renewables

Lucie Andlauer is CEO of Subterra Renewables, a Toronto-based company which takes geothermal energy beyond the installation step. subterrarenewables.com

1. What does Subterra do?

Subterra invests in the renewable energy efforts of our clients and enables them to build socially conscious developments. We build, own, and operate geothermal energy systems to provide 24/7 clean, renewable energy and ultimately replace conventional systems. Subterra works with our clients to enable them to meet future sustainability and energy efficiency requirements. Our goal is to simplify going green. Our geothermal systems offset natural gas consumption by making the building reliant on electricity, with an overall more efficient system as a result of utilizing the ground over traditional mechanical equipment. Subterra coordinates closely with the consultant teams of buildings in order to customize a system in accordance with the trifecta (customer, client, and environment).

2. Can you explain a little more the range of services you provide? 

Subterra Renewables specialises in geothermal heating and cooling systems for multi-residential and commercial buildings. These systems exchange heat with the earth below the building to create a thermal storage battery that discharges when the building needs heat in the winter and recharges when the building needs to shed heat in the summer.

We offer an end to end design and installation service as well as an ‘Energy as a Service’ utility program where we invest in the renewable energy asset to remove the barrier of initial capital investment. The following is the complete list of services offered by Subterra:

System design (engineering)

Energy as-a service

Complete geothermal system installation owned by Subterra at no upfront cost to the developer in exchange for an ongoing monthly renewable energy fee.

Design-Build

Complete geothermal system financed and owned by the building owner; operations, maintenance, and ongoing reporting can be provided by Subterra.

System Acquisition

Acquisition of existing/operating geothermal assets and/or portfolios.

Geothermal Drilling

Complete drilling services for vertical borehole drilling for depths below 600’ – 900’ +

Shoring & Earth Retention

Variety of services related to the early stages of projects that can be arranged in succession with geothermal drilling.

Test Hole and Thermal Conductivity Testing

We can drill test holes and have thermal conductivity testing equipment to analyze test holes and project feedback prior to finalizing a design.

3. Does Subterra effectively act as a utility?

Yes – because we own, operate, and maintain the system. By doing so, we can charge an all-inclusive renewables energy fee.

4. With a new project, who do you deal with to consider using geothermal?

We get approached by the main proponents in the development community, namely architects, developers, and construction managers etc.

5. Is it practical to say that a system like yours could replace fossil fuels for heating most buildings?

Absolutely, geothermal can offset all-natural gas in buildings. In practicality, many engineers prefer to have a small component of the building connected to natural gas and domestic hot water. We are actively trying to make the switch to go green entirely.

Viewpoint: Dowel laminated timber: a step towards circularity in construction

By Sigi Liebmann

Wood is widely promoted as a renewable and  environmentally responsible material, based on the third-party certification of sustainable forest management (SFM) practices. While this can be successfully argued at the scale of the forest, until now, the argument has not applied equally at the scale of the building.

All durable wood products will store the carbon they have sequestered while part of a living tree, until destroyed by decay or fire at the end of their service life. However, this remains a cradle to grave evaluation that fails to consider the potential for reclamation and repurposing of the product, the GHG emissions associated with manufacture, and the potential environmental and health impacts of any adhesives used.

As mass timber fabricators, we believe that solid wood is the best material to build with from an ethical standpoint, and that using natural timber, as uncontaminated as possible, is the most sustainable approach to take for the planet and for future generations. This is why we chose to manufacture 100% wood, no-glue dowel laminated timber (DLT), a product that is 100% recyclable, reusable and does not produce contaminated waste.

DLT is a relatively new arrival in Canada, although it has been available in Europe for more than 20 years.  To produce DLT, layers of dimension lumber are assembled face to face. A hole is drilled through the entire assembly and a wooden dowel is inserted to hold it all together. No glue, no nails, just the wooden dowel. The wood boards have a moisture content of 10-15%, while the dowels are bone dry. As soon as the dowels are installed and in contact with the surrounding wood, they will absorb the moisture from the boards and expand. This forms a mechanical connection that is incredibly strong.

This type of assembly results in ‘stacked’ DLT panels, so called because ‘stacked’ is a direct translation of the German term ‘Brettstapel’. The surface appearance can be flat or fluted – the latter when 2×4 and 2×6 material is alternated.

In addition to stacked DLT panels there can be crossed DLT panels, a more environmentally responsible product than glue-bonded, cross laminated timber (CLT). In ‘crossed’ DLT, the large sized panels are manufactured by assembling multiple layers of lumber on top of one another, each layer being at different angles to the one below, and pegging them together with hardwood dowels. DLT need not be glued. Windows and doors are left open as the panel is laid up, rather than being cut out from a finished solid panel. This process minimizes the amount of ‘waste’ material produced. 

Sigi Liebmann is a Swiss trained master timber framer and owner of International Timberframes Inc. in Golden BC.

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Interview with Jeff Gold of Nexus Circular LLC

Jeff Gold is the COO/founder of Nexus, the leading circular waste-plastics solution company based in Atlanta that converts landfill-bound plastics to reusable plastics. nexuscircular.com

1. What does Nexus do exactly?

Nexus converts waste plastics that are typically bound for a landfill or incineration into chemical feedstocks that are used to create new, virgin plastics.  We take the polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene that cannot be economically recycled through mechanical systems and transform them into valuable liquids and waxes that our partners use to create a huge range of new plastic products.  Our process is very energy efficient and by directing our output into new plastics versus fuel products that are burned, we sequester the carbon in those plastics and prevent their entry into the environment as harmful greenhouse gases.

2. How does the waste plastics conversion work?

Nexus uses a process known as pyrolysis, or “thermal depolymerization” to transform waste plastic back into its basic molecular forms. This process works by applying heat to the plastic but excluding all oxygen so that instead of burning, the plastic simply liquefies and decomposes into a variety of hydrocarbon molecules. Most plastics are made of long hydrocarbon chains and pyrolysis provides a way to “cut” those chains into smaller pieces that become liquids or waxes once they are cooled.  It is these liquids and waxes that can then be used in the industrial systems that make new plastic resins.

3. Is the conversion process truly a ‘closed loop’?

We consider our process to be “closed loop” because all the plastic that goes into the system is converted into a new product that is captured at various points in the system.  For example, most of the incoming plastic is converted to liquids and a wax product that is collected and shipped off directly to our off-take partners.  The process also produces a flammable gas that we likewise capture and then use to heat the pyrolysis reactors.  A fourth product that results from the process is a carbon-black char material that forms in the reactors from small amounts of paper and cardboard that are mixed in with the plastic feedstock and from normal decomposition of plastic when it contacts very hot surfaces.  This char is collected and can be used as an asphalt additive. In this way, all the products formed from the plastic feedstock are converted, captured, and used in some way making the process truly closed loop.

4. What have been the challenges you have encountered?

Converting waste plastic at a commercial scale into useful products and doing so economically is very hard.

The principle technical challenges we have encountered revolve primarily around feedstock in terms of collection, contamination, and composition. The challenge has been to create a highly adaptable system that can accept a wide variation of inputs and produce a uniform, consistent, high-quality output.  Maintaining reactor performance in the face of a variable feedstock stream has also posed technical challenges around managing heat distribution to yield our desired products while minimizing energy consumption which is why we have taken all the learnings from our first plant and are now applying them to a third- generation design.

Another challenge involves proving that chemical recycling is a viable technology in the fight against plastic pollution.  There have been numerous press releases and announcements by groups in the chemical recycling space touting a solution that fails to materialize and when this happens often enough, a perception is created that this is something that does not really work.  While there is a lot of progress yet to be made, Nexus has shown that the technology can be effective and that it merits serious consideration.

5. What is the future? How far to do you see an operation like yours going?

We feel very optimistic about the future!  We have a team in place that has built an innovative and economic process that addresses the pressing environmental issue of plastic pollution and we have proven that Nexus is one of the few companies that can deliver our product at commercial scale and consistent quality.

Demand for our products is extremely high as many companies work towards satisfying consumer demands to increase the amount of certified recycled content in their products and take positive steps to improve the planet’s environmental quality.  Our challenge now is to scale the business at a rate that can keep pace with our customer’s needs, and to that end, we are working very hard to establish new locations both at home and overseas. Given that the use of plastics is expected to continue its upward trend over the next several,Nexus is poised to expand on its industry leadership position and play a major role in combatting plastic pollution for years to come.

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Interview with Tom Todoruk of Tempeff Inc.


1. When did Tempeff start up and what exactly does it do?

The company was started in March of 2008 however the basic technology goes back even farther, approximately 35 years. Our DualCore® energy recovery system can reach up to 90% sensible heat recovery without the requirement of an energy robbing defrost strategy even when the outside air temperature reaches -40°F. The equipment is customizable, allowing engineers and owners the opportunity to utilize its efficiency and flexibility to bring down over all energy consumption.

2. Why do you say that your energy recovery equipment has the highest efficiency available?

Most heat recovery ventilators use a single core system which can freeze when outside temperatures drop below freezing. The system is then required to implement a defrost strategy which will bring down efficiency and increase energy consumption. Having to incorporate a defrost strategy means that the heating system has to be designed to handle the full heating load which adds additional system cost and reduces overall efficiency. Using a proven DualCore® system that will not require a defrost strategy allows the system designer to size any additional heat from supply air temperature off the Tempeff unit, reducing energy consumption as well as system cost.

3. How does the DualCore® system work?

Our DualCore® design uses two heat exchangers, compared to the single exchanger in conventional units. Outside air goes through one exchanger for one minute at a time before switching to the other exchanger, so it doesn’t have time to build up frost. In winter, condensation will form on the exhausting heat exchanger. When the cycle changes, the outdoor air is passed over the heat exchanger, warms up, and that moisture is added back to the airstream. This reduces the need for added humidity in the conditioned space. The result is that one heat exchanger is always delivering conditioned air to the space.

4. What is the performance record?

Our system has been tested in a climactic chamber at the National Research Council which replicated indoor and outdoor temperatures and relative humidities designed for Artic conditions. The unit functioned well with sustained outside temperatures of -35°C and 50% RH.  There was no restriction of airflow or blockage of the air stream so that the ERV continuously provided conditioned outdoor air. With few moving parts, maintenance of the system is very low. Due to the cycling nature of the heat exchangers, dust rarely builds up on them, eliminating the need for frequent cleaning. Numerous LEED-certified and high-performance buildings, such as the Fort St. John Passive House published in the Summer 2020 issue of SABMag, use Tempeff DualCore® ERVs.

5. What’s on the horizon for Tempeff? 

Covid-19 has placed focus on the requirement for increased ventilation. In some cases having a centralized system may not be the best answer in multi-functional spaces or in retro-fit applications where space is at a premium. To address this concern, Tempeff has launched the RGSP-K, a new configurable ERV utilizing DualCore® energy recovery for smaller airflows at a friendly price point. This equipment is capable of up to 90% sensible heat recovery without a defrost strategy. This new format can be ceiling mounted and configured in many different ways to suit tight and challenging project conditions.

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Interview with Fin MacDonald of the CaGBC

Zero Carbon Building Standard Version 2

Fin MacDonald guided the recent launch of the second  version of the CaGBC Zero Carbon Building Standard,  which is designed to accelerate adoption of  zero carbon building practices. 

1. For context, when did the CaGBC start advocating for Zero Carbon design? 

Canada Green Building Council has always been interested in lowering the carbon footprint of Canada’s built environment and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, as it significantly impacts the health of both people and the environment. LEED already takes into account carbon in its holistic approach, but things became much more urgent after the Paris agreement in 2016. A standard focused on prioritizing carbon emissions reduction was created at that time to recognize the role green buildings could play in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

2. What has the CaGBC learned that has prompted the release of the version 2 standard?

Canada’s buildings contribute 17 per cent of all carbon emissions – and a further 11 per cent when embodied carbon from construction is considered. To limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate  Change (IPCC) updated their recommended targets to 50 per cent GHG emissions reduction by 2030 and 100 per cent reduction by 2050. The cost of not adopting a ZCB approach increases with each passing day. Every building built today that is not designed to achieve zero carbon emissions is contributing an increase in carbon emissions – and will likely require major investments to retrofit to zero. To achieve these targets, all sources of emissions need to be considered, not just the energy related emissions. The bar also needs to be raised on energy performance. That realization prompted us to make changes to the standard, that balance the rigour needed to lower carbon emissions, but also create more flexibility in how projects get there in order to open pathways to zero for a broader range of projects. We just can’t afford to wait any longer – we need all buildings to be zero carbon buildings. 

3. What does the version 2 standard entail?

Version 2 draws on learnings from over 20 real-world ZCB-projects. These projects demonstrate that the industry is ready to raise the bar on expanded requirements for embodied carbon and energy efficiency. At the same time, Version 2 aims to get more buildings to zero, faster, by providing more options for different design strategies.

The key points of the version 2 standard are:

Embodied Carbon: Projects must now take responsibility for embodied carbon, and reduce it as much as possible before offsetting. This includes the carbon emissions for the building’s life-cycle including those associated with the manufacture and use of construction materials.

Refrigerants: ZCB Standard v2 encourages best practices to minimize potential leaks of refrigerants that, when released, can have significant short-term impacts on climate change.

Energy Efficiency: ZCB Standard v2 promotes the efficient use of clean energy with more stringent energy efficiency and airtightness requirements, but maintains the flexibility and accessibility of v1.

Innovation: ZCB-Design encourages projects to develop new skills and create markets for new technologies by requiring projects to demonstrate two innovative strategies to reduce carbon emissions.

4. The CaGBC also has a Zero Carbon Performance Standard. What is that about?

The first version of the Zero Carbon Building Standard had two pathways, one for design and one for performance. With ZCB Standard v2, we’ve broken these out into two documents for ease of use. Where ZCB-Design certification has requirements that guide the design of new buildings and the retrofit of existing ones to enable them to achieve zero carbon operations (including consideration of embodied carbon, refrigerants and airtightness), ZCB-Performance certifies buildings that achieve zero carbon operations year after year—a verification that is required annually. The two certifications work well together, but ZCB-Performance can be used on its own as well.

5. Is it the objective of the CaGBC to move the construction industry to Zero Carbon building?

Absolutely. CaGBC has proven that zero carbon buildings are technically feasible and financially viable. I don’t believe it is hyperbole to say that making the move to zero carbon is critical if we are to stand a chance of slowing the worst impacts of climate change. 

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INTERVIEW WITH: Anthony Owolabi, PACE Canada Volunteer

PACE Canada getting a foothold

Originating in California, the property assessed clean energy (PACE) program offered by PACE Canada wants to make energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrade measures affordable to all Canadians.

What is PACE?

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is an innovative financing tool which property owners can use to upgrade the energy efficiency of their buildings and install renewable energy systems with no money down and with repayment through their property tax bill. The source of funds is usually private lenders who are looking for long term, low risk investments.

The key requirements of a PACE program are that the building owner must own the property and must be paying (or be able to pay) property taxes: secondly the program will cover 100% of the financing for these types of measures:

• renewables such as solar panels and geothermal heating systems

energy efficiency upgrades such as insulation and windows

In the last five years in the USA, over 220,000 PACE projects have been completed with over $6B invested.

Who is PACE Canada?

PACE Canada is a non-profit, education and advocacy organization. We are dedicated to bringing the PACE program to Canada, and in the process will create thousands of jobs and dramatically reduce Canada’s GHG footprint.

Our vision is for every building in Canada to be optimized with renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to achieve net-zero performance – and for PACE financing to be the tool that makes the measures affordable to all.

Can you explain a little more how the financing system works?

The PACE administrator acts as a coordinator between investors (lenders) and home/property owners (buyers). Investors lend the money to home/property owners and money flows to the contractor who completes the job.

Once the project is complete, the PACE Administrator facilitates the placement of a property tax lien and the home/property owner starts repayment via their property tax bill.

Since investors provide long-term, fixed interest rate money, the model is usually cash flow positive from day one. Energy savings are meant to more than offset the increase in taxes.

What are the available markets for PACE Financing in Canada?

There are two very distinct markets for PACE financing – C Pace (commercial) and R Pace (residential). Even though there are similarities, there are major differences when it comes to implementation processes and approvals for each market.

Think of both programs sharing the DNA of the cat family, but one is a kitten and one is a tiger.

Based on US market data, the average PACE financing per project has been $456,000 for C-PACE projects and $24,000 for R-PACE projects. The largest single C-PACE financed project to date is $32 million. A C PACE best practices guideline can be found at http://www.c-pacealliance.com: (Well-Designed-C PACE-Programs-2018-07-02)

Does PACE require government involvement even down to the municipal level?

Even though the loan repayment is made through the property tax system, the municipality should have only two simple tasks – place the tax lien and collect/remit the annual payments. All other tasks should be handled by the PACE Administrator – approve contractors, projects, and upgrade types allowed; and find the investors.

What are the full economic benefits?

1. Energy Savings to property owners: Since the target is to be net positive cash flow from day 1, property owners save money on their energy bills.

2. Increased property value: Unlike subjective upgrades like countertops and paint, PACE upgrades are quantifiable and calculations can show increased property value. This feature can be translated into a higher price at the time of sale.

3. Green Jobs: Apart from the public good benefits of reduced green house gases, many new jobs are created. Statistics show that for every million dollars invested, 15 new market transition jobs are created.

4. Reduced fiscal debt: Since PACE attracts private investors, it reduces the use of public tax dollars in the retrofit economy.  Governments don’t have to provide rebates, subsidies, or give-aways that contribute to increased public debt levels.

What are the next steps for PACE Canada?

PACE Canada is committed to advocating for the adoption of a best practices PACE model across Canada. We will continue our efforts to educate governments and politicians on PACE and its economic benefits (see the website at PACECanada.green)

We will be expanding our membership base by organizing educational events on PACE and its components and to help the public understand all the PACE benefits.

Interview with Rob Bernhardt, CEO of Passive House Canada

Passive House on an upward curve

Rob works to advance building energy efficiency. A certified Passive House consultant and the developer of several certified Passive House projects, Rob is familiar with the economic and social advantages of high-performance buildings.

What is a Passive House Building and how does it work in Canada??

Passive House (Passivhaus) is considered to be the most rigorous voluntary energy-based standard in the design and construction industry today. They consume up to 90 percent less heating and cooling energy than conventional buildings. It is recognized internationally as the proven best way to build for comfort, affordability and energy efficiency of residential, institutional and commercial buildings, through all stages of design, construction, and livability.

The Passive House approach works because it’s a pragmatic combination of applied building science and economics. Designs and components vary to suit the local climate, enabling comparable levels of comfort, hygiene and performance in varied climates.  All Passive House buildings are designed using detailed energy modelling software, which allows the design team modify the architecture and specify the combination of insulation and components required to bring a building to the required performance standard in their own climate zone.

Why was Passive House Canada created?

Passive House Canada was incorporated by practitioners wanting to transform Canada’s buildings, making the multiple benefits of high performance buildings the norm. We started with few high-performance resources in Canada but have ramped up resources through educational services, events, advocacy and communications over the few years we have existed.  With time Canada’s policy, regulatory and incentive environment has become very support of Passive House as the level of building efficiency required for Canada to meet its Paris commitments become apparent.   

Why do you think the movement has been successful so far?

The successes that we have experienced are directly attributable to the dedication of industry professionals and elected officials who are passionate about sustainability.

Their momentum and enthusiasm has given us the privilege of assisting all levels of government in building policy development, the ability to support the growth of a national membership of over 1,100 members (in eight provinces and two territories) and deliver hundreds of courses, with over 5,000 registrations across Canada. 

This appetite for a higher standard of building bridged partnerships resulting in the launch of Canada’s first Zero Emissions Building Exchange in Vancouver and a successful inaugural national conference with over 350 delegates attending each year.

Why do you think people are making the change to Passive House buildings?

While the initial driver is, of course, environmental and the common goal to mitigate climate change, this alone does not catalyze market transformation, represent the motivation of everyone involved, or simplify the process of managing change. 

For many, the primary motivation is a desire to have better buildings. The unparalleled comfort, health, durability, resilience and affordability of buildings offering Passive House levels of performance are reason enough to make the choice. Affordable housing advocates may focus on the reduced costs of ownership, operation and utility costs to tenants, homeowners on the comfort, while absolutely everyone craves a constant supply of filtered fresh outdoor air.

Some professionals, developers and trades are attracted by the quality of work such buildings entail and enjoy the pride of workmanship. Others know high performance building regulations are coming and are looking for a competitive advantage, a market differentiator, in establishing their company brand. Increasingly, some are simply responding to the developing market for Passive House buildings and their components, which they know will grow.

Why do you feel Canada is winning in the change to Passive House building?

During our 2018 conference, the federal government took the opportunity to say it is probable that the final tier of the Net Zero Energy Ready Code will be very close to Passive House standards. This is a significant win for Canada, and with recent budget support we can see our national buildings strategy taking root across cities and provinces, nationwide.

We know our role at PHC will change and likely diminish as building codes and standards approach Passive House performance levels and we can’t think of a better reason to become redundant.

Taking a “mission first” approach enables more rapid progress, facilitating collaboration with industry and consumers in addition to government. We can best achieve our mission by collaborating with aligned groups and individuals, and we invite you to do the same.