Elicia Maine Headshot
Elicia Maine
Special Advisor on Innovation to the VP, Research - Simon Fraser University

Vancouver’s Clean Transportation Ecosystem

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Takeaways

  1. Vancouver has a strong history of innovation and research in key technologies, such as lithium batteries and fuel cells, needed for clean transportation.
  2. With a set of reputable and research-focused universities, Vancouver has no shortage of the talent needed for the clean energy transition.
  3. Important work in the hydrogen sector is being done in Vancouver, opening up possibilities for a hydrogen economy that helps the province meet its clean transition goals.

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Foreign investors should see that Vancouver’s position as a hub for clean transportation is undeniable. For decades, the province has been cultivating expertise in the sector through the efforts of research and industry, resulting in key innovations that will become crucial for national and global clean energy transition efforts.


What does clean transportation mean to you?

Clean transportation is part of the transition we need to make to get to zero emissions by 2050. Transportation is a big part of that. Vancouver is an emerging hub of various forms of zero-emission vehicles, the technologies behind those, and the components around them. We are also a leading area in Canada for active transportation and shared transportation.


Who are the main players in Vancouver’s clean transportation innovation ecosystem and what are their strengths? 

Vancouver is a pioneer in fuel cells in the hydrogen economy and in lithium ion battery manufacturing. Vancouver has a long history of research seeking to address our climate problems through changing clean energy options. That goes back to Ballard’s days and to the first lithium-ion battery manufacturing in North America as well as the first fuel cell manufacturing in the world.

“Universities and the talent coming out of them are a key reason why Vancouver and British Columbia are world leaders in clean energy transition and transportation.”

Universities and the talent coming out of them are a key reason why Vancouver and British Columbia are world leaders in the clean energy transition and clean transportation. There is great research here that has gone into fuel cells, in particular polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells, in making them less expensive, having lower capital cost, lasting longer, and being able to operate in more challenging conditions. There is also research that has gone into lithium and lithium-ion battery manufacturing and development. Right now, there is research going into carbon capture, storage, and utilization.

This is happening at all three of our major research institutions in BC: Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria. This research is primarily happening in our chemistry, physics, sustainable energy engineering, chemical engineering, and materials engineering departments. These are the areas that are fuelling new developments in clean energy transportation.


What are the companies within Vancouver’s clean transportation space that are driving the way forward in the region? 

You cannot talk about clean energy and clean transportation without thinking about Ballard and its storied history here in Burnaby, BC. They were far ahead of their time and they have seeded an ecosystem, along with the National Research Council Canada Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI), which has nurtured a generation of talent and spun out a number of companies from that early investment and expertise. Daimler and Mercedes-Benz came to Canada and Burnaby because of Ballard. 

Another company that comes to mind is Ionomr Innovations, which is working on next-generation technologies in that area. Loop Energy is also here in Vancouver, as well as a number of companies that are working on hydrogen distribution and looking at the entire supply chain system of enabling the rollout of clean energy technologies.

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Which organizations in Vancouver help bridge the gap between academia and commercialization in the clean transportation sector? 

We have a thriving sector here in British Columbia with centres such as the Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Centre, which is one of the bridging organizations that link academia with industry, including new startups and resource sector companies that could put to use some of these technologies in their clean energy transition. There are also organizations such as the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), which tries to link these developing university inventions to problems they can solve and to research pilots. Federally, Sustainable Development Technology Canada plays an important role with seed grants and the development of larger alliance partnerships. Municipally, both Vancouver and the Metro Vancouver region are playing roles with innovation centres and trying to look at novel financing provincially and federally. A new Low Carbon Innovation Centre has been announced that Shell is taking part in. All of these bridging organizations and programs are important to building this sector.


Which developments in Vancouver’s clean transportation space will have the biggest impact on the economy? 

The first technology that is exciting and that BC is playing an important role in is carbon capture, storage, and utilization. There are two companies in particular, Carbon Engineering and Svante, which are playing highly important roles here in BC and around the world in those spaces. Carbon Engineering is developing methods to capture carbon directly out of the area to make low carbon fuels and store that carbon. Svante is developing ways to make processes lower carbon intensity by being able to capture and store carbon. Vancouver has technologies that can be applied right now in resource and emissions-intensive trade-exposed sectors.

“BC gets most of its electricity from renewable sources already and we have the potential for truly green hydrogen production with no emissions,”

The second technology I am excited about here in BC is hydrogen and all the possibilities of the hydrogen economy. BC gets most of its electricity from renewable sources already and we have the potential for truly green hydrogen production with no emissions in the process of generating hydrogen from water and electricity.

We can use hydrogen as a means of storing intermittent renewable sources of energy and as the fuel for clean transportation in trucking, marine applications, ferries, boats, trains, and buses. There are people working on hydrogen for aerospace as well.

“Hydrogen will be essential for hard-to-decarbonize sectors,”

The other thing that is exciting about the potential for hydrogen as a new area of economic generation for BC and as a way of addressing the clean energy transition, is that hydrogen will be essential for hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as emission-intensive trade-exposed industries. Hydrogen has a role to play both in transportation as well as in decarbonizing our heavy industries, and Canada has a lot of work to do in that area.


What would you pitch to cleantech foreign investors as to why Vancouver should be their next investment destination? 

We have world-leading research going on in the clean energy transition, incredible talent across the technical fields that feed this sector, and we have history and established companies around the ecosystem. Equally importantly, we have a population that embraces the clean energy transition. We have the highest uptake of electric vehicles in Canada and people are on e-bikes everywhere. Vancouver is a hotbed for innovation in this sector.

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Elicia Maine Headshot
Elicia Maine
Special Advisor on Innovation to the VP, Research - Simon Fraser University

Bio: Elicia Maine is the Special Advisor on Innovation to the Vice-President, Research and International, at Simon Fraser University. She is also the W.J. VanDusen Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Beedie School of Business. Since July 2020, she has served as a Director on the Board of Directors at Innovate BC. In 2018, she was recognized as one of BC’s Most Influential Women by BCBusiness

Organization Profile: Simon Fraser University is a public research university in British Columbia, Canada, with three campuses located in Burnaby, Surrey, and Vancouver. The university was founded in 1965 and now has over 100,000 alumni. In 2015, Simon Fraser University became the second Canadian university to receive accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.