Rocket launching

Next up: Stéphane Germain – protecting earth’s environment from space

Fighting pollution is a global priority. A Canadian entrepreneur is building a better working world by monitoring emissions from space.

EY presents: Next up, a series showcasing innovators who are building a better working world through new technology and big ideas.

While other space-obsessed children might set their sights on becoming an astronaut, the young Stéphane decided he wanted to be a space entrepreneur. He studied engineering physics at Queen’s University in Canada, and followed that with an MBA from INSEAD in France. He went on to work for 20 years in various consultancy and aerospace roles for the next 20 years, ranging from engineering project management to sales, finance and business development.

But he always had his eye on his ultimate goal.

Meet Stéphane

“It’s a passion that has always been with me,” says 50-year-old Stéphane Germain from Montreal, Canada. “Some of my earliest memories are making moon bases and spaceships with Lego,”

GHGSat President Stéphane Germain
I deliberately planned my career to gain experience in all the disciplines I’d need to be an entrepreneur in space. Two decades in, I have the partners I needed to build a world-class team to achieve this.
Stéphane Germain

The big idea

In 2010, California and Quebec (Stéphane’s home province), introduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cap-and-trade schemes – limiting the amount of emissions companies could produce, but allowing cleaner firms to sell parts of their quotas to businesses that produced more pollution.

“My light bulb lit up when I realized that operators would need cost-effective and accurate measurement of their emissions, and that satellite monitoring technology could do this,” he remembers.

As GHG emissions are invisible to the naked eye, he hoped this technology could usher in a new era of transparency around industrial emissions that would really help fight climate change.

Stéphane founded GHGSat in Montreal in 2012. Four years later, the firm launched its first satellite, GHGSat-D – nicknamed Claire. Despite being only the size of a microwave oven, Claire can locate and measure discharges of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane – which make up 90% of all GHG emissions – from any industrial facility in the world.

The impact

GHGsat’s sensors work by analyzing variations in light wavelengths to identify which gasses are present in the atmosphere – similar principles as used in the deep space astronomy techniques that are helping map the galaxy and identify the nature of newly-discovered planets.

Claire can detect and analyze this light to identify the type and quantity of gas present in areas as small as 25m2. This information can be constantly updated, allowing firms to quickly address issues and inform regulators.

“We’re the only organization in the world, including national space agencies, that can measure emissions like this,” says Stéphane. “Our sensors have 100 times the sensitivity of NASA’s satellites and cost 100 times less. Other companies are years behind us.”

GHGSat is currently developing two new satellites with improved detection and analysis capabilities, which it plans to launch next year. “I still believe feverishly we will make a significant contribution to combating global warming,” says Stéphane.

“Observation technology like ours is transforming how we understand and manage our planet. We’re able to access huge amounts of new data on a daily basis that will help billions, so people prosper with limited land, air and water resources.”

What we can learn

Better, neutral, standardized emissions data should lead to better-informed political decisions to help the world more effectively navigate to a more sustainable future. “This sort of approach could be a game changer in identifying the most impactful policy areas to focus on at national and supranational levels,” says Thibaut Millet, EY Canada Climate Change and Sustainability Leader.


Better, larger data sets could streamline paperwork, ease compliance for companies, and provide real-time visibility for regulators. “It could be very useful for regulators who want to keep track of whether and how corporates are doing what they're supposed to do to meet regional or country level targets,” says Alexis Gazzo, EY France Climate Change and Sustainability Partner.


Satellite emissions monitoring may have particularly important applications in industries where getting accurate data can be difficult due to the logistics of installing on-site measuring equipment, as in maritime trade or agriculture.


It will be the organizations that use these insights to better understand the challenges emerging over the next five to ten years, that will be best positioned to develop new concepts and business models that meet the needs of both their customers – and the planet.


EY Presents: Next Up a series of innovative individuals and companies who are helping to build a better working world. Stéphane Germain has innovated a new way to monitor emissions from space, which could revolutionize how environmental protection policy and legislation is enforced.