From Plumber To Cleantech Inventor And Entrepreneur
As a plumber and HVAC mechanic in Calgary, Canada, Jaeson Cardiff didn’t have a lot of experience with entrepreneurship or technological innovation. But, he had a long-time interest in clean tech, especially finding ways to cut carbon emissions from heating appliances. And during his many hours spent working in the mechanical rooms of various commercial enterprises, he had ample opportunity to ponder potential technical solutions.
In 2017, after more than a decade of tinkering and research, Cardiff co-founded Clean02, a company that sells a device able to capture commercial customers’ CO2 and turn it into useful products—soap, shampoo, fertilizer and the like—all while providing them what he describes as a fast and efficient return on their investment, while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by about 20%.
“Customers can look at their HVAC equipment as a urban mining platform—mining carbon dioxide, preventing it from hitting the atmosphere and turning it into goods,” he says.
Reluctant Soap Makers
Clean02’s carbon capture units reduce greenhouse gas emissions from boilers, hot water tanks and any other appliance using natural gas to create heating for commercial customers. The technology, named CarbinX, attaches downstream to a natural gas fired heating appliance and scrubs out carbon dioxide. Specifically, after about two weeks or so of operation, while doing regular maintenance, technicians collect all the potassium hydroxide that has accumulated and recharge it with new chemicals to create potassium carbonate. Then CleanCO2 picks it up and delivers it to soap or fertilizer manufacturers or does that job itself, depending on where the units are situated.
Originally, the aim was to capture CO2 and use it to produce and sell a chemical for making soap and detergents to third parties. In other words, Cardiff didn’t plan on making soap himself. “I did not want to be a soap company,” he says. “We were about carbon capture.”
He found few takers, however. About two years later, after he and his wife saw some Youtube videos of people making soap, they got to thinking that it seemed like a good idea. Eventually, with the future of the venture looking bleak, they decided to make a batch of bar soaps for marketing purposes, to demonstrate how manufacturers could make use of their captured carbon. “It had to be a tangible good,” he says. “We thought we could get people engaged if they saw the chemical doing something.” They also met a master soap maker in the area who came up with a variety of formulations.
When he shared the soap with some companies, they not only loved it, but also asked him to make more. So he went from 12 bars of soap to 100 and, eventually, about 100,000 units of soap per month. The upshot: The business moved from selling a raw chemical to selling goods using that raw chemical.
Now, if units are nearby in Calgary, then the company makes the products at their 6,000 square foot facility and sells through retail and online channels. If their customers are elsewhere, then the soaps are made at local manufacturers there. “The goal is for the product to come from carbon capture in your neighborhood, not from thousands of miles away,” says Cardiff. “If you bought it in California, it came from California.”
Return on Investment
They sell CarbinX units to building owners—customers range from condos and schools to hotels and clothing manufacturers—looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, also offering various post-purchase services at no charge to speed up the customer’s return on investment. That happens partly by reducing the amount of natural gas used. But also, at the end of the year, the company determines how much potassium carbonate each customer has produced and then pays them for however much money that comes to. Customers ultimately get a return on investment in anywhere from four to five years, according to Cardiff.
Decarbonizing Heating Appliances
During his time as a plumber, Cardiff was constantly on the lookout for clean-tech solutions. One day, not long after Barack Obama took office, he read a story about the Obama administration’s intent to fund efforts to decarbonize various industries. That got him thinking about why there was little attention paid to emissions created by heating systems.
With that, he started talking to heating appliance manufacturers about where they thought the industry was headed. That didn’t yield many ideas about how to address greenhouse gas emissions. (Scott Forgrave, Cardiff’s boss at the time, gave him the time to explore the problem and is now a partner in the company). So he decided to look into his own solutions, doing more and more research, seeking out insights from more and more people. Eventually, he got a team together and they started a company in 2017. Cardiff was the first one to work full-time in the business.
Initially, Cardiff looked for funding from government agencies, with little luck. When he’d show up at conferences and explain what he did for a living, “People would kind of look at me funny,” he says. In 2018, after founding the company, he got $100,000 from a private investor. Recently the company raised about $2 million and is in the process of another fundraising round.
About 25 units are now operational, with another 25 purchased and 160 “in the sales queue for delivery,” says Cardiff, whose company has 21 employees. Products are mostly on shelves in Canada, with a growing presence in the U.S. and Japan and units slated to be delivered in the U.K. and Australia later in the year.