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Prince Charles is concerned about the world he’s leaving for his grandkids

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Good day. This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world(Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • Prince Charles is royally miffed about what we’re doing to the environment
  • A greener, cleaner way to fly
  • Trash stinks, and so does the cost of disposing of it
  • Chinese electric cars are (slowly) rolling into Canada

Behind that smile, Prince Charles is deeply worried about the planet

Prince Charles has been warning about environmental degradation for decades. (Tim Rooke/WPA Pool/Getty Images/CBC)

On a list of high-profile environmentalists, Prince Charles’s name probably doesn’t come instantly to mind.

You might think, how could the heir to the British throne possibly relate to climate change, polluted oceans and other such problems mounting beyond the gilded walls of his fancy houses? (Plus, isn’t he a bit dotty at times, talking to his plants?)

But Charles, who turns 70 next week, has spent decades thinking about many of those problems, and has in ways been an environmentalist ahead of his time.

Charles’s interests have been diverse, from warning about climate change to promoting organic farming and the wool industry. He has launched initiatives like the Prince’s Rainforest Project and won global recognition for his environmental efforts.

In a recent profile in Vanity Fair magazine, Charles lays bare some of his earliest thoughts on the subject. “As a teenager, I remember feeling deeply about this appallingly excessive demolition job being done on every aspect of life,” Charles wrote in a letter to the profile author.

He also recalls a talk he gave decades ago about plastics and other waste. “At that stage nobody was really interested and I was considered old-fashioned, out of touch and ‘anti-science’ for warning of such things.”

His speeches on these subjects pull few punches, and during a visit to Ghana this week, the fate of the world seemed to weigh on his mind.

“I am about to have another grandchild, actually,” he said to business leaders and government officials, a reference to the baby Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expecting in the spring. “It does seem to me insanity if we are going to bequeath this completely polluted, damaged and destroyed world to [our grandchildren].”

There are those who question Charles’s environmental commitment— after all, doesn’t the Royal Family like to hunt? And what about the carbon footprint he and his relations leave behind as they travel the world?

On his website, Charles seems to anticipate some of that criticism, noting how travel for him and his wife, Camilla, is organized “so as to reduce carbon emissions” (although he doesn’t explain how).

His website also touts the fact that his Aston Martin runs on bioethanol made from wine waste and a cheese byproduct. And if for whatever reason he can’t get around town in the Aston Martin or any other way, he might take a slightly more prosaic form of transport: a low-emission taxi.

Janet Davison


Is cleaner jet fuel more than just blue sky thinking?

As it stands, flying is a carbon-intensive activity. (Silas Stein/AFP/Getty Images)

Thinking about how to lower our contribution to climate change while dreaming of vacation plans can be morally complicated. Especially when one transatlantic flight burns as much carbon as the average Canadian emits in a month.

Overall, air travel is responsible for more than two per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Electric cars and solar roofs are growing in stature — but how far along is a renewable solution to powering planes?

One answer lies in bio-jet fuel, or using sources like plant-based oils to reduce and offset the harm caused by petroleum-based fuel.

A bio-jet fuel has a tall order to fill: it has to withstand cold temperatures, deliver the same efficiency and work with existing plane fuel systems. Oh, and it has to avoid consuming more natural resources by taking up land that could be used for food production or carbon capture.

Still, some are trying. Neste, a Finnish oil company, has developed a biofuel using non-edible vegetable and animal residues that it says can reduce plane emissions by 40 to 90 per cent. There’s also some promise in using algaeas a biofuel, given its high oil yield and the fact that it grows faster than most crops.

Promise, but also problems — namely, cost-effectiveness, finding a way to scale up production and delivering biofuel to airports, to name a few.

Plus, bio-jet fuels still burn carbon. While it’s a lesser amount, and the emissions might include fewer harmful particles like sulphur, keep in mind that the basic premise is that a plant-based fuel offsets what it burns by sucking carbon out of the air during its life as a crop.

The good news is this is no longer an armchair discussion. Hundreds of flights have been tested using bio-jet fuel blends, including long-hauls from Australia to the United States.

Air Canada has completed eight test flights using renewable biofuels, and the Canadian government is holding an 18-month competition for a homegrown biofuel, offering millions of dollars for the most economically viable solutions.

So there’s high interest, even if we’re nowhere near a future where your vacation is guilt-free.

Anand Ram


The Big Picture: The high price of trash

We were intrigued by this question Calgary reader Arthur Darby sent us:

“Curious: somewhere in Scandinavia there is an incinerator that burns plastic waste for fuel. Apparently if it’s hot enough there are no emissions. Does Canada have any incinerators like this?”

The answer is yes. Canada’s newest waste-to-energy plant is the Durham York Energy Centre in Ontario, which opened in 2016. It can process 140,000 tonnes of garbage a year, generating 14 megawatts, or enough electricity to power about 10,000 homes.

But according to the latest stats, incinerators handleless than five per cent of municipal solid waste in Canada. The graph below gives a sense of why: It’s expensive.

Thesefigures, provided by the World Bank, show the range of costs per tonne for different types of waste disposal in high-income countries like Canada. (Note: Collection and transfer happens regardless of the final disposal method, which is why it’s separate.)

Two things to consider:

  • The cost of composting may actually be lower, as the figures don’t include the sale of compost.
  • The range of waste-to-energy may be higher, as it doesn’t include the cost of removing the ash left behind.

Want to know more? Check out our recent article on waste-to-energy incineration.

Emily Chung


Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web


You’ll soon see Chinese electric cars on Canadian roads

China is quickly ramping up its production and deployment of electric cars. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, CBC business columnist Don Pittis looked at China’s growing stature as a manufacturer of electric cars.

We keep hearing that China is becoming the Detroit of the electric car industry.

Backed by government subsidies, loans and regulations, the Chinese electric vehicle (EV) industry is growing at a pace unseen in the rest of the world. So if these Chinese cars are so great — or at least so ubiquitous — you may be asking yourself, why aren’t they on Canadian roads?

Part of it is that they have to compete against the established players in the electric-car market, like Tesla and Nissan, which have networks of dealerships. But within the first three months of next year, you will be able to ride in a Chinese electric car.

The manufacturer BYD is bringing a fleet of its specialized taxi vehicles to Montreal. Billed as the best-selling electric vehicle built as a taxi, the BYD E6 is not cheap — it’s estimated to be about $60,000 Cdn. But it will pay off quickly for its operators because of low fuel and maintenance costs.

According to Ted Dowling, BYD’s vice-president for Canada, commercial use vehicles such as taxis, trucks and buses have a much quicker payback time than consumer vehicles just because they are on the road so much.

BYD is best known in investing circles because of its largest private investor, billionaire Warren Buffett. The company has not said when it will begin importing its vehicles for consumer sales, but Dowling said he has driven them himself and thinks they’re as good as any other car made today.

This could very well be the beginning of a flood of Chinese EVs. Right now, there are at least 14 major carmakers in China, most of which are in the electric car business.

But the first Chinese-made electric car Canadians drive may not seem very Chinese at all. The famous Swedish luxury brand Volvo is actually owned by Chinese carmaker Geely, and some Volvo cars sold in Canada are already being made in China. What’s more, Volvo has promised that by 2019, every model of its fleet of cars will be available in hybrid or plug-in electric form.


Stay in touch!

Are there issues you’d like us to cover? Questions you want answered? Do you just want to share a kind word? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at whatonearth@cbc.ca.

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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