'Perfect product for today': Omni's new boss bullish on trash-to-energy firm's future

Original Plasco plant
Omni Conversion Technologies once operated a demonstration plant on city-owned land on Trail Road, but the city ultimately severed its ties with the company then known as Plasco. File photo

The new CEO of an Ottawa cleantech company says demand for its technology that converts trash into energy is heating up as two growing international trends – the push to divert waste from landfills and the hunt for new sources of green power – intensify.

“In all of my years of being in clean energy, this is the most commercial-ready technology I’ve ever had to offer,” Jonathan Lundy, the new chief executive of Omni Conversion Technologies, told OBJ on Thursday. 

“The market is starting to emerge, and we are at the epicentre of these two big trends.”

Lundy, an energy industry veteran whose resume includes stints as the head of Toronto-based Schneider Power and CEO of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., officially started his new job on Oct. 4. 

He replaces company founder Rod Bryden, who remains chair of the firm’s board of directors but is stepping away from its day-to-day operations.

Lundy takes charge of a company that landed its first official sale earlier this year after spending nearly two decades and hundreds of millions of dollars on developing its product.   

The new CEO says Omni’s system – which is designed to burn garbage and convert it into green energy sources such as hydrogen or synthetic natural gas – is a technology whose time has come.

"The market has moved in such a way that it’s a perfect product for today."

“The market has moved in such a way that it’s a perfect product for today,” he said. 

Lundy says governments around the world are stepping up their efforts to cut emissions of methane gas, which the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cited as a key contributor to global warming.  

Trash sitting in landfills emits methane as it decomposes, making it a key target of government efforts to curb greenhouse gases. Lundy says Omni’s system not only prevents garbage from piling up in dumps, it also creates green hydrogen and other fuels as a byproduct.

“We’re actually taking that waste and creating something of value out of it,” he said.

In addition, Lundy envisions a day in the not-too-distant future when the technology will be advanced enough to allow natural gas retailers such as Enbridge to set up plants near pipelines and generate a synthetic version of the fuel that’s more economical and environmentally friendly than the real thing. 

“There’s a new way of thinking about clean energy,” he said. “That’s where this is headed.”

Star-crossed history

Lundy’s hiring marks the latest chapter in the resurrection of the star-crossed company formerly known as Plasco Conversion Technologies.

Founded 16 years ago, then-Plasco was considered a rising star in the local cleantech scene.

In 2008, the company convinced Ottawa city council to provide municipal land for a demonstration project on Trail Road. Plasco spent hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment attempting to prove its technology would work.

Three years later, the firm got the green light from the province to build a commercial plant and signed a 20-year, $180-million deal with the city to take as much as 300 tonnes of garbage a day. 

But the company missed several deadlines to provide the city with plans for a functioning plant. In late 2013, Bryden was replaced as CEO by Ray Floyd, a former senior executive at General Motors, Exxon Mobil and Suncor Energy. 

After the company struggled to meet several deadlines to secure additional financing, the firm ultimately filed for protection from its creditors in early 2015. 

Later that year, Bryden repurchased the company for $1 in a transaction that included its intellectual property, but not the Trail Road facility. Plasco laid low for the next several years while it refined its technology before emerging as the rebranded Omni late in 2020. 

The firm also revamped its business model, abandoning its original goal of owning and operating the waste-to-energy facilities itself as well as selling electricity on the public grid. Instead, it’s focusing on developing its technology and plans to contract out the assembly of the plants.

Now at about 30 employees, Omni is hoping to finally deliver on its original promise. Its new boss is its biggest cheerleader.

“I pushed hard for this job,” said Lundy, who most recently spent nearly five years as a senior executive at nuclear generator equipment-maker BWXT Canada. “I saw what a significant opportunity this was.”

'Excited' about future

Far from being scared off by the firm’s checkered past, he says he jumped at the chance to sell technology that’s always been ahead of its time. 

“I was excited about the history of Plasco,” Lundy said. “That was actually a plus in my mind.”

Lundy argues that a few factors conspired against the cleantech venture in the early going.

For example, he said, the price of natural gas plummeted around the time Plasco was developing its original plant, meaning potential customers who were intrigued by the technology’s promise of cheaper, greener energy suddenly had less economic incentive to consider alternatives.

Damping enthusiasm in some western countries for the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions also didn’t help, he added.

“Its technology worked, but the business plan and the premise didn’t,” Lundy said.

Now, he said the rebranded and reinvigorated company is ready to make its mark on the green-energy landscape. 

Lundy said Omni is getting calls “every week” from potential customers. He and the company’s recent crop of high-profile board appointees – including former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz – believe a massive market opportunity is there for the taking.

“If the people that we have on our board and myself can’t absolutely make something out of this, shame on us.”