Quebec’s Airex raises $38-million for green industrial products business

Airex Energy has raised $38-million in a funding round that will accelerate the Quebec company’s plans to expand its production of low-carbon industrial and agricultural products made from biomass.

Airex said the financing is led by Cycle Capital and includes existing investors Investissement Québec, Desjardins-Innovatech and Export Development Canada. A new investor, Fonds de solidarité FTQ, joined the group in the funding round.

The seven-year-old company employs its own technology to turn sawmill byproducts and logging residue into biocoal pellets at its plant in Bécancour, Que. Biocoal can replace coal in power plants, slashing greenhouse-gas emissions by 90 per cent, it said.

It also has a recently renewed partnership with France’s Suez Group to develop markets for biochar, which is used as an additive in soil, and can also sequester carbon if processed into building materials such as concrete.

Airex will use proceeds from the funding round to increase capacity at its commercial-scale Bécancour biocoal plant, Michel Gagnon, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview.

It will also proceed with plans to build 350,000 tonnes a year of biochar production capacity by 2035 as part of its alliance with Suez, Mr. Gagnon said. The first phase will be a 30,000 tonne plant in Quebec, with participation from Suez and a local biomass producer. The estimated cost of the project is about $40-million. Europe and North America are target markets for the products.

The big benefit of biochar is that one tonne can sequester 2.5 to 3.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, Mr. Gagnon said. “That means we could be in a position to have more than a million tonnes of carbon credits on the voluntary market by 2035. That’s pretty good,” he said.

The company’s technology involves heating the organic material with no oxygen present to remove moisture and volatile organic compounds. The process, called torrefaction, is carried out at 250 to 300 C to produce the solid biofuel. At higher temperatures, it produces the more porous biochar.

Andrée-Lise Méthot, Cycle Capital’s founder and managing partner, said she is pleased that Airex is moving into large-scale commercialization of its products.

Cycle is a Montreal-based climate-technology investment fund that focuses on investments for reducing greenhouse gases and contributing to the transition to a low-carbon economy. “From the outset, we have been convinced of decarbonization’s potential, particularly in polluting industries, as well as of Airex’s patented technology,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Gagnon said Airex has already begun its next funding round, from which it aims to garner $130-million for its European and Asian growth plans. “The next plant, we already know it’s going to be built in Europe, and we have a very good approach with Suez as we develop these new projects together.”

Source: Jeffrey Jones, "Quebec’s Airex raises $38-million for green industrial products business", The Globe And Mail, March 10, 2023