Utility poles made of treated wood need to be regularly replaced and are harmful to the environment. Ecopole, a start-up being incubated at ÉTS‘ (École de technologie supérieure) Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology (Centech) is developing a sustainable environmental solution.
Did you know that…
- There are more than 150 million utility poles in North America.
- The trees used to manufacture them are often over 60 years old.
- These poles are all rotting.
- The chemicals used to slow the propagation of rot contribute to soil contamination.
Furthermore, these utility poles are being attacked by woodpeckers. The pileated woodpeckers, among others, can damage treated wooden poles to the point of compromising their structural integrity and forcing early replacement.
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This problem was presented to Sofiane Bounaffaa and Adrien Cherrier during the “Savoir Affaires” 2014 business plan competition. For the duration of the event, held in the Laurentians region of Québec, these two gratuate students were paired with local entrepreneurs and representatives of economic development organisations. They were giving the challenge of finding innovative solutions to various environmental and economic issues facing the region. They proposed a plan to manufacture utility poles from natural fibres now inexpensive and plentiful due to the decline of the local paper industry. This project, christened “Ecopole”, won the award for the best use of resources and Québécois know-how in the composite materials category.
Since that time, Ecopole, has evolved into a company with an environmental mission and is currently being nurtured at Centech, the ÉTS technological accelerator. The poles are manufactured from a composite of a synthetic resin and natural wood fibres. By re-purposing the by-products of the wood processing industry, Ecopole is able to create eco-friendly poles to replace the more traditional, chemically-treated wood poles used in electrical power-distribution grids. Unlike these wood poles, they do not need to be treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) to make them rot and pest resistant, so there is no risk of leaking CCA from the poles into the soil or the ground water. These new poles are lighter, so they are easier to transport and thus provide a reduction in associated costs.
Ecopole provides many benefits over the traditional wood poles.
There is, however, still more work to be done. Currently, the Ecopole team is in the process of refining their composite formulation and have a pending patent for their product, including its method of manufacture. They plan to unveil their pre-commercial prototype very soon, and to conduct a trade tour throughout Quebec, the rest of Canada and the northeastern states of the USA.
Sofiane Bounaffaa is a graduate of the ÉTS and has a master’s degree in engineering with a specialty in telecommunications. He is currently working as a research professional with the NSERC Ultra Electronics TCS Industrial Research Chair.
Program : Electrical Engineering