Friday, January 05, 2018

Globe and Mail Features GHGSat on List of Canadian Clean Tech Firms Poised to "Break Out" in 2018

          By Henry Stewart

It's a noteworthy platitude that space companies, once they figure out how to build the proverbial "better mousetrap" using their space derived technologies, are generally no longer considered space companies.

They are instead, simply "mousetrap manufacturers."

All of which goes a long way towards explaining how Montreal, PQ based satellite developer/operator GHGSat ended up on a list of clean tech firms poised to "break out" in 2018.

As outlined in the January 3rd, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Canadian cleantech startups get ready for a breakout year," Canada's global reputation for cleantech innovation is on the rise and GHGSat is one of the reasons why.

According to the article, Canada is one of 40 countries on five continents that are pricing carbon emissions, which need to be tracked:
One company poised to benefit greatly from this pricing trend is Montreal-based GHGSat, which in June of 2016 launched the first satellite in the world capable of tracking GHG emissions (greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane and others which cause the "greenhouse effect") from any industrial site on the planet.
That data market is set to explode later this year when, as outlined in the 19th, 2017 Guardian post, "China aims to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions through trading scheme," the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases plans to roll-out in "a carbon trading system that will initially cover the country’s heavily polluting power generation plants, then expand to take in most of the economy."

According to its GHGSat Services webpage, the company can measure greenhouse gas emissions from target sites, anywhere in the world without the need for "on-site equipment."

The company can also "augment its measured data with any publicly available data (e.g. local meteorological towers) or private customer data." GHGSat instruments are calibrated regularly, and measured data is "verified and validated against known sources" and "confirmed with visual imagery from the same satellite."

Target sites can include:
  • Industrial facilities with fixed, concentrated sources of emissions (e.g. stacks)
  • Area sources with emission hotspots (e.g. landfill methane, pipeline leaks)
  • Fugitive sources over wide areas (e.g. tailings ponds, mine faces)
  • Mobile emitters (e.g. ships)

The measurements are applicable for the power generation, mining, pulp & paper, pipeline, landfill, chemical, metals & aluminum, cement, agriculture and transportation industries.

A graph from a May 16th, 2016 Nature post on how the "Next generation of carbon-monitoring satellites faces daunting hurdles." Oddly enough, the GHGSat built GHGSat-D (also known as "Claire") isn't listed on the graph, although it had the first mover advantage of being the only commercial satellite capable of monitoring terrestrial greenhouse gas output when it was launched in 2016. For more on GHGSat, check out the November 30th, 2015 post, "GHGSat Competing for 2016 GreenTec Awards, Europe's Largest Environmental & Business Competition." Graph c/o Nature.

As outlined in the May 16th, 2016 Nature post, "Next generation of carbon-monitoring satellites faces daunting hurdles," satellites have been used to monitor carbon dioxide concentrations from outer space since 2002 when SCIAMACHY, an imaging spectrometer able to perform global measurements of trace gases in both the troposphere and stratospher, was carried into orbit as a component of the European Space Agency (ESA) Envisat Earth observation satellite.

The number of orbital satellites capable of measuring atmospheric greenhouse gases is expected to double between 2016 - 2030 to at least a dozen, not including the GHGSat "Claire."

But GHGSat will be commercial, and likely will end up as a vital, and highly profitable component of the tracking and enforcement mechanisms needed to control the various multi-billion dollar commercial carbon emission trading markets either already in existence or expected to soon begin operation.

It just won't be a space company. It will have built its better mousetrap.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.


  1. The comment extracted from the article published by Tyler Hamilton on 3 January in the Globe and Mail post is factually incorrect. It states: "...GHGSat, which in June of 2016 launched the first satellite in the world capable of tracking GHG emissions from any industrial site on the planet...". This is not true. Several other spacecraft instruments lauched by the space agencies of Europe, Japan, and the US predated GHGSat and have sensors that measure GHG emissions far more accurately than GHGSat (EnviSat, GOSAT, and OCO-2). Unlike these satellites, GHGSat only measures methane and cannot return quantitative estimates of its emissions. It cannot measure CO2 or other GHG emissions. GHGSat can only claim to be the first commercial satellite to make these measurements.

    The satellite missions listed above are documented in the following publications:
    P. Ciais, et al., Towards a European Operational Observing System to Monitor Fossil CO2 emissions, Copernicus, European Commission, 2015,
    CEOS Strategy for Carbon Observations from Space. The Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) Response to the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Carbon Strategy. Issued date: September 30 2014.

  2. I agree with you, Mr. Anonymous.

    That's why the blog included the "Counting Carbon" graph which listed pretty much the same satellites you listed as being launched ahead of GHGSat-D.

    The article also stated, pretty much as you recommended, that GHGSat only really managed to launch the first commercial satellite able to do this sort of work.

    Sorry for the confusion. You do make the perfectly reasonable point that we should also have corrected, dropped (or at least annotated) the Globe and Mail quote as well.

    We'll try to do better next time.

    Chuck Black/ Editor


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