From oilfield worker to soap maker.
“You just gotta find what you’re passionate about. Find the thing that you love, because if you do something you love, does it really matter what industry?”
I could ruminate all day on big concepts like “just transition" or “circular economy”, but sometimes big ideas are best captured through story. This particular story, one of an Albertan cleantech entrepreneur, was recounted to me in a large and pleasantly scented loading bay in Calgary’s industrial southeast. Its protagonist, Jaeson Cardiff, is the CEO of CleanO2, a soap company whose technology captures carbon dioxide emissions from building heating systems.
I follow Jaeson past trays of aromatic soap products towards the end of the bay where he stops to open a small container. Pointing at a chalky powder, he laughs. “Try taking this with you on an international flight,” he says. But in all seriousness, this white substance is CleanO2’s primary ingredient: captured carbon that’s been transformed into non-toxic pearl ash, otherwise known as potassium carbonate. Captured carbon in the form of pearl ash (image below) is added to CleanO2’s soap formulations to create a sudsy lather, while simultaneously working to solve climate change.
The company’s technology, a unit the size of roughly two refrigerators called CarbinX, is designed specifically to fit inside mechanical rooms where buildings’ water heater/boiler and climate-control systems are located. Attached directly to natural gas heating appliances, CarbinX captures CO2 from heating-appliance flue gas. In a “one-step, zero-waste reaction,” the carbon dioxide reacts with potassium hydroxide to create the pearl ash used in CleanO2’s soaps. In addition to capturing carbon, CarbinX improves energy efficiency by reclaiming heat from the flue gas and carbon-capture reaction and recycling it for use in the building.
As the world strives to create a circular economy— an economy that aims to extend product or material life cycles— CleanO2 sets an inspiring example not just for the climate, but also for workers. The circular economy will be labour-intensive by nature and is likely to open new doors for displaced or transitioning workers. I ask Jaeson about the kinds of jobs being created as a result of CleanO2’s unique carbon capture process.
“This is a labour-intensive job that requires warm bodies,” he explains, referring to the pearl ash collection process. “Regardless of where the units are being manufactured, we create job growth opportunities wherever we’re capturing carbon, because you physically have to go to the site, collect it and bring it to some place for processing.”
He further reflects on how workers can leverage their existing expertise, without necessarily retooling entire skill sets.
“You could see the collection cycle with someone who would have to be an HVAC mechanic or a plumber or a gas fitter,” he explains. “Or from a manufacturing standpoint, there’s going to be a need for welders, electricians, engineers. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
As a former oil and gas worker himself, Jaeson speaks thoughtfully about opportunities for workers in transition. When asked what advice he might offer workers contemplating a leap into the cleantech sector, he boils it down to passion.
“There’s an avenue for everybody,” he says. “You just gotta find what you’re passionate about. Find the thing that you love, because if you do something you love, does it really matter what industry?”
For Jaeson, this passion and many the skill sets that accompany it, are highly transferable. As CleanO2 continues to grow, with the company anticipating 120 units in the field by the end of the year, Jaeson’s passion for heating systems has collided with an opportunity to also reduce emissions, improve energy efficiency, advance a circular economy and create jobs.
“I I think there will be tremendous amounts of opportunity not just with our business but in the climate tech industry in general,” he says.
post by freelance writer Emma Gammons
This blog is funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.