On a hot summer day, the air hangs heavy inside Plasco Energy Group Inc.'s hangar-like building on the outskirts of Ottawa, with the pervasive stench of garbage more suggestive of a town dump than a leading-edge technology centre.
Municipal garbage trucks - diverted from the city landfill across the road - dump their loads of solid waste on the concrete floor, where a front-end loader moves the garbage into a shredder that also removes metals for recycling.
The shredded waste is then pushed into piles where it can be fed onto a conveyor belt that delivers it to the company's patented plasma-gasification system.
In harnessing that energy, Plasco chemically transforms Ottawa's residential garbage into a synthetic gas that is used to generate electricity - without emitting greenhouse gases. The process also produces some commercial byproducts such as sulphur, water and solid aggregate.
It's a 21st-century form of alchemy: garbage in, energy out. In a time when municipalities are desperate to reduce greenhouse gases and relieve overflowing landfills, gasification has the potential to be a world-changing technology.
But as with many green energy technologies, success depends on another modern dark art: raising capital.
If Plasco doesn't succeed on that front, it won't be for lack of trying. For the man in charge is Ottawa's most battle-scarred serial entrepreneur, Rod Bryden, late of SHL Systemhouse Ltd., Kinburn Technologies, WorldHeart Corp. and the Ottawa Senators.
But Plasco's technology has run into some serious glitches, which have hindered the company's ability to raise money.
Mr. Bryden, 65, is undaunted. "We believe that our manufactured product can be the most commonly used method of handling waste in the world."
The landscape is littered with technologies that promised breakthrough advances in efficiency or environmental benefit, but failed to clear commercial hurdles. And it's already been a long haul for Plasco.
Five years ago, the company's founders, including current executive vice-president Christopher Gay and chief technology officer Andreas Tsangaris, realized they needed a savvy business partner and turned to Mr. Bryden for help.
The high-profile entrepreneur and civic booster was still recovering from a bruising battle in which he was forced to place the NHL's Ottawa Senators into bankruptcy protection, sell his controlling stake and cut a deal with creditors to avoid personal bankruptcy.
Mr. Gay, who was Plasco's CEO at the time, recalls that former Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli and local MPP Richard Patten put him in touch with Mr. Bryden, who has long been one of the city's leading venture capitalists.
In their first meeting, the veteran businessman seemed less than impressed, telling Mr. Gay "things that appear too good to be true usually are."
Three weeks later, they met again, and this time, Mr. Bryden offered to work for a few months as acting CEO until he could make a proper assessment of Plasco's potential. But first, he had to clear up his own finances from the Senators' mess.
At an age when many Canadians are easing into retirement, the New Brunswick-born lawyer still relishes the challenge of building companies that bring innovative and socially beneficial technologies to market.
In addition to Plasco, he is chairman of a small biotechnology firm, PharmaGap Inc., that is developing new approaches to cancer treatment, and of Clearford Industries Inc., which is working on advanced waste water collection systems.
"It's much more satisfying to provide some leadership in making things happen which you can honestly feel that if you don't do it, it wouldn't get done, at least not right away," Mr. Bryden says. "I'd rather do that than compete for the opportunity to do something where, if you don't get the job, somebody else will, and the job will get done anyway.
"I like doing things that I'm really proud of doing ... something that you would be quite proud to tell your kids: I did that, I helped make that happen," he adds.
In that category, he includes his successful battle to keep the Ottawa Senators in the nation's capital, even though he ended up losing control and much of his personal fortune in the process. (The team is now owned by Eugene Melnyk, who made his fortune at drug manufacturer Biovail Corp.)
Mr. Gay said he was not bothered by Mr. Bryden's very public financial setbacks. "We were fortunate to be able to attract someone of his calibre," he said.Report Typo/Error