NEWS FROM THE FIELD
Show local preference for renewables, says Brandt
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - The head of Saskatchewan’s largest privately held company wants the province’s electrical utility to favour local firms, including his, as it works to boost Saskatchewan’s reliance on alternative energy sources to 50 per cent from the current 25 per cent during the next 13 years.
Brandt Group of Companies president Shaun Semple said a “local preference” in SaskPower’s procurement process could support not just his firm’s plan to build a wind turbine factory in Saskatoon’s former Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Canada factory, but an entire industry in the province.
Just over four months ago, Brandt bought the sprawling 58th Street East factory for an undisclosed price and unveiled plans to fill the vacant facility with up to 500 of its employees.
In addition to the turbine factory, the plant is expected to house elements of the company’s agricultural and custom manufacturing divisions as well as research and development facilities.
The Crown corporation’s procurement policy states its purchases must “obtain best value” for its money, ensure everyone is treated fairly, meet its operational requirements, comply with the province’s trade obligations, maintain “the highest ethical business standards” and support the development of Saskatchewan’s economy, including Aboriginal businesses.
Gardiner Dam celebrates 50 years
Global Saskatoon - It’s a massive project that was built 50 years ago and has been critical in Saskatchewan for fresh drinking water, flood mitigation and power.
In 1967, Gardiner Dam was officially opened after the idea was spawned in the dirty thirties. It would take another 25 years to nurture the vision and then 10 more years to build.
It was a historic piece of infrastructure back then, today and into tomorrow as the province’s population grows.
There is no doubt, standing on the spillway or watching as a gate is opened for water to flow half a century later, that Gardiner Dam is still impressive.
It took nine years to build and its width at the base is 1.6 kilometres. Gardiner Dam is 5 kilometres in length and at the time cost $120 million to build.
It’s one of the largest earth-filled dams in the world by embankment volume. Along the spillway the drop down on the dam side is 44 feet and 24 feet down on the Lake Diefenbaker side.
The hydroelectric station located 1 kilometre downstream can power as many as 100,000 homes. The water that needs to come through the generators to get that much power is enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in about eight seconds.
It is also one of only three sites that could trigger power restoration in the event of a province-wide blackout if outside power from other provinces wasn’t an option.
The force of the flowing water from Lake Diefenbaker rotates three 84,000-horsepower turbines which drive generators to produce electricity.
Lake Diefenbaker, when full, holds 9.4 billion cubic metres of water and officials said it is a safe water supply to over 60 per cent of municipalities in the province.
Regina pavement gets anti-aging treatment
CBC Saskatchewan - Regina pavement is receiving something akin to a collagen injection.
The city is testing out a new way to preserve roads. It involves applying a product to the surface of roadways that will rejuvenate the flexibility lost as asphalt ages. It is also intended to seal the surface to prevent cracking and erosion.
The product being applied in the initial phase is an emulsion that is made up almost entirely of the “soft components” present in fresh asphalt.
“As a comparison, these softer components are like collagen in our skin,” said Les Malawski, P.Eng., the city’s manager of research and innovation.
“As we age, the collagen level is going down. One therapy is to reinject this collagen back into the skin.”
The road treatment is similar, he said, in that it penetrates the top layer of asphalt, rejuvenating it.
As the process is about preservation, not repair, the roads selected are still in fairly good shape.
“This type of treatment only works when the road is still in fairly good condition and you have minor cracks,” said Norman Kyle, P.L. (Eng), the city’s director of roadways and transportation.
“When you have older pavement that’s very brittle and broken up, it’s not going to be as effective and you’re not going to get the same benefits as you will on a road like this.”
The city is putting $350,000 toward the pilot project, which the city hopes will be offset by not having to repave roads as frequently.
Within the first couple of years, the city will be able to determine the effectiveness of the product and whether more money should be devoted to it, Kyle said.
About 20 locations, covering 260 000 square metres, have been chosen for the pilot project.
U of S Space Design Team asteroid mining
CBC – This summer, members of the University of Saskatchewan’s Space Design Team went soaring through the air in a jet to test out their latest project.
On July 27, the team got a chance to ride in the National Research Council’s Falcon 20 jet, which can temporarily suspend gravity by flying into the stratosphere and then plunging down.
It wasn’t all fun and games. The team won a seat on the plane with their STARFOX project, (Spinning Terrestrial Analog Regolith Filtering Operation eXperiment) a system designed to be used for asteroid mining in the future.
While that may sound like a simple task, it gets considerably more complicated in zero gravity. While sifting rocks works easily with Earth’s gravity, in space, small rocks don’t fall through the holes.
So the team designed a spinning, mesh-covered cone — sort of like a tiny tornado — that sorts out the rocks. While the experiment wasn’t flawless, it did bring back some positive results.
CLS meets CSI: Synchrotron looks to improve forensics
Global Saskatoon - New research taking place at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron is looking at ways to improve forensic investigations.
Not only can a person’s biological sex, age, height and health history be determined by examining bones, but DNA in bones can also confirm a person’s identity.
Forensic anthropologists help law enforcement when bones are discovered at a crime scene.
Typically when skeletal remains are discovered, investigators extract DNA from larger bones like a femur or tibia but researchers at the U of S are using the Canadian Light Source to challenge that theory, looking into which bones have the most DNA.
Research has determined smaller bones like fingers, ankles and the kneecap have higher DNA density compared to larger bones, but why?
Using micro-CT scanning and 3D imaging technology at the CLS, the researchers have found there are microscopic amounts of soft tissue remnants that are causing higher DNA yields.
The team hopes these findings will help law enforcement with forensic analysis in the future.
U of S researchers and ethanol research
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - U of S researchers have developed a new way to separate water from ethanol, the key component in alcoholic beverages and biofuel, using starch-based materials such as corn.
The method could reduce costs because it doesn’t involve using additional energy to isolate the ethanol.
In traditional distillation methods, fermented plants create a mixture of water and ethanol which is then heated to separate out the ethanol. However, some water remains.
U of S researchers solved this problem by using non-toxic starch-based materials that do not require energy to remove water. Published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering in 2016 and 2017, the results show the new technology is 40 times more effective than materials previously studied and achieves an efficiency comparable to traditional distillation.
The materials act like selective sponges and remove water better than cellulose-based ones.
When immersed in a mixture of water and ethanol, the new materials suck up 80 times more water than ethanol.
The researchers hope to commercialize their starch-based materials in five years.
As well, the chemical researchers have been collaborating with the U of S College of Engineering to test these starch-based materials for use in a new class of air conditioning systems that remove moisture and humidity more efficiently.
Hello, University of Saskatchewan. This is NASA calling
CBC - A seven-member research group from the U of S was at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Centre in Palmdale, California this summer.
Its mission? To help — alongside the Canadian Space Agency, York University and a private company, ABB —test the prototype of a satellite device that could one day be launched into space to measure the presence of water vapours in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Water vapours are a key measure of climate change since they both hasten the warming of the atmosphere and serve as an indicator of man-made greenhouse gases such as CO2.
The prototype is about as big as a bedside table and is bolted onto the base of a NASA plane as the aircraft conducts two flights at high altitudes.
The first flight will travel over parts of California and Nevada. The second will head north near Canadian airspace, just south of Vancouver Island.
Putting female engineering students in separate dorms
CTV News - Despite decades of campaigns to get more women into engineering, female engineers still face a world where they’re forced to face questions about whether they fit in.
Gender equality advocates argue that, in fact, women are just as good at science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). They simply face stereotypes that keep them from choosing it. They point to research like a Statistics Canada study that looked at highly respected Programme for International Student Assessment scores and found that only 23 per cent of Canadian females with high scores in math at age 15 chose STEM careers, compared to 46 per cent of high-scoring males.
Whatever the explanation, the number of women in Canadian engineering programs has barely budged in the past decade and a half. Figures from Engineers Canada show that undergraduate engineering programs were 20.3 per cent female in 2000. Fifteen years later, in 2015, the figure had dropped slightly, to 20.1 per cent.
Universities are asking what more they can do.
One new approach that’s grabbing attention online is new Women in Engineering Living-Learning Community (LLC) launching this fall at the University of Waterloo. About 50 of the women starting Waterloo engineering will live together in this optional women-only residence, which is made up of clusters of females inside a mixed-gender building.
The idea is to create an environment where women can support each other with everything from coding skills they might have missed in high school to dealing with sexist remarks.
The women will be supported by paid older students called “peer leaders,” who will run special activities designed to prepare them for the sexism they may face in the working world. They will, of course, take the same classes as male students.
Not everyone likes the idea. Many people have posted critical comments about the LLC on Waterloo’s Reddit page, though few seem willing to discuss it publicly, citing fear of repercussions from classmates or employers.
But Waterloo Associate Dean of Outreach Mary Wells, who came up with the program, says it’s worth a try because decades of outreach programs haven’t closed the gap. After all, women are still outnumbered in Waterloo’s lecture halls by about two to one and even more so in programs such as computer engineering, where only about one in six are female.
SK oil drilling forecast increased
CTV Regina - Revenue from the August sale of oil and natural gas rights in Saskatchewan totalled $8 million. The southeast region attracted the most interest, accounting for $6 million of the revenue generated from the August sale.
Also in August, the Petroleum Services Association of Canada increased its drilling forecast for Saskatchewan from 1,940 to 2,794 wells.
“These figures, along with positive expectations by industry, suggest our oil and gas sector is regaining momentum after a prolonged period of transition,” said a spokesman from the Ministry of Energy and Resources.
The August sale, which was the third of the fiscal year, brings the current revenue tally to $32 million. The next public offering of oil and natural gas rights in Saskatchewan held on October 3.
Husky Energy investing in CCS
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - Husky Energy Inc. is increasing its investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which it hopes will make its expanding heavy oil operations in Saskatchewan more environmentally friendly.
The Calgary-based company has been operating a tiny CCS plant developed by Inventys Inc., a clean energy company headquartered in Burnaby, BC at its Pikes Peak South operation northwest of Maidstone for six months. This summer it invested millions of dollars in the BC company with the aim of developing a much larger plant at the site.
“We are moving ahead with a 30-tonnes-per-day pilot project . . . We believe this technology has the potential to reduce the cost of carbon capture compared to existing technologies, and could turn Lloyd thermal production into a lower carbon source of energy, and make Alberta more environmentally friendly,” a Husky spokesperson said.
Carbon dioxide captured by the new project will be used alongside carbon dioxide recovered from other facilities for “enhanced oil recovery” operations in the region, she said. The process makes other types of oil wells more efficient, the spokesperson added.
The new plant at Pikes Peak South is expected to be commissioned in the fourth quarter of 2018. Inventys CEO Claude Letourneau said it will have the footprint of two flatbed trailers, cost about $20 million and use the company’s second-generation CCS technology, which improves efficiency by capturing carbon dioxide in a solid material rather than a solvent.
The increased efficiency, Letourneau continued, is expected to lead to significant cost savings. The capital cost of existing CCS technology is between $60 and $90 per tonne, but Inventys is aiming to cut that to about $30 per tonne — which the oil industry requires before it can start adopting CCS on a wide scale.
Husky given permission for repairs
Canadian Press - Husky Energy says it has been granted permission to repair and replace a section of pipeline that leaked 225 000 litres of crude oil in Saskatchewan just over a year ago. With the pipeline out of commission, Husky has been relying on tanker trucks to transport crude the final leg to Lloydminster, Sask., until it is repaired and permission is granted by the government to resume operations.
The company said it plans to include more monitoring equipment that will measure ground movement, as well as add thicker and higher grades of steel pipe to the section of pipe that burst near the North Saskatchewan River.
The spill sent about 40 per cent of the leaked crude into the waterway, forcing communities downstream to shut off a main source of water for almost two months.
Husky has been criticized for its slow response to the spill.
The planned extra equipment for the section, including fibre optic cables to detect pipeline and ground movement, will help make it clear when a spill has happened.
Husky’s investigation determined the pipeline buckled because of ground movement. The company has said it accepts full responsibility and is using what it learned to improve operations.
Geo Survey explores eastern Athabasca Basin
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - Sprawling across northern Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Athabasca Basin is home to some of the world’s richest uranium deposits, which were discovered in the 1940s and mined since the late 1960s.
What is less clear, however — and what Geological Survey of Canada geophysicist Vicki Tschirhart hoped to discover this summer — is the western part of the basin’s underlying geology and the source of its high-grade deposits.
“Such little was known about it in comparison to the east,” Tschirhart said from a mining camp near Hook Lake owned by Purepoint Uranium Group Inc., one of many firms assisting the researchers this summer.
All of Saskatchewan’s operating uranium mines are concentrated in the eastern Athabasca Basin, near Wollaston Lake. Tschirhart said deposits in the Hook Lake region were not discovered until 2012. Besides taking over Natural Resources Canada’s Instagram account with the aim of giving people a taste of northern geology, she plans to study previously-extracted core samples and take hundreds of new measurements.
Tschirhart said the work is non-invasive and involves scientists from many disciplines, including those specializing in minerals and sediments.
Her own work involves “magnetic susceptibility” — examining core samples and the results of a recent airborne survey to extrapolate as much as possible about the local geology.
Knowledge of the basin’s eastern reaches is extremely limited, but there are two competing theories on the source of uranium in the west: either it leached through the sandstone cover or climbed up from much deeper in the earth’s core.
While the work, which Tschirhart said will likely be presented in a report this fall, will benefit exploration companies looking for uranium, it’s also intended to flesh out scientists’ understanding of the Athabasca Basin.
Ranchers complain of mine’s effect on water suppl
Western Producer - Several cattle producers along the Wood River in south-central Saskatchewan have to move about 1,000 head to different pastures after water quality in the river declined unexpectedly.
The issue arose after Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals, based at Chaplin, diverted water from the river for its sodium sulphate operations.
As a result, oxygen levels in the river that about half a dozen producers use to water their cattle dropped unacceptably low, according to one of those affected. One rancher said he knew something was wrong when he came across dozens of dead fish and an intense sewage smell.
Unable to get answers from the mining company or the province, he contacted the federal fisheries department. Environment Canada staff went to the site Aug. 3 to investigate and test the water.
The agency reported that the oxygen level was less than half of 1 per cent on the side the producers use for water but at an acceptable 11 per cent on the other side of the diversion weir.
According to the mine website, it uses a brining process to obtain sodium sulphate from Chaplin Lake. Its primary sources of fresh water are local spring runoff and precipitation. The secondary source is water from the Wood River that is moved through the diversion managed by Ducks Unlimited.
Cattle producers are out of luck for using river water for the rest of the summer. Only opening the dam at Thompson Lake to put water in the river would alleviate the problem, the rancher said, but officials aren’t likely to do that.
A provincial environmental protection officer also went to the site later in the summer.