NEWS FROM THE FIELD
Expanding uses for local plant proteins
StreetInsider - Protein Industries Canada announced a project and outside partnership focused on developing new plant-based protein products and ingredients that will be sold to markets in Western Canada and Asia.
Mera Food Group, Mera Developments and Benson Farms are partnering to use Western Canadian commodities to develop the products. During the first phase of their project, they’ll use these commodities — including oats, lentils, hemp, fava beans and chickpeas — to develop beverages and other products for consumers in Western Canada before targeting Asian markets in the second phase.
Throughout the project, Benson Farms will help determine the best varieties of the commodities to use via trial plots. Mera Food Group and Mera Developments, meanwhile, will focus on developing the plant-based protein products and ingredients, including an outside partnership with Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL).
While strengthening the plant-protein sector through the development of new products, the partners will also be expanding it by building additional capacity for other agrifood businesses. They will be bringing new co-packaging machinery into the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre and will make it available for use by other companies.
“Mera Development is excited to provide the consortium with its global expertise in leveraging data and analytics to enhance operational and financial performance,” Mera Development Corp. CEO Heather Quale, P.Eng, P.Geo said. “Through this project, we have the opportunity to utilize our expertise to meet the needs of our customers.”
Testing Saskatoon sewage for Covid-19
University of Saskatchewan - A new tool developed by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan is predicting an increase in Covid-19 cases in Saskatoon by looking at the city’s sewage.
In partnership with the City of Saskatoon and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, researchers have been testing samples of the city’s wastewater for the virus since July.
Because infected people shed traces of the virus through their feces, tracking the amount of the virus circulating in the city’s wastewater can help determine how many people in the city are sick.
This should predict trends in case numbers ahead of the testing data, reflecting people who have the virus but are not showing symptoms.
The researchers’ most recent findings suggest case numbers in the city will continue to rise.
Kerry McPhedran, M.Sc., Ph.D., P.Eng., is an associate professor of engineering at the University of Saskatchewan and part of the research group at the university.
He said the project isn’t at the stage where they can pinpoint where in the city the positive cases are coming from.
“Right now, we’re just doing the one test so it’s all the wastewater coming from all the city going into the Saskatoon wastewater treatment plant,” McPhedran said. “There has been talk about doing certain locations in the city. We have some issues in ethics involved with that if we’re trying to pinpoint.”
USask researchers creating filter to clean viruses
Global News - Scientific research has shifted this past year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jafar Soltan, P.Eng., M.Sc., Ph.D., a University of Saskatchewan (USask) chemical engineering professor, and a team of researchers were previously developing methods and catalysts to clean air using technology at Canadian Light Source.
They were focusing on filtering chemicals and air pollutants but are now seeing how the technology can clean viruses. Filtering viruses brought on additional challenges for the researchers.
The filter being created is different than most.
“Our catalysts are active filters. If it’s pathogens, they are inactivating that and if it’s other pollutants they completely convert them,” said Nazanin Charchi, EIT, USask chemical engineering Ph.D candidate.
The team hasn’t tested the active filter with Covid-19 yet and is currently working on its efficiency.
“The catalyst in a way would fry the virus, basically oxidizing it and taking away the functionality of it. We call it inactivating the virus,” Soltan said about how the filter could clean Covid-19 in the air.
Further collaborations are needed before the team can move forward with testing viruses like the novel coronavirus. Soltan hopes to collaborate with VIDO-InterVac where they could test the filter, as well as air conditioning companies who could include the filter in air conditioning units.
They hope to have a final design and study by June, 2021.
Ventilation as a Covid-19 safety measure
University of Saskatchewan - The University of Saskatchewan (USask) engineering professor is happy to see doctors and engineers in Ontario alerting people about the importance of keeping their indoor spaces well-ventilated as Canada battles Covid-19.
Carey Simonson, P.Eng., M.Sc., Ph.D, an expert in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technology and a professor and researcher at USask Engineering, says he’s pleased that people are starting to learn about the role ventilation can play in keeping them and others safe during the pandemic.
“When we’re talking about reducing transmission of Covid-19, we need to keep ventilation in mind, as well as distancing, masks and sanitation,” he said.
Nearly three dozen doctors, engineers and other scientists in Ontario have called on their government to update its Covid-19 guidelines to reflect that the virus is able to be spread in microscopic droplets or aerosols that can travel beyond two metres. The Public Health Agency of Canada acknowledged earlier this month that this type of transmission is possible.
The engineers and doctors in Ontario ask the government there to give people clear messaging about how they can reduce transmission risk in their homes and businesses, including the following guidance:
• Promoting indoor mask use even when distanced,
• Routinely opening windows to refresh the air,
• Regular HVAC maintenance and filter replacement,
• Turning on available vented range hoods and bathroom exhaust fans.
U of R researchers modelling garbage generation
University of Regina - Drs. Kelvin Tsun Wai Ng, P.Eng., Ph.D., and Golam Kabir, Ph.D., EIT, with the Faculty of Engineering, have joined forces with the City of Regina to examine how the pandemic has affected the city’s garbage stream and to develop an improved waste generation model.
Ng anticipates the new model will help the City of Regina better plan and manage its landfill operations and that this research could form the basis for improved landfill management models in other places.
The research involves mapping the number of active Covid-19 cases in Regina during specific time periods and comparing it to the amount of waste generated at those times. Ng will then be able build scenarios predicting trash totals based on the potential spread of the virus.
The model will also help with waste management planning for future catastrophic events.
The researchers have already been able to determine that the pandemic has had mixed impacts on the city’s waste stream.
Compared to 2018 and 2019, there has been a reduction in the city’s overall waste generation, but an increase in household waste.
This may be indicative of reduced commercial and industrial activity affecting the amount of waste these sectors generated, whereas household waste generation likely increased as people stayed home, visited fewer restaurants and used more personal protective equipment.
Locally made ventilators to help in Covid fight
Toronto Star - A few days after the global pandemic was declared, Jim Boire, P.Eng., got a text from his daughter. Rebecca Erker, a Royal University Hospital intensive care unit nurse. She is working on her PhD with the respiratory research centre in Saskatoon. As a result, she had a good understanding of what was at stake with Covid-19, and reasons to be concerned.
Thankfully, Boire is president of RMD Engineering. His company had the expertise and capacity to do something about it. And they did.
“I got my text from my daughter on March 18. On March 24, we had our first prototype built,” Boire said.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said it would be taking delivery of 100 new ventilators, known as the EUV-SK1, in short order. The first 20 are ready to go out the door and the company has most of the parts in place to build as many as 1,000 units.
RMD Engineering Inc’s subsidiary, One Health Medical Technologies, recently received Covid-19 Medical Device Authorization from Health Canada for an in-house designed, developed and manufactured ventilator. Collaborating with the University of Saskatchewan and SHA subject matter experts, RMD Engineering was able to successfully prototype an emergency use ventilator for Health Canada certification.
According to the Ministry of Health, there are approximately 650 ventilators available in Saskatchewan’s health system, enough to meet the need. They range from high-end critical care type ventilators to more basic sub-acute ventilators. The SHA’s purchase from RMD will increase that number to about 750.
Youth engineering education program going digital
Northeast Now - A group that offers science, technology, engineering and math education is going virtual in 2021.
Engineering for Kids of North Saskatchewan is running five-day camps through January and February.
Normally operating in person, Cathi Wilson – director of Engineering for Kids of North Saskatchewan – said they’ll present their program digitally to follow Covid-19-related health guidelines.
“They’ll build a bridge across the Saskatchewan river, a boat to travel across the ocean and a plane to fly across the sky,” Wilson said. “In doing so, they’ll also learn about the engineering principles involved with that. They’ll build, test, design and improve it and work through that process.”
“We’re mixing science, engineering and math together with geography and international issues,” Wilson said. “If we [hold camp] in person, we’ll provide a lot more elaborate supplies… but for these ones, we’ve adapted everything. They’re primarily household items that they’ll use.”<
“They’ll get a travel club membership and supply kit for uncommon supplies – clay, construction straws – a few things like that that they may not have around their house.”
Engineering for Kids of North Saskatchewan hopes to hold in-person camps in the summer – health protocols permitting – as Wilson said they prefer to watch kids grow and get more one-on-one learning. She said their primary topics are robotics, game coding and every aspect of engineering. They hope to hold one-week camps in Melfort, Nipawin, Prince Albert and Tisdale.
Estevan looks to diversify economy
Regina Leader-Post - As part of southeast Saskatchewan’s move away from burning coal, Estevan is looking to a new partnership struck with a nearby First Nation and a veteran geologist to help keep jobs and money in the area.
The city signed a memorandum of understanding with Ocean Man First Nation and Buffalo Potash Corporation to study how and if it can bring modular potash mines to the area and a processing facility that wouldn’t burn coal, but would still use it to create fuel.
Ocean Man sits about 100 kilometres north of Estevan. Buffalo Potash Corp., founded in 2018, is headed by long-time geology consultant, potash expert and former APEGS president Steve Halabura, P.Geo., FGC, FEC (Hon.).
Estevan’s nearby Shand Power Station burns coal to produce approximately 276 megawatts of electricity.
As Halabura explains it, the intent of the new facility would be polygeneration – “using one or two or three raw components. You take them apart and you combine them” into fuel products that can be sold on the market.
Instead of burning coal, for example, he described a process of taking it apart and combining it with potash, natural gas or underground brine to “create synthetic fuel” or “you can make a clean hydrogen fuel”. The process would also allow for more customizable fertilizers, by adding nitrogen and sulphur to potash mined underground at modular sites, Halabura said, figuring that would open a wider market to farmers looking for a specific fertilizer formula.
Halabura said the small-scale, modular potash mines wouldn’t send people underground. They’d instead mimic the pipe systems used for mining underground oil.
SK expanding access to potash industry tax credits
CJME - The provincial government is hoping upgrades to some tax incentives will encourage potash companies to try new things. The Government of Saskatchewan announced changes to the tax regulations governing the potash sector. The changes are meant to improve access to a tax credit that covers 40 per cent of costs for new research and development projects and “approved market development programs”. The province is hoping to inspire junior potash companies to turn towards innovation by removing expiry dates and enhancing the eligibility requirements for the tax break.
To qualify for the credit, research and development projects have to showcase improved efficiency in potash production, mitigation of environmental impacts, reduction in physical risks to employees and mine operations, or the development of new and improved potash products. The market development credits will be granted to companies that create new markets or grow existing ones.
According to the province, the potash industry in Saskatchewan is responsible for about 30 per cent of the world’s potash production. It also employs around 5,000 people.
What is this oil shale near Hudson Bay?
Toronto Star - The Dec. 1 Crown petroleum and natural gas public offering highlighted the sale of several leases for “oil shale” southwest of Hudson Bay. But what exactly is oil shale? Is it shale oil, like the Bakken? Is it oilsands like around Fort McMurray? Or is it something else?
Melinda Yurkowski, P.Geo., is the assistant chief geologist of Saskatchewan, working with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, part of the Ministry of Energy and Resources.
“It’s the younger brother of the source rock that generates oil and gas. Essentially it is very rich in organic sedimentary material called kerogen. And this kerogen, if it gets buried deep enough and has enough pressure to it, it will thermally crack, and it will convert itself to oil, and that’s where all the oil comes from. The oil shale rocks are immature and they’re usually younger in age than oil-bearing formations.”
In other words, the fluid within the rock has the prospect of becoming oil. In natural processes, that could occur over the next tens of millions of years. But it is not oil yet. Where it has been developed around the world, oil shale is mined and then they “retort” it, which is heating to high temperatures, to create a synthetic oil. The oil shale rocks are exposed at some places on the surface near Hudson Bay.
Under the surface, they run from the Manitoba Escarpment (of which Riding Mountain National Park is the most obvious example) to Alberta, as far north as the Peace River Arch and as far south as Texas. It is contiguous, for the most part. In Alberta, they are deep enough to form oil and gas.
“You can map it for the southern half of Saskatchewan, for sure,” Yurkowski explained.
Shale oil, such as what comes from the Bakken in North Dakota and southeast Saskatchewan, is oil produced from “tight” shale formations of rock. In the case of the Bakken, this is considered the “source rock,” where that oil originated, but it is deep and hot enough in the North Dakota “kitchen” to have “cooked” those kerogens into oil.
That depth is not present at Hudson Bay, where the oil shale is just below the glacial till - the layer of the earth closest to the surface that was recently disturbed by glacial ice sheets.
As for oil shale around Hudson Bay, Yurkowski says, “We’ve been aware of them for a long time and there’s been various sort of companies have gone in there and have taken a look at it. And in the past, technology’s always been a bit of a challenge.”
Saskatchewan driller hits ‘gusher’ geothermal well
Financial Post - A Saskatoon-based company has drilled and fracked the world’s first 90-degree horizontal well for geothermal power in a potentially landmark move that signals the arrival of a new energy source in Canada and provides fresh opportunities for oil and gas workers to apply their skills in renewable power.
No company in Canada has produced electricity from geothermal heat, but Deep Earth Energy Production Corp., CEO Kirsten Marcia, P.Geo., said there’s a “big, big future for geothermal power in western Canada,” as demonstrated by the results of the first horizontal geothermal well, which is also the deepest horizontal well ever drilled in Saskatchewan. “We were looking for a way to explain to people that we drilled a gusher,” said Marcia, who worked in the mining and petroleum industries before pioneering a geothermal business in Saskatchewan.
In the oil and gas world, a “gusher” is an extremely productive well that pumps substantial volumes of oil and gas.
In Canada’s nascent geothermal power industry, Deep’s “gusher” can produce steaming-hot water and brine with a temperature of 127 degrees centigrade at a rate of 100 litres per second. Marcia said those flow rates mean the well will actually be limited by the hardware, such as pump capacity, that are connected to the wellhead.
She said the well, called the Border-5HZ well, is capable of producing three megawatts of renewable, reliable electricity, enough to power 3,000 homes.
The well will form part of a larger 20MW geothermal power project, which is expected to commence construction in 2023 in southern Saskatchewan. The well is also a first for the global geothermal industry
New energy technologies tested in Sask.
Calgary Herald - Proton Technologies sees a bright future in old oil and gas wells. The Calgary-based company has developed an environmentally sustainable way to extract hydrogen – a clean form of energy – from mature oil and gas reservoirs.
Proton chose Saskatchewan as its base to pilot test its patented technology under operational conditions by purchasing a decommissioned oilfield near Kerrobert.
“The basic concept of what we aim to do is to produce very low-cost hydrogen from existing oilfields,” says Grant Strem, P.Geo., a former oil and gas geologist who now is CEO and chairman of Proton Technologies Inc.
Proton’s ground-breaking method for extracting hydrogen involves the injection of oxygen into the mature oil and gas fields to induce a reaction that releases the hydrogen, which can then be extracted. This innovative method of hydrogen extraction aims to produce the resource without generating greenhouse gas emissions.
Proton plans to not only use the oil and gas industry’s old fields, but also its infrastructure.
“The produced hydrogen can be mixed into existing natural gas pipelines or used at higher concentrations at electricity assets such as coal and natural gas power plants,” says Strem. “Proton is structuring contracts to supply hydrogen at the same energy price as natural gas and is thus targeting baseload power and heating using existing infrastructure.”
Saskatchewan oil flow halfway back
Western Investor – Saskatchewan’s oil production has rebounded halfway back from its pre-COVID-19 production levels.
Saskatchewan Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre said, “September saw Saskatchewan producing 434,000 barrels per day, which was up from a low of 361,000 in May, but still below the 502,000 when Covid hit in March.” Overall, 815 wells have been drilled in Saskatchewan this year, which is down over 40 per cent compared to the same period last year. More than 50 per cent of shut-in production has come back online. In its annual forecast for the coming year, released November 18, the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) is projecting 3,771 wells drilled in 2021, a 14-per-cent increase of 475 from 2020.