Loop Energy: Believing in a dream pays off for Chilliwack investors

This is part 3 of a 3-part series on the rise of Loop Energy, now being traded publicly on the TSX

A Peterbilt/Meritor Class 8 truck with a 100kW Loop fuel cell, operating at the Port of Los Angeles. (Loop Energy photo)

A Peterbilt/Meritor Class 8 truck with a 100kW Loop fuel cell, operating at the Port of Los Angeles. (Loop Energy photo)

A company that had humble beginnings in Chilliwack more than 20 years ago hit the big time last week when it went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Loop Energy, a pioneer in the world of hydrogen fuel cells, may one day soon be a billion dollar company.

Here’s part three in a three-part series, detailing the long journey from there to here.

You can read part one here and part two here.

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David Leger likes to say he never ran into a reason to stop what he was doing with Loop Energy, but for four years in the late 2000s the company had to turn the lights off.

With the fuel cell industry struggling badly in 2006 and money running low, Loop Energy went into hibernation.

For the next four years, Leger monitored the scene, watching for signs of a bounce back. By 2009 he was starting to see the fuel industry crawling out of the hole it had dug itself. Leger re-convened the board, got local investors to kick in more money and the chase began anew.

He re-connected with Greg Montie, Tony Edgar and the team at the National Research Council, and in 2011 Edgar uttered the two words that can either be exhilarating or terrifying.

Peer review.

In this case, it basically meant having people who know as much or more about fuel cells review all of Loop Energy’s work.

A man named Dr. Sean MacKinnon, who had worked at Ballard Power and General Motors for a combined 10 years, and was one of the NRC’s foremost fuel cell experts, did the review. By this time, the Loop Energy team believed they had solved two supposedly unsolvable problems. They had achieved uniform current distribution and nearly eliminated mass transport losses.

RELATED: Loop Energy: How a humble Chilliwack startup became a multi-million dollar fuel cell pioneer

RELATED: Loop Energy: Chilliwack fuel-cell startup hits bumps on road to success

It would take too long to explain those two concepts, but suffice to say MacKinnon was skeptical.

A PhD polymer chemist with 36 patents in his name, he knew fuel cells better than most and said, ‘No, no way you have that.’

But when he sat down with Loop Energy’s design and the engineering behind it, he thought they might actually have it. Nine months later, after completing a project assigned to them by MacKinnon, Loop Energy sent him more data. As he looked at the numbers on his monitor, he sat in a fog. Go to the best fuel cell engineers in the world and ask them to pick two attributes of a fuel cell that, if fixed, would have the biggest impact. Leger bets they would pick eliminating mass transport losses and achieving uniform current distribution, and MacKinnon was suddenly looking at one design that could fix both.

And it was just geometry.

Four months later, MacKinnon sold his house in Montreal and moved to B.C. to become Loop Energy’s chief scientist, a position he holds to this day.

It’s been slow and steady progression since then, getting to the point where the company is now ready to offer shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).

Through all of it, Leger said there were times he wanted to walk away, times when he says he “broke.”

When he had payroll to meet on Thursday and he was $10,000 short on Tuesday, he thought, “Why am I doing this? Why am I torturing myself and my family like this?”

When he’s at a get-together and someone is talking about their big thing they’re going to do, and how they’re going to take over the world, he believes that is possible, however when they mention how easy it’s going to be to do it, Leger just keeps his mouth shut.

He had those thoughts when he was 28. He’s 50 now, and he knows better.

But all the headaches and heartache and sleepless nights have been leading to this moment.

Loop Energy opened with a $100-million IPO on the TSX, and Leger unabashedly predicts Loop Energy will be valued at more than $1-billion in the not-too-distant future. The people who believed in Leger’s vision 20 years ago, most of them from Chilliwack and the eastern Fraser Valley, will now be rewarded for their faith.

A lot of money is about to roll into the community Leger grew up in, most of it in the hands of people he describes as good caring people. He calls them givers who are going to give back, and now they’ll have millions more dollars to do it with.

As for what started it all, that mountain on the Chilliwack skyline that Leger couldn’t see in 1998?

He feels good about that too.

“Do you have a technology that’s just cool, or do you have something that can slide in against the incumbent, compete with it and take it out at its knees,” he often thought. “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones and fossil fuel use is not going to end because we ran out of fossil fuels.

“It’s going to end because there’s a better way to do it.”

Fuel cells may be that future. Loop Energy may be that future.

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