An Ottawa company that was once hailed as a green energy trailblazer says it’s ready to bring its trash-to-energy technology to market five years after filing for creditor protection.
Formerly known as Plasco Conversion Technologies, serial entrepreneur Rod Bryden’s firm has rebranded itself in preparation for what it hopes will be a breakthrough 2021.
Bryden says the company, now called Omni Conversion Technologies, has spent the past several years refining its system that is supposed to burn garbage and convert it into electricity and another gas that can be used as an energy-efficient fuel.
“We’ve kept quiet and focused entirely on putting this product into what we hope and believe is perfect shape,” Bryden, who launched the company 15 years ago, told OBJ this week.
“We don’t want the focus to be on (Omni’s) history – we want it to be on the product and where it’s going in the future.”
"We’ve kept quiet and focused entirely on putting this product into what we hope and believe is perfect shape."
Starting roughly a decade ago, the company poured $400 million in private funding into a demonstration plant on Trail Road to prove its technology that uses high-temperature plasma gas to turn garbage into electricity would work. In 2011, it got the green light from the province to build a commercial plant and had a deal with the city that would have paid it up to $9.1 million a year to take as much as 300 tonnes of garbage a day.
But after missing several deadlines to secure additional financing, the firm ultimately filed for protection from its creditors in early 2015. Later that year, Bryden bought the company for $1 in a transaction that included its intellectual property, but not the Trail Road facility.
Bryden cites a number of factors for Plasco’s failure to gain traction in its original incarnation.
The price of natural gas plummeted around that time, he notes, meaning potential customers who were intrigued by the technology’s promise of cheaper, greener energy suddenly had less economic incentive to consider alternatives. Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 also dampened enthusiasm for green energy, he says.
“There was no market, and we had investors who had become exhausted both with how long it took and how much it cost,” Bryden said.
New business approach
In response, Bryden revamped the company’s business model.
The firm abandoned its original goal of owning and operating the waste-to-energy facilities itself as well as selling electricity on the public grid. It has refocused solely on developing its technology and plans to contract out the assembly of the plants, which will be built for customers such as utility companies.
Now, after a series of false starts, Bryden believes Omni’s time has arrived.
He says the company is currently conducting engineering studies aimed at laying the groundwork for a facility in Australia, and he’s hoping to sign a final deal early next year. He says he also expects talks with several other customers around the world to bear fruit in 2021.
“You’re going to hear a lot more of us in the next year,” Bryden said.
If customers do indeed start signing on the dotted line, Omni could have a bright future ahead. Each one of the company’s patented gasification systems carries a price tag of about $40 million, and Bryden says a large-scale utility supplier would need about three units at a typical plant.
Bryden insists he’s not worried about negative headlines from the past scaring off potential customers.
He says a California-based insurance company has agreed to cover clients’ losses should the technology fail to deliver the goods, while a major U.S. fund manager has pledged to partner with customers who agree to use Omni’s technology to help shoulder the financial burden.
“Those two factors go a very long way – in fact, pretty much all the way – to taking the risk away from the customer,” Bryden said.
The slimmed-down firm now employs about 25 people, the majority in Ottawa as well as three as its Barcelona-based sales and marketing office. While it’s a far cry from the heights of 2014, when the company had a staff of 160, Bryden says he’s confident his rebranded enterprise is poised to rise from the proverbial ashes.
“There is a very large opportunity,” he said, before adding: “It’s just an opportunity – it’s not done yet.”