"I encourage more women to get involved in this space to drive innovation that leads to real impact on the challenges associated with climate change now and into the future," Allen told SustainableBiz. "Work with great mentors and join talented teams."
Five years after helping to create the Kitchener-based company, Allen is working to bring to market its ultra-thin nanofilm membrane that reduces the energy required for commercial and residential air conditioning and dehumidification systems.
She had spent over 20 years in the cleantech space, primarily working with water technology as an engineer and consultant. In 2017 she learned about the MaRS competition, which selects five female entrepreneurs across Canada to help them build on their technologies and grow their companies.
Sensing an opportunity, Allen approached the University of Waterloo, where she was helping develop corporate-academic partnerships in the cleantech space and other industries.
“I approached their patent office, (which) I was working with closely in my role there, and asked if they would support me and they said yes," she explained. "They essentially opened up their patent portfolio in the cleantech space, and they said, ‘pick something to apply.’ ”
After researching several possibilities, she teamed up with Michael Pope to co-found Evercloak, based on the nanofilm technology he had developed.
Evercloak and MaRS
Allen had previously been an electrical engineer, and a program manager at the University of Guelph where she launched a program in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. She also led industry partnerships for the Southern Ontario Water Consortium at the University of Waterloo.
Allen said her experience with MaRS was the first time she had an opportunity to receive that level of support, which included financing, access to federal labs and incubators.
"I was on the cutting edge of so much technology and advancement, but really interested in getting back to having more of an impact in building things again from the ground up," Allen said.
She became inspired to compete in MaRS after attending a sustainability conference in 2017.
"I could be doing that," she thought at the time. "I was at a time in my life where I really thought I had more to give, and my kids are getting a bit older. I knew I could really make a difference."
Evercloak was incorporated in 2018, and won a spot in the three-year MaRS program. Then in 2020, it was among 10 winners of the NRCan Breakthrough Energy Solutions competition.
"The opportunities available to support women and anyone new to cleantech and the startup world are improving and there are more of them," Allen said. "It's an exciting time."
Today, Evercloak has 16 employees as well as a number of consultants. It has since redeveloped the original technology and the patents are now all owned by the company.
“We're focusing on commercializing technology first in the HVAC space, but in terms of how the material works, we have a way to manufacture ink and a way to apply this ink to create a very thin film coating,” Allen explained. “The coatings that we can make have very unique properties compared to some of the traditional materials.”
For example, she said other membranes are fluorinated – a “forever chemical” which does not occur naturally, doesn't break down, and can be toxic to both humans and wildlife.
Currently, Evercloak is working with a graphene-based membrane that allows water molecules pass through while keeping out the other components of air and gas. Thanks to the thinness of the membrane, this requires little energy and keeps costs low.
In an air conditioning system, those membranes can extract the water vapour instead of cooling it until it condenses – the energy-intensive method used in conventional units. By avoiding this additional cooling process, Evercloak states its method will be less energy-intensive.
Other potential markets for Evercloak’s nanofilm include antiviral coatings, fuel cells, battery separators and membranes for gas dehydration. It can be used in water desalination as well – turning seawater into drinking water, for example – but that development is at an earlier stage.
“It's a really unique property and it's been talked about a lot of time (in the industry) in terms of the commercial developments of this material,” Allen said, “but slow to commercialize due to the lack of scalability."
Initially, Evercloak was looking to start with methane dehydration applications. However, the company very quickly realized the opportunity that existed in HVAC. According to Allen, by 2050, the amount of energy used to cool buildings will represent 30 per cent of the world’s electricity use.
The other factor in beginning with HVAC applications is the ability to manufacture units of varying sizes.
“When we were looking at original use case (with) methane dehydration, the amount of gas required to be dehydrated was huge. So we needed huge volumes of membranes,” she said. “With HVAC we're able to start small and grow large to really penetrate the market.”
Evercloak manufactures its own components and has the support of coatings manufacturers as it strives to scale up to producing millions of square metres of membrane per year.
The company has a two-pronged business approach.
“The first one is we're manufacturing membranes, to sell to HVAC OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and other partners who need more advanced membranes,” she said. “At the same time, we're using our membranes and building-out breakthrough dehumidification technology to help reduce the energy use of building cooling.”
Currently, Evercloak is closing its seed funding and is looking to begin a Series A funding round in early 2024.
While other applications for the nanofilm remain in various stages of development, Evercloak is open to licensing opportunities in cases where the potential application may not be its core focus.
To this end she has had conversations with “large companies” about incorporating the nano-coating into their products.
She also envisions improvements to the membrane itself.
“We're limited by one of the components in our membrane,” she said. “So as we improve that component . . . we only see a more efficient performance of our membrane.”