NEWS FROM THE FIELD
USask ag researchers receive funding
University of Saskatchewan - Eighteen wide-ranging University of Saskatchewan (USask) crop research projects were awarded nearly $6 million through Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF), a program jointly supported by the federal and provincial governments and supplemented by industry partners.
One major project that was awarded funding is the removal of arsenic with agricultural waste. USask engineering researcher Jafar Soltan, P.Eng., is testing the use of low-value agriculture residue - such as straw and meal from canola, barley, wheat and mustard - to transform it into high-value adsorbents that remove arsenic from mining wastewater.
Soltan and his team will engage in research using the Canadian Light Source synchrotron and a pilot project that simultaneously works in two vital economic sectors - mining and agriculture.
The ADF program is supported through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year $388-million investment by the federal and provincial governments in strategic initiatives for the sector in Saskatchewan.
Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory opens
University of Saskatchewan - Following a successful year of building, prototyping and delivering services to select customers and partners, the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) launched the Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL). The state-of-the-art facility combines the digital data analysis of microbial, plant and animal genes and traits with the latest precision agriculture technologies (agtech). The goal is to speed up innovation towards new products and services that would enhance profitability and sustainability across the agriculture and food sectors.
OPAL was founded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the National Research Council of Canada and USask, with strategic investment from Western Economic Diversification Canada. A first of its kind, it is the only facility in the country to provide analytical and computational services including genomics (the study of genetic materials), phenomics (the study of an organism’s traits) and bioinformatics (analyses of biological data).
It combines these with the use of the latest imaging and agtech such as Global Positioning Systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, the remote aerial imaging of plants and in-field environmental monitoring to provide clients with a complete diagnostic profile of samples.
The facility will also serve as a vehicle to deploy cutting-edge technology developed through the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre, a digital agricultural research centre funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund and managed by GIFS on behalf of the university.
The versatility of OPAL’s laboratory equipment means it can analyze virtually all genetic material on large scales. This was the case during the one-year pilot when GIFS loaned its equipment to support the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s diagnostic testing for COVID-19.
U of R researchers focus on livestock and forage
Yorkton This Week - University of Regina researchers received funding from Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund for their livestock and forage-related research projects.
Dr. Wu Peng, P.Eng., assistant professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, received funding for his project, ‘The Application of Artificial Intelligence in Agricultural Land Flooding Prediction in Southern Saskatchewan’.
Wu’s research will address the current need to better understand the interaction between agricultural activities, climate change and flooding in the prairies. Wu and his research team will utilize a three-pronged approach to analyze and predict agricultural flooding in southern Saskatchewan. Dr. Denise Stilling, P.Eng., associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, received funding for her project, ‘Discoveries in Extrusion Pulping Agricultural Crop Residue into Compostable Products’.
Stilling’s research will help to address the negative environmental impact of single-use plastics by exploring how cereal and flax straw can be utilized to make decomposable drinking straws, stir sticks, container sleeves and medical devices, such as temporary drainage stents.
Nutrien ensures safety through innovative technology
Business Wire - At the start of the pandemic, Nutrien Ltd., was deemed an essential service for its role in supporting the agriculture industry. To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Nutrien partnered with Triax to help its workers maintain a minimum of six feet of physical distancing and automatically capture data about their interactions with coworkers, as part of its COVID-19 protocols.
Proximity Trace tags are attached to workers’ clothing or hard hats and produce an audio and visual alert to those who come within six feet of one another. These wearable sensors also automatically log data for leaders to quickly perform contact tracing if a positive case arises, thereby preventing further spread at the site and reassuring those who are not at risk.
Since it pinpoints the individuals who may have been exposed, the solution also helps Nutrien minimize operational shutdowns and reduces the risk of associated costs and product delivery delays.
Since the implementation of the technology, Nutrien has been able to safely support as many as 1,700 employees and contractors. The physical distancing alerts have reduced the number of close contacts, positive cases and quarantines.
Irrigation project to feature Regina engineers
CTV News - The Saskatchewan government is moving ahead with engineering studies on proposed Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Expansion. Regina’s Clifton and Associates will be the lead firm for preliminary engineering design. The work will include geotechnical studies and environmental consulting.
In addition to a preliminary design, the work will include geotechnical, soil suitability and geographical mapping; environmental consulting services and playing a central role in the extensive consultations with First Nations and other stakeholders.
Both First Nations and conservation groups have raised concern about the impacts of the project and the need for consultation.
The $4-billion project will be the most expensive ever undertaken by the Government of Saskatchewan.
Lake Diefenbaker was created in the 1960s with the potential of irrigating half a million acres of farmland. Only one-fifth was realized before further development was abandoned.
A funding arrangement has yet to be reached between the province and Ottawa on the 10-year, $4-billion project.
The project will double the amount of irrigable land in Saskatchewan, adding 460,000 acres.
The engineering studies are expected to take up to 18 months.
P.A. region taps water project
Saskatoon Star Phoenix - Rural communities near Prince Albert want to turn the taps on a $45-million water project.
The Town of Shellbrook and the RM of Shellbrook struck a steering committee with the Prince Albert Rural Water Utility (PARWU), spending $60,000 on studying a new water treatment plant with connecting pipelines to the communities, according to its terms of reference.
The $45-million project aims to build a PARWU water treatment plant on the North Saskatchewan River to serve rural communities in the area by pipeline. It builds on a similar 2018 project, which PARWU abandoned as unviable. Town council says it will be more feasible with the support of the town looking to improve its water quality and the RM’s interest in connecting to a potential pipeline. As a regional project, council hopes it gets provincial and federal funding.
The first phase of the project, which includes feasibility and economic viability studies, was to have been completed by the end of February. Building a water treatment plant could help municipalities and property owners facing limited water access - a common issue in rural areas. The town wants to grow but can’t create new residential lots until it increases its water capacity.
Shellbrook’s well water is safe, but extremely hard and difficult to treat; guests like visiting hockey teams tend to comment on its “funny taste”.
Engineering alum to support students, industry
University of Regina - When Samit Sharma first came to Regina from India in 1996 to study at the University of Regina, his introduction to cold weather, as he said, was more than offset by the warm welcome he received from the people of Regina and the campus community.
Sharma came to Canada, thanks in part, to a scholarship for enrollment as a graduate engineering student, in the Industrial Systems program. “I have many fond memories of my time at the University of Regina and most importantly I remember the generosity of the people who had welcomed me into the community and made my experience much more enjoyable especially coming from a warmer climate to a very cold climate where the avenues to call or reach back to India were few and far between,” Sharma said.
Sharma is to repay that kindness with some generosity of his own, specifically a $100,000 donation to create a new scholarship for engineering graduate students. Each year for the next 10 years, one $10,000 scholarship will be awarded to a deserving student.
Sharma said the decision to give back to the university came after reflection of how his life was impacted by the support of a scholarship. It’s a career that includes his founding of Gaia Power Inc., a power development firm that develops renewable power projects, including some that are operating in Saskatchewan.
Sharma wanted to create the scholarship with a vision of supporting a graduate engineering student at the university exploring an area or issue relevant to the engineering industry in Saskatchewan. He also hopes it will foster a closer collaboration between industry and academia and increase the potential for employment in the student’s field of study.
Sask companies part of Canadian supercluster to support COVID-19 efforts
Globe Newswire – Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, the industry-led organization behind Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, has announced over $27 million in funding for winners in its Strategic Supply Challenge.
The competition, which ran last summer, challenged companies to employ advanced manufacturing technologies to build a sustainable, made-in-Canada, cost competitive supply of critical products that can be used in Canada’s fight against COVID-19 and beyond. The challenge funding supports 12 Canadian companies and their project partners, representing a total combined investment of over $60 million to develop advanced manufacturing projects. Titan Clean Energy Project Corp. from Craik and Panther Industries Inc. from Davidson, partnered with BIG-nano, K+S Potash Canada and Canada Masq to develop a process that will build a 100-per-cent Canadian supply of biodegradable melt-blown fabric for use in personal protective equipment and high-efficiency particulate absorbing filters.
This project will produce biodegradable melt-blown resin and fabric that is comprised of 100-per-cent renewable Canadian biomaterials, replacing the highly polluting resins that are currently imported from Asia, Europe and the United States.
The benefits include reduced air pollution, a lower carbon footprint and improved and biodegradable N95 masks and HEPA filter products.
Researchers develop biomass pellet using agricultural waste
Bioenergy Insight - Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) discovered a way to help utilize agricultural waste to produce pellets.
Tumpa Sarker, a PhD candidate in USask’s department of chemical and biological engineering, found that heating canola meal, canola hull and oat hull before compressing it yields a higher quality pellet with lower moisture content and volume and higher energy content and density. The resulting product has a value similar to coal.
Many farming by-products are currently left out in the field to rot. The resulting methane releases large amounts of greenhouse gas. Compacting plant material into small pellets increases its density up to 10 times, making it more economical to transport and store.
Canada currently exports up to four million bio-pellets to Europe annually, the majority of which are manufactured using forestry by-products. While some Saskatchewan firms use agricultural waste in animal feed, none are converting this material into bio-pellets.
The treatment process used is called torrefaction and involves heating the biomass at temperatures between 200-300 Celsius in an inert environment (an environment free of oxygen and CO2).
The objective of the research, which is supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as part of the Biomass Canada Cluster and Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture, is to develop a technology that can be picked up by a local company then used to produce high-quality bio-pellets for energy applications.
A positive reflection for mining industry
CKRM – A report from Mining Journal Intelligence World Risk Report has the province’s mining sector grinning.
It places Saskatchewan as one of the top jurisdictions in an “opportunity index”.
The index is a combination of perceived mineral potential and investment risk. With respect to overall investment, Saskatchewan was one of only two jurisdictions that achieved the highest AAA rating.
The report looked at five major areas - legal, governance, social, fiscal and infrastructure performance metrics.
The report, which is published in London by an Australian-owned company, relied on survey responses from more than 900 mining sector professionals, combined with 10 metrics from established, risk-related indices in determining the rankings. It ranks 111 jurisdictions across 83 countries.
Athabasca uranium deposits discovered from above
Resource World - Encompassing about 100,000 square kilometres, the Athabasca Basin is best known as the world’s leading source of high-grade uranium and currently supplies about 20 per cent of the world’s uranium.
The basin is the home of both uranium producers and explorers.
Uranium in Saskatchewan was discovered in 1934 at Beaverlodge in the northwest corner of the province and produced uranium from underground mines from 1952-82.
Saskatchewan’s current status of being the world’s second-largest producer of uranium started in the corporate offices of the Dynamic Group of oil companies in 1966 in Calgary.
The Group had an aircraft it used to go fishing on Vancouver Island that was written off as a business expense. Their accountants said, “This must change. You must find some kind of exploration activity to justify owning an aircraft.”
The aircraft was equipped with an onboard Geiger counter and could detect radioactivity from the air and was being used over the Colorado Plateau where several mines were in production.
Geophysical airborne surveys were an uncommon mineral exploration tool at that time.
Off to Saskatchewan the plane flew equipped with a Geiger counter. It flew a 27,200 line-kilometre survey at a 3.2-kilometre spacing and a 50-metre elevation at a cost of about $100,000 over the entire Athabasca Basin. The Group received rebates from the provincial government through a Precambrian Incentive Program for its northern Saskatchewan program - and radioactive anomalies they did find.
Drilling commenced in the summer of 1968 and anomalies on the west edge of Wollaston Lake led to the discovery of the Rabbit Lake deposit; the significant Key Lake, Cluff Lake and Midwest Lake high-grade deposits were later found by others.
In the events that followed the Rabbit Lake discovery in 1970, the Saskatchewan Mining Development Corporation was formed to later merge with Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. in 1988 to form Cameco Corp., a public company.
Cameco and partners discovered the McArthur River and Cigar Lake high-grade uranium deposits that went into production in 1999 and 2014, respectively, replacing the mined-out Key Lake, Cluff Lake and Midwest Lake mines.
MAS Gold poised to reap rich harvest
BNN – When you think Saskatchewan, you’re more likely to think of fields of golden wheat than the potential of substantial gold deposits waiting to be harvested.
To most investors, the prairie province’s mining resources are confined to potash and uranium. When it comes to precious metals mining in general and gold in particular, it gets no respect.
But that’s changing. Eager to develop its rich mineral resources, Saskatchewan has adopted an efficient regulatory environment, a high-quality geological database and other policies that are attracting major global mining companies to the province.
The new shine on Saskatchewan’s precious metals respectability glows most brightly in the La Ronge Domain in north-central Saskatchewan. This established gold-bearing belt has already attracted the attention of SSR Mining, which has invested $15 million to date in the region.
The area has a lot going for it - good geology, proximity to infrastructure and support from local communities.
Investment coming for oil and natural gas industry
CKRM - Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is forecasting a 14-per-cent increase in upstream natural gas and oil investment this year. Capital spending is expected to be approximately $3.36 billion higher this year, reaching $27.3 billion. The additional spending is primarily focused in British Columbia and Alberta.
Modest improvement is expected in Saskatchewan, where it should see a five-per-cent increase, bringing investment to $2.8 billion. The Association says Saskatchewan’s vision 2030 goal of increasing oil production by 25 per cent, along with fiscal incentives that enhance investment attractiveness have laid a solid foundation for the industry. The group also says the Saskatchewan-wide rebate on electricity bills is a policy which assist companies with liquidity and signals to the investment community the province is committed to the economic recovery of the business community.
All three provinces have also reached equivalency agreements with the federal government on methane emission reduction regulations, which the Association says provides industry with predictability and a regulatory framework that allows for a solutions-focused approach while enabling industry to advance technological innovation.
2020 a banner year for CCS facility at Boundary Dam
Estevan Mercury - December was the best month of the year for the carbon capture and storage facility at SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Power Station, capping what was a productive year for the project.
The facility captured 82,213 tonnes of carbon dioxide in December, bringing the total volume captured for the year to 729,092 tonnes, up from 616,119 tonnes captured in 2019. It was the second-best yearly total ever for the facility. It trails only 2016, when 792,500 tonnes were captured. The average, daily capture rate when CCS was online in December was 2,724 tonnes per day, with a peak one-day capture of 2,866 tonnes.
CCS also produced a record amount of sulphuric acid at 2,330 tonnes for the 2020 calendar year.
Methane-reduction projects taking shape
Estevan Mercury - The Government of Saskatchewan recently announced support for three new projects that will reduce methane emissions, increase gas processing capacity and create jobs.
The projects qualify for the Saskatchewan Petroleum Innovation Incentive (SPII) and the Oil and Gas Processing Investment Incentive (OGPII), which provide a percentage of transferable royalty credits once private funding has been dedicated and facilities have been built.
Highrock Resources Ltd., along with its joint venture partner, Kindersley-based Verdera Energy, is conditionally approved in the SPII program for their investment in a new flare-gas-to-power project, which is the first of its kind in Saskatchewan.
Executed at Highrock’s Minard oil battery, the project will repurpose a jet engine turbine and turn previously flared gas into power for onsite use. It is expected to be operational in the winter of 2021.
Steel Reef is conditionally approved in the OGPII program for a project to expand gas processing facilities, which has already created approximately 50 local construction jobs near Kerrobert.
This investment will add longevity and significantly increase the facility’s throughput capacity, allowing oil and gas producers to capture and sell methane gas that is brought to the surface as a byproduct of oil production. Ridgeback Resources also is conditionally approved for the OGPII program to support construction of a new gas fractionation plant and supporting infrastructure near Innes, southeast of Griffin. This value-added project is currently under construction.
Once operational, the facility will process methane gas to remove natural gas liquids and separate the liquids into products such as propane and butane for sale in the province. The facility allows oil producers to move away from flaring and venting at oil wells.
Combined, these three projects are expected to reduce provincial methane emissions by up to 251,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
Saskatoon company hoping for success in helium
CKRM - A Saskatoon-based company is excited about a program it has just started in the province’s southwest.
Royal Helium has commenced its three-well drill program at Climax with drilling starting earlier this month.
It is the first of what Royal Helium President and CEO Andrew Davidson hopes is just the beginning of what will be many programs to get the gas out of the ground.
“We see this as a situation where we drill these three wells and once we are done we come back and keep drilling for the foreseeable future.” Davidson said. “The land package that we have in the southwest part of the province and the southeast is known for helium potential.”
Davidson says the helium industry is one that is far more than party balloons. It is used in things like MRI machines, space exploration and high-tech manufacturing.
Total cost of the project is $5 million. If all goes well, the drilling will be done at the end of March with production following soon after.