It doesn’t look like much, but this is the prototype of Loop Energy’s breakthrough fuel cell circa 2001. (Loop Energy photo)

It doesn’t look like much, but this is the prototype of Loop Energy’s breakthrough fuel cell circa 2001. (Loop Energy photo)

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

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

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


It started with a man and a mountain that he could not see.

Twenty three years ago, Chilliwack born-and-raised David Leger looked toward the place where Mt. Cheam should be, and it wasn’t there.

It was still there, of course, because mountains tend to stay where they are, but it was hidden behind a thick layer of smog.

“How can you not see a mountain that’s 10 miles across and a mile-and-a-half tall?” he thought. “Something’s wrong, right?”

Ninety nine out of 100 people would quickly move on, confident that someone else was working on the smog and the ozone layer and all that stuff. But as Leger’s entrepreneurial mind mulled it over, he saw opportunity.

He was 28 years old then, young and idealistic. But he was also smart and logical, with a knack for ‘thinking outside of the box.’

Or cube, in this case.

This is the prototype of Loop Energy’s breakthrough fuel cell circa 2001. (Loop Energy photo)

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, hydrogen fuel cells were becoming a thing. Long before Tesla brought battery-powered cars to the road, dreamers dreamed of electric vehicles powered by these fuel cells.

The problem was making them small enough and manufacturing them cheaply enough that they’d be accessible alternatives to gas and diesel powered engines.

So back to that cube.

Fuel cells being pioneered by companies like Ballard were that shape and while they were exciting, they were also un-optimized. They needed to be more efficient, more durable and cost less to compete with the internal combustion engine.

Almost all fuel cells have channels on each side of what is called a flow field plate. Many plates, often a hundred or more, are stacked in series to create a fuel cell stack. On each side of this plate is a pattern of channels, one side for flowing oxygen from the air and the other for hydrogen.

But no way to manipulate the flow inside of the fuel cell had been discovered. Every one of them had the same general design, and the same drawback. They weren’t powerful enough and struggled to maintain the power they had.

They were un-optimized.

Loop Energy had humble beginnings in Chilliwack, but the company’s 50kW fuel cell module will soon be used to power 300 municipal buses in city of Nanjing, China. (Loop Energy photo)

Leger wasn’t an engineer, but as he studied the schematics and started to understand how fuel cells worked, he had an idea.

What if?

“What if instead of making a fuel cell in a cube, we squished it down and made it wider,” he mused. “Like a slice of pizza with the pointed end bitten off.”

It was simple geometry, really.

If the fuel cell plate was a trapezoid that tapered at one end, the flow of oxygen and hydrogen could be manipulated and the whole thing could, theoretically, be far more efficient.

RELATED: Fuel cell company that started in Chilliwack about to go public on the Toronto Stock Exchange

RELATED: Clean energy one of Canada’s fastest growing industries

He thought he had something, but he didn’t know for sure until he met Tony Edgar. Edgar was an industrial technology advisor for the National Research Council’s (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). Friends of Leger’s who were also friends of Edgar’s suggested the two men get together, and when they did, Edgar was impressed.

“This is pretty cool,” he said.

Not long after, Leger and Shane Black hopped into an old propane-powered pickup and headed into the city. Two guys from Chilliwack, pulling into the parking lot in a truck with foam and springs sticking out of the seats, Leger figured they must have been quite a sight to the people at the NRC’s Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation.

But if anyone dismissed them at first, they were forced to re-evaluate after seeing Leger’s concept.

People who know worlds more about fuel cell technology told him that he had a couple attributes in his design that might be really important.

“Really?” Leger thought. “Tell us more!”

They drove home that day with an invite to return, and use the knowledge and resources of the NRC to make the design a reality.

All Leger had to do now was raise a few hundred thousand dollars.


Read part two of this three-part series here.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

chilliwackClean-fuel standards

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here


Loop Energy had humble beginnings in Chilliwack, but the company’s 50kW fuel cell module will soon be used to power 300 municipal buses in city of Nanjing, China. (Loop Energy photo)

Loop Energy had humble beginnings in Chilliwack, but the company’s 50kW fuel cell module will soon be used to power 300 municipal buses in city of Nanjing, China. (Loop Energy photo)

Just Posted

Westbound Highway 1 traffic near Herrling Island is backed up a long way following a vehicle incident. (Photo/Trish Dunbar)
Pedestrian killed in crash near Agassiz

Woman in her 50s struck by moving van

Students in the March 2020 Environmental Mind Grind, which was held at Sevenoaks Shopping Centre before COVID-19 restrictions were put into place. This year’s event is being held virtually. (Submitted photo)
Environmental Mind Grind goes virtual for first time

Event open to Abbotsford and Mission students in Grades 6 to 12

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

In 2012, police in Abbotsford placed surveillance cameras near the Dhaliwal home in the 2500 block of Bradner Road after there were two drive-by shootings in the area. Harb Dhaliwal, 31, has now been identified as the victim of a fatal shooting April 17 in Vancouver. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford man named as victim of fatal weekend shooting in Vancouver

Harpreet Dhaliwal, 31, killed outside of Cardero’s restaurant in Coal Harbour

B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom is offering free school tours of The Pencil Patch learning garden in Abbotsford in April, May and June.
Agriculture in the Classroom offers free school tours at learning garden

The Pencil Patch in Abbotsford provides 15 outdoor learning stations

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

A man has died after being shot at Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park the evening of Monday, April 19. (Twitter/IHIT)
1 man dead after shooting at Coquitlam park: IHIT

The gunman is still at large, according to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team

(Photo by Mojpe/Pixabay)
Canadian kids extracting record amounts from Tooth Fairy

Our neighbours in the U.S. receive slightly less from Tooth Fairy visits

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Most Read