Electric Airship the people’s choice: CanInfra

Barry Prentice (right) stands with Canada's Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau, at the Caninfra awards presentation in Toronto, in front of the proposed airship model, on May 31. Photo submitted by Barry Prentice

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As St. Laurent looks at building airships in its municipality, this form of transportation that could revolutionize the economy of the world has been chosen by the people to win $25,000 in an online competition for bold, innovative economic ideas.

This is a great step in the direction of getting the airship project off the ground, however, the funds won’t go to St. Laurent just yet.

Barry Prentice, who looks after the management, economics and marketing for the project, said in his proposal that scaling a cargo airship transport system for the Canadian north would do for the Canadian north what the railway did for western Canada 140 years ago.

Dale George looks after the technical aspects of the project and is the second principal on the project.

“We were very proud and honoured to win (the People’s Choice award). It means people are talking about airships and think they should be brought back,” George said.

Their proposal described how 70% of Canada’s land mass has no roads and explained that exporting things like wild rice from northern communities would help create jobs and economic growth that could be made possible with hydrogen fuelled airships.

“The infrastructure required would be maintenance hangars and cargo landing platforms – the BASI airship is based on the successful designs of the 1930s, but made with modern engineering, certified aviation components and hydrogen-fuel-cell propulsion,” the proposal said.

“We were very pleased because the judges had overlooked us, and in the prior round the popular vote had gone to other teams,” Prentice told The Interlake Spectator on June 4.

“Consequently, we were not optimistic. This was despite lots of indications that people liked the idea, and its fit with the criteria that had been laid out by the CanInfra Challenge. Of course, we should have been more confident because the idea is so popular with the general public,” he explained.

“Certainly we are going forward with the project,” Prentice said. “We are interviewing a candidate to be our CEO and further develop the business plan. The importance of this win is that it demonstrates the popularity of the airship proposal with the public. We hope that this gives the politicians more confidence that they can get behind the idea publicly, too.”

Prentice said that the prize money will go to the company, BASI, and will be used toward obtaining investors, improving the website and furthering their research.

Open to the general public, Universities, industry bodies and individuals alike, the Caninfra Ideas Contest is a public, open contest that began with their official announcement and keynote speech by Canada’s Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau on October 4 of last year.

“We hope that winning the People’s Choice Award at CanInfra will help spread the popularity of using cargo airships to serve remote areas,” he said on May 30 in an email to all of his project’s supporters. “Thank you for your vote(s), everyone.”

Prentice said that the airship project has a lot of support in the private sector, especially with input suppliers like the engine manufacturers and with several shippers.

“Many people would like to use the services of the cargo airship,” he explained. “But (they) are not in a position to invest in the development. We have the design worked out for the airship and the ground-handling system but need to invest in the engineering for the general arrangement… We are already in contact with the CanInfra winner chosen by the judges. They propose to build wind turbines throughout the North to replace diesel generators. They like the idea of using airships to carry wind turbine blades to the remote communities. This would make an interesting demonstration of green technologies,” Prentice said.

The winners

The winning team, Ice Grid, chosen by the CanInfra judges was made up of Dave Lane, Brett Favaro and Brandon Copeland, who want to de-carbonize the energy grids in Nunavut communities. Their proposal suggests building a fully renewable energy grid to power Iqaluit, with power generated by wind and solar and stored in utility-scale batteries, according to their proposal summary on CanInfra’s website.

“If this test case is successful, similar solutions can be scaled across other micro-grids and communities across the country,” the Ice Grid proposal said.

The first Runner Up was the idea for redefining the waste and water utility model by Karlis Vasarais, the lead applicant, in association with Brandon Moffatt of StormFisher Environmental and Jon Dogterom of MaRS Discovery District. Their proposal explained how renewable energy produced by their plan would transform the traditional wastewater treatment plant utility business models to power wastewater treatment plants operations with renewable energy.

The Second Runner Up was Team Limitless: Taking the High Road, who want to reimagine Canada’s highways by developing road lanes with the ability to wirelessly charge electric vehicles and reduce range anxiety. According to their proposal, they want to introduce dynamic wireless charging lanes to Canada’s highways in order to accelerate electric vehicle adoption and to encourage reliance on a renewable energy source for transportation. Their users could be located and billed via a link between their smartphone and roadside Smart Poles, which could also be used for dynamic traffic control and promote safety / reducing congestion. The system could be powered by roadside solar and wind.

For more information on CanInfra’s idea contest winners, visit caninfra.ca/meet-the-teams.