'Saving the soils will save the world': EMS secures $250K investment

· The Pulse
By Emily Rendell-Watson
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Environmental Material Science Inc.'s soil remediation technology is gaining traction across the Prairies, as it prepares to continue fundraising after securing at least $250,000 at Startup TNT's Cleantech Investment Summit at the beginning of April.

"It was a total shocker," CEO and president Steve Siciliano said of the win. He travelled to Calgary to pitch his company's technology, which uses sensors to track and monitor pollutants in soil. It also stimulates naturally occurring organisms to clean up pollutants like hydrocarbons, which come from diesel, gasoline, or other spills.

EMS plans to use the funds raised at the summit to hire additional business developers to get in front of more customers, as well as to bring someone on to manage the company's gigantic soil flux database. "We have over 12 million estimates of carbon moving in and out of the soil and soil health, so our database system, which was good for the first three years, is creaking under the load," he said.

EMS has experienced substantial growth so far in 2022 — it initially expected to work on 16 sites this year but already has more than 31 in the works. Customers work in a variety of different industries, from distribution of products to commercial real estate, as well as companies looking to improve their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. That also includes anyone who runs a "downstream location," such as gas stations or pipeline operators, Siciliano explained.

Traditional techniques to address any leaks that may occur near those types of sites involve digging up the soil that's been polluted and shipping it away to a landfarm or a landfill. But that is costly, as it destroys the infrastructure (an average gas station costs $20 million to build, said Siciliano).

Instead, EMS's technology provides an alternative clean solution that uses 99.9% fewer greenhouse gases than an excavation, as well as 95% less water. And perhaps most importantly, it aims to make soil healthy instead of getting rid of it.

"Most people don't understand how precious our soil is. It takes about 100 years to make a centimetre of topsoil ... and so every time you dispose of a cubic metre of soil, you're getting rid of about 100 million years of work, of capital, of what we're living off of," Siciliano said. "We're just making the soil happy again. As that ecosystem starts to get happier, it starts to ... heal itself."

An accidental side effect of EMS's technology is that it can also detect carbon sequestration. "If we want to increase the amount of carbon in our soils and decrease the amount of carbon entering our atmosphere, what we want to do is decrease CO2 emissions and increase methane consumption. And our sensors can determine that," he said. "So we're getting interest from ... basically any company that shares our worldview that saving the soils will save the world."

Steve Siciliano holds a thin tube of metal in the air, with a projector screen in the background

Environmental Material Science CEO Steve Siciliano pitched at the Cleantech Investment Summit in Calgary on April 7. (Supplied)

Siciliano started the company in 2019 with Derek Peak, a longtime co-worker at the University of Saskatchewan who is now EMS's chief technology officer. As two of the best soil scientists in the world, each has different strengths in developing solutions to challenging problems: Siciliano is generally more of an expert in soil remediation, while Peak's area of expertise is fertility.

The company's CEO and CTO are in Saskatoon, but EMS also has a foothold in Edmonton, where its director of engineering is based. EMS's business operations are also largely in Alberta's capital city, with two of its co-founders on Genesis Capital's business development team. Genesis Capital helped Siciliano and Peak develop a successful business model for their research and technology when they started building EMS. Meanwhile, the scientists working on EMS's technology are primarily in Saskatoon.

"I think it's working out really well because we're really leveraging Edmonton's excellence in engineering with Saskatoon's excellence in soil science," Siciliano said about playing to the strengths of each Prairie city.

EMS is hoping to raise another $2 million in venture capital financing as part of its current open round, in addition to government funding, in the next four to five weeks. Those funds will help the company expand into the northern U.S. markets, and further down the road, Siciliano hopes that EMS's technology will be used in northern Canada to manage hydrocarbon pollution.

Edmonton's Nanode Battery Technologies was successful in securing a side deal at the Cleantech Investment Summit. The final amount is yet to be confirmed, but it will share at least $250,000 with Saskatchewan's LightLeaf Solar and New Brunswick's Picketa Systems.

Learn more about Environmental Material Science on Episode 11 of Bloom, Taproot's innovation podcast.