Chilliwack’s David Leger couldn’t see Mt. Cheam for all the smog back in 1998, and that led him to eventually found Loop Energy, a pioneer in hydrogen fuel-cell technology. (Facebook photo)

Chilliwack’s David Leger couldn’t see Mt. Cheam for all the smog back in 1998, and that led him to eventually found Loop Energy, a pioneer in hydrogen fuel-cell technology. (Facebook photo)

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

This is part two 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 two in a three part series, detailing the long journey from there to here.

You can read part one here.

———————————————-

David Leger has two rules he follows when raising capital for business opportunities.

Don’t invest money you can’t afford to lose. And if I do lose your money, you’ll still have a beer with me.

When Loop Energy was incorporated in June of 2000 and the founding directors went to work raising capital for his fuel cell project, they found plenty of Chilliwackians willing to accept those rules.

There were lots of discussions at kitchen tables about his vision and his dream for what he thought might be possible. Local business people kicked in cash. People dipped into the retirement savings plans, handing Leger $10,000 here or $12,500 there because they believed in what he was doing.

The company ended up pulling in $350,000, with the majority of the company’s initial shareholders hailing from Chilliwack.

That sounds like a big amount of money, and it is, but Leger chuckles now as he looks back at those early days.

That startup capital was enough to get Loop Energy through its first two years, where now, in a company that employs 40-plus people, it would run out in 20 days.

Leger also chuckles when he looks back at the early business plans he drew up, calling them hilarious.

They were going to build a fuel cell for $60,000 and within three or four years they’d have one in a vehicle.

It was funny and naive, he says now.

But with the startup capital fueling their efforts, they had started down the path towards something big. They were seeing improvements in their design, despite being, according to Leger, unsophisticated. They were still learning about things they would come to know well, like compression and humidification, yet they were still getting great results.

It didn’t make sense. But it did make sense, if that makes sense. David was seeing too much evidence that the way they were building their fuel cell was closer to the way it should be done.

As Leger likes to say, he never ran into a reason to stop, and by 2004 Loop Energy was close to something even he hadn’t dared to consider.

They had a chance to optimize a fuel cell.

Leger likened it to the Venturi tube, just a little tube in a carburetor that transformed the auto engine into a far more efficient and powerful thing.

“We might have the Venturi tube equivalent in a fuel cell,” he mused.

By 2005, with key contributions from the engineering team, including that of Chilliwack born Greg Montie whose father owns Montie’s Small Engines, they had officially filed a patent on their ‘eFlow’ technology, and Loop Energy had a decision to make.

Continue their pursuit of a fuel-cell powered electric motor, or focus on the fuel cell alone.

“Well, in order to build the motor we need the fuel cell, so that tells us what we need to do,” Leger suggested to the Loop Energy board.

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 also knew they had to keep hitting new points of credibility, or they would quickly become old news. And that’s kinda sorta what happened. Loop Energy didn’t become old news, but with the fuel cell industry as a whole did.

Vancouver-based Ballard Power led the fuel cell hype train in the early 2000s. They had the backing of Daimler and Ford, and statements were being made that there would be 100,000 electric vehicles fueled by Ballard fuel cells on the road by 2003.

Ballard’s stock went through the roof, but it was a case of over-promising and under-delivering.

Thousands of electric cars didn’t hit the highways, and by 2006 the hype train had stalled, interest in fuel cells had waned considerably and Leger was having trouble getting more capital for Loop Energy. At a 2006 board meeting, the decision was made to put the company into hibernation.

They could have kept going, but at a high cost, giving away 80 per cent of the company just to fund another year.

“The company shouldn’t be alive just to pay paycheques,” Leger thought. “It should be alive because it’s going towards being successful.”

The lights were shut off, and while the dream wasn’t dead, it was on hold.

For how long? No one knew.

See www.theprogress.com for part three in this three-part series on March 3.

Business and Industrialchilliwack

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)

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)

Just Posted

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

Photo courtesy of Abbotsford Police Department.
‘Vehicle Maintenance 101 for Teens’ to be hosted by Abbotsford Police traffic officers

Virtual meetups with Q&A period held on April 23, May 11, May 25

Stock photo from Unsplash.com
Free online workshops on ‘advance care planning’ hosted in Abbotsford

3 sessions hosted by Abbotsford Hospice Society and Association for Healthy Aging

People stroll through rows of tulips in bloom during the Tulips of the Valley Festival on May 2, 2017. The colourful spring event, now called Chilliwack Tulips, opens on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack tulip attraction open this weekend after being closed last year due to COVID-19

More than 6.5 million bulbs in all at this year’s colourful Chilliwack Tulips event

The new American Eagle location at Highstreet Shopping Centre is set to open up this summer. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford American Eagle store opening at Highstreet Shopping Centre

Sevenoaks Shopping Centre location closing on April 18, new store opening in summer

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
1 taken to hospital after plane crash at Metro Vancouver airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read