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XPRIZE semi-finalist Jerry Flynn on energy and innovation

Flynn, founder of the Ottawa-based Tandem Technical, says Canada is a leader on carbon reduction

In this article, Context speaks with:

Jerry Flynn is the founder of Tandem Technical, an Ottawa-based startup looking to make carbon capture both easy and profitable. His ideas are good enough that they’ve earned him a spot among the semi-finalists for the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE—an XPRIZE competition dedicated to finding solutions to climate change through technologies that turn carbon emissions into useful products.

Flynn spoke on May 17 at a luncheon in Ottawa titled “Innovation and the Energy of Tomorrow.” The event was presented by the Economic Club of Canada and included Flynn, Dan Wicklum, chair of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, and Jeff Gaulin, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Flynn, who is a chemical engineer by training, talked about his aspiration to realize a truly zero-waste future—in particular through Tandem Technical’s patent-pending carbon capture technology. Prior to founding Tandem Technical, Flynn worked for a diverse range of organizations, including cosmetics, ore refinement and lithium ion research. These experiences have given Flynn the know-how to create a system that works for industry, integrating seamlessly with any operating plant that has flue emissions.

Some of Flynn’s quotes from the event:

“XPRIZE provided an amazing opportunity to put our work in the spotlight, and open up resources for us in ways we weren't expecting. “

“At the time, it was a Hail Mary - I was ready to throw in the towel. XPRIZE opened us up to new funding and we have exposure to new investors, putting us in a position to accelerate our technology.”

“I don't see us getting off fossil fuels. = If your wind or solar energy isn't working, you will need a backup. Right now, natural gas, coal or oil is that back-up.”

Context also spoke with Flynn in the video at the beginning of this article, asking him about Tandem Technical, his technology and what he’ll do if he wins the XPRIZE.

Video transcript:

What is Tandem Mechanical? 

Tandem Technical is a small start-up out of Ottawa who is a semi-finalist in the [NRG COSIA] Carbon XPRIZE, which focuses on carbon capture and conversion. Our company is focused on converting carbon into different minerals, such as calcium carbonate, which has a very large market that can be used in adhesives and pharmaceuticals and paper and construction.

What can you tell us about the technology you’ve proposed for turning carbon into valuable products? 

I would tell you that it works. There are people that don’t see the value in it because they don’t understand the market trends, but the technology itself is efficient and right now we are working on scaling it up to meet the demands for the next round of the XPRIZE, and within the next two years we’re hoping to hit a five megawatt scale in order to prove our technology on an industrial scale.

Carbon capture has been described by some as costly and impractical. How do you respond to this? 

It is costly; the difference is it’s practical, especially now with the cap and trade that’s been instituted across Canada and parts of the world. It definitely puts us in a position where what we’re doing makes a lot of financial sense. So the practicality of it is that, you have to reduce your carbon emissions. No matter what you think, the economy is going that way, and why not make money while you do it?

If you win a grand prize, how would the money be spent?

It would be spent probably paying back all the money that we borrowed to win the prize. One fantastic thing about the XPRIZE is they don’t give you enough money to cover your costs to win the XPRIZE and they understand that because they are trying to spur innovation and they don’t want to put you in a position where you can just cash out and walk away. They want to put you in a position where you need to build partnerships and make an impact on the market.

Are there projects you see as your main competitors, or that you’re just excited about as an observer? 

That’s an interesting question. The market is huge right now and it also doesn’t exist, so I don’t see any of the “competition” as competition. I see it as collaboration. I actually think that all the teams that are in Ontario are really exciting, the stuff that they’re doing. I feel like what we’re doing is a little bit boring. It’s very traditional as far as heavy industry goes, but you have other companies that are growing algae – they’re making fuels out of this stuff. And I don’t see it as a competition at all because a company like ours thrives on volume so we need to have a lot of CO2 to be able to function. Other companies, like Pond [Technologies] for instance, thrive on small amounts of CO2 to make different types of algae that they can sell, so for instance they won’t be able to hook up to say, a power plant and just completely wipe out their emissions, but they’re targeting a different market so we’re all collaborators and really friendly with each other.