Rainforest Energy: The New Energy Economy
Peter Lafontaine’s career path is anything but linear. As the Chairman of Rainforest Energy Corp. Peter got his start working as a labourer with Ontario’s fur trappers association. While working there he was offered a job as a Fur Buyer with the Hudson Bay Company in Edmonton Alberta. He took a chance and moved to Alberta where he spent five years as a fur buyer traveling the province top to bottom trading furs, working with all the various communities and people throughout the province.
This strangely started Peter down the path of technology. As he dealt with reams of paperwork, Peter started playing with early computers from Radio Shack and Apple to see how they could help balance the books. This led him to leaving the fur trade and going to the University of Alberta to study computer programming, learning Fortran, COBOL and IBM Assembler. eventually, he moved to Apple Computers, where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were only just launching Apple II and the early Macs called LISA with the vision of putting easy to use computers into the hands of everyone.
For the record, not only did Peter work for Jobs and Wozniak, he was also one of their top salespeople. He even took home the top salesperson in the world for the company. Eventually Peter had to make a choice as Apple offered him a job in Toronto and he and his family wanted to stay in Alberta. From Apple, Peter moved to System House, which is now HP, working in enterprise application development. It was at that point that Peter became a geek in every sense. (His words… not mine!)
Over the years, Peter had the opportunity to work in technology associated with everything from forestry, Healthcare, Wall Street and electronics before attempting to retire in 2001. To say it didn’t stick is an understatement. Peter jumped back into the market to build Zymeta Corporation, which developed a video jukebox system with a touchscreen that showed music videos on TV screens in bars. That business survived for 4 years and sold 600 locations across Canada and built a closed-circuit entertainment network for launching new music artists. Zymeta was paying for music while the music industry was being crushed by the likes of NAPSTER, BITTORENT and Music Sharing (stealing) Applications. This was about the time the Apple IPOD was gaining momentum.
Afterward he took on several other roles in technology companies. This includes volunteering with Rainforest Alberta, an amazing organization that is focused on building a tech ecosystem to help tech companies grow and thrive. He continues to be an active champion with Rainforest today but also works with others in Alberta’s expanding tech sector like PEER GUIDENCE and INTERGEN.
And that leads us to Rainforest Energy, Peter’s latest project. Rainforest Energy is a company that allows Peter to combine all of the technology and business savvy that he has worked with in the past from chemistry and physics to Internet of Things, to sensors and 3D/4D to build micro refineries.
Rainforest Energy takes biological waste like treetops left over from harvesting, or tomato plants after the fruit has been removed, and uses that waste for energy. Generally, this type of waste is burned, and Peter’s team is working on a solution that uses gasification to take this waste to create modern fuel. Through gasification, they can create fuel that can be used in vehicles, as well as produce water, new clean propane and an extra three megawatts of electricity. The fuel that their process produces exceeds fuel standards, has a very low-carbon index, and produces CO2 that they are sequestering in the ground.
Rainforest Energy has big plans for the future. They are hoping to fund and build 50 micro-refineries over the next five to six years as there is enough waste to support that level of growth. Each micro-refinery is being built with the idea that it would sustain for 50-70 or more years.
In addition to the micro-refinery, there is the potential for co-ventures alongside the refineries. One of the first co-ventures Rainforest Energy is hoping to pitch to build greenhouses alongside the refineries. The refineries have the potential to produce additional electricity, heat biogenic CO2 that could be used for a greenhouse. This would not only provide the communities that have these refineries with additional jobs but access to fresh and sustainable food. The other venture is the waste harvesting and preparation. Each micro-refinery can employee 250 people per location. 50 sites would employee 13,500 people, more people than Suncor.
Rainforest Energy is in the early stages of the startup process with three sites selected that are suitable for this type of refinery. They are raising money to get started but the initial numbers look great. This type of facility stands to make a 13% unlevered return on investment without carbon credits.
How did Peter get interested in Rainforest Energy? As an entrepreneur, he was looking to build a business with a purpose that is also profitable. Rainforest does this— in that it is removing waste that would otherwise have been burned. It is also focused on rural communities that are looking for a way to continue to grow and thrive.
Additionally, Peter was interested in the idea of a circular economy, where companies and communities work together and trade closer to home. For instance, where a refinery provides energy and heat to help with the greenhouse and in turn allows that greenhouse to increase their margins from 5-8% to 30-40%. Cheap electricity and heat go a long way!
When I asked Peter why he chose Alberta for this latest venture, he explained that it all comes down to what happened after he moved here in 1977. He and his family prospered here, and his children went to school here. The province has been a joy to live in. Being able to mountain bike and snowboard helps too!
Peter is looking forward to working with the team at Rainforest Energy to get this project going as he recognizes that he might never really retire! He knows teamwork is key at the family and business level. He is excited about the company contributing to economic growth in Alberta and remaining a part of the community and knows this business will outlast him. The timing for this is exactly right!
Check out our full interview: