NEWS FROM THE FIELD
Engineers hit by slumping economy
Regina Leader-Post - Saskatchewan’s economy shrank by 1.4 per cent in 2015, the third-worst performance among the provinces, next to Alberta’s 4 per cent contraction and Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2.2 per cent decline, according to Statistics Canada.
Construction fell 19 per cent as lower oil prices led to a significant drop in oil and gas engineering construction, while other engineering construction declined as new mining capacity came on stream, the federal agency said.
Residential construction declined 15 per cent on weaker demand for housing, and non-residential building construction decreased 2.6 per cent. Support activities for oil and gas extraction also fell significantly, while oil and gas drilling decreased.
By contrast, mining and quarrying increased 13 per cent with significant gains in potash and uranium mining, StatsCan said.
Manufacturing output decreased 2.8 per cent as losses in machinery, primary and fabricated metal products, transportation equipment and chemicals were partly offset by gains in refined petroleum products, food products and wood products.
Lower economic activity contributed to decreases in wholesale and retail trade and truck transportation. Crude oil pipeline transportation rose 7.1 per cent as inventories were reduced, the report said. Surprisingly, economic output for the mining and oil and gas sector actually grew in both 2014 and 2015 with increases of 7.7 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively.
“We are simply measuring the fact that oil, gas, potash and uranium production did not decline in volume last year. The number of new wells being drilled and potash mines being constructed did.” said Doug Elliott, publisher of Sask Trends Monitor.
New research infrastructure at U of S
LabCanada - Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) will develop materials critical to sustainable energy development and other fields through $577,000 funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The project received the funding from the John R. Evans Leaders Fund.
The $1.4-million funding will be used to purchase a state-of-the-art X-ray photoelectron spectrometer. “This major investment will allow us to expand our critically important research into sustainable energy solutions and establish new research programs,” said Karen Chad, U of S Vice-President Research. “The instrument is a perfect complement to the Canadian Light Source synchrotron and will help our researchers push new boundaries of knowledge that will lead to new and improved materials.”
Through the powerful X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) technology, the spectrometer blasts a material sample with a beam of X-rays. By measuring the sample’s response to the X-rays, the instrument gives researchers highly detailed information about the material’s chemical makeup. The XPS instrument analyzes the surface of a material rather than its bulk and is the only instrument able to provide the information on material surfaces that the three scientists require for their research.
One application will be in research into nuclear waste disposal. With XPS, researchers will be able to test if these materials are stable enough to keep radioactive waste locked away for thousands of years. Other uses for the new instrument include research into developing better catalysts for processing sustainable biofuels and research into developing functional nanomaterials – extremely small-scale materials with many applications including protective non-stick coatings and water-repellent textiles. Industrial partners in the local mining, manufacturing, nuclear and biofuels industries – many of whom already have working relationships with the researchers – will benefit from research collaborations involving the instrument. Additionally, the instrument will help in the training of more than 30 students and post-doctoral researchers each year.
Uplifting events for horses
Manitoba Co-operator - A new collaborative invention from a multidisciplinary research team at the University of Saskatchewan promises new hope for injured horses. A research team from the University of Saskatchewan is hoping to improve the outcome for horses suffering from fractures or other musculoskeletal problems.
After a horse undergoes surgery to fix a fracture, it’s normally confined to a stall and given medication to alleviate the pain. However, due to a horse’s heavy weight and its strong flight response, recovery from musculoskeletal problems is uncertain.
A multidisciplinary research team at the University of Saskatchewan is hoping to change that by partnering with RMD Engineering, a local firm, to design and build a robotic lift system, a University of Saskatchewan release says. The lift will help rehabilitate horses suffering from acute injuries and other musculoskeletal problems by providing mobility, weight distribution and support.
The lift can reduce and redistribute the weight the horse is carrying. The system allows the animal to be mobile with its weight partially or fully supported by the lift.
RMD Engineering has been involved with many other veterinary-related innovations at the university revolving around large-animal handling, including a “bovine tilt table.”
U of S student selected for international telecom technology project
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - A University of Saskatchewan engineering student has been selected to travel to China as part of Huawei’s “Seeds for the Future” program.
Megan Leach, a third-year engineering student, is one of 19 Canadian university students selected for the program, which aims to strengthen ties between Canada and China and explore opportunities in international telecommunications.
“This program creates an opportunity to connect Canadian engineering talent with the innovative research happening in both Canada and China,” Huawei Canada president Sean Yang said in a statement.
Leach is the only student from a Saskatchewan institution selected for the program. The other 18 come from institutions across the country, including the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo. Launched last year, the Seeds for the Future program provides students with opportunities to visit Huawei’s facilities and meet with its scientists and researchers.
Since 2011, the telecommunications giant has invested $6 million in Canadian university research projects and programs.
University of Regina team wins robotic competition in the US
CKRM and Modern Farmer — Gerrish Farms is one of the oldest family-owned farms in Indiana, but it may also be ground zero for a movement that could bring sweeping changes to the future of agriculture: autonomous robotics.
The inaugural AgBot Challenge at Gerrish Farms attracted hundreds of interested students, engineers, industry partners and robotics enthusiasts who descended upon Rockville, Indiana, to watch teams demonstrate their homemade inventions. The specific challenge was to develop an unmanned seeding robot that could autonomously plant two seed types in half-mile-long rows, all while being constantly tracked from a remote computer.
A team of three fourth-year engineering students from the University of Regina has won top honours in a farm robotic competition in Rockville, Indiana.
Ten teams participated in the AgBot challenge, including two from Saskatchewan.
The challenge was to build a complete robot seeder for corn.
One of the team members, Joshua Friedrick, says it took several months to plan and build the unmanned seeding device. He says the machine was required to seed 12 rows, half a mile long, and provide feedback to the user to be able to change the rate of seeding or the distance between seeds, seed types, and other factors.
The winning entry receives $50,000. A second team entered in the competition included Regina engineer Nathan Muchowski.
This was the first event in a planned three-year series, each one targeting a different farm management need that the student teams and entrepreneurs have to solve.
U of R students’ work highlighted at Project Day
Regina Leader-Post —Fourth-year engineering students at the University of Regina showcased dozens of final-year design projects at Project Day 2016. The conference-style event included sessions in which the senior students presented their projects and displayed them for the public. Here are a handful of those designs, projects and inventions:
EEG-Based Drowsy Driving Alert System - Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as impaired driving, and Jesse Schmitz and Frank Elechi hope their project could help change that.
The EEG detects electrical activity in the brain and determines whether the subject is relaxed, focused or drowsy.
By frequently checking the readings, drivers — such as long-haul truckers — can determine when they are becoming too tired to safely stay on the road.
Human Powered Kitchen Mixer - Developing countries often don’t have the benefit of reliable power, which hampers the work of kitchens and bakeries. Students Syed Mehroz Ali, Christopher Chmielewski and Ibim Inko-Tariah are looking to simplify that process through their human-powered kitchen mixer, which allows a person to pedal the device like a bicycle.
The invention allows bakeries to increase productivity through mechanization and human power, since lack of funds and unreliable electricity often prevent the purchase or use of kitchen appliances.
Hydraulic Hose Builder - With hydraulic hose a common item in agriculture, mining and construction, students Micheal Tymiak and Ben McVicar set out to find a simpler and quicker way of attaching fittings to the ends on hoses — currently a largely manual process. The prototype is described as portable, light, versatile and easy to use, cutting down significantly on the time it takes to work with the hose. Tymiak and McVicar say the design also cuts down on wrist injuries from repetitive manual hose installation.
EZ Shot: Hockey Puck Return System - For hockey players looking to practise shooting and receiving, collecting those spent pucks is a thing of the past — should the prototype designed by Josh Hextall, Tyler Kenny and Wesley Taylor catch on.
The trio describes the prototype as lightweight, portable, easy to assemble and operable off a cordless power supply, with pass speeds between 32 and 64 kilometres per hour. While there is more work to be done in terms of perfecting the system, it is intended to be used by both adults and kids.
De Beers eyes diamond exploration in northern Saskatchewan
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - The world’s largest diamond mining company has entered into a multi-million-dollar agreement to look for crystallized carbon in northern Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin. De Beers Canada Inc. optioned land claims south of Lake Athabasca from CanAlaska Uranium Ltd., and can now explore and drill 75 “kimberlite-style targets” identified in the 2011 Saskatchewan Geological Survey. Kimberlite is a volcanic rock famous for containing diamonds. A kimberlite target is a geological formation —described as a “gas volcano” — extending more than 100 kilometres below ground that can propel diamonds close to the surface.
Under the agreement, De Beers can invest up to $20.4 million in four progressive stages spread over seven years. Each investment would earn the global diamond giant a progressively larger stake in the project, up to a total of 90 per cent.
If it chooses to proceed, De Beers will conduct a detailed airborne survey, sample for diamond indicators near the targets and then “drill test” prioritized targets, the Vancouver-based uranium company said. CanAlaska can participate as a joint venture partner.
Fortune’s fortunes expand as electric car market grows
Fortune Minerals press release - esla Motors’ exotic electric cars have down-to-earth importance for Fortune Minerals Limited. The company owns a vertically integrated gold-cobalt-bismuth-copper development, consisting of a planned mine and concentrator in the Northwest Territories and refinery near Saskatoon to process concentrates from the mine to higher value products.
Tesla Motors made automotive history on March 31, 2016 with the launch of its Model 3 electric vehicle, receiving 325,000 pre-orders of these cars in the first week.
This heightened demand for high-performance batteries is good news for Fortune Minerals, one of the few companies in the world with the potential to produce battery-grade cobalt.
The project has already been assessed in a positive feasibility study and has received its environmental assessment approvals in the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan.
Refinery launches massive water recycling facility
Co-Op Refinery Complex press release - Oil and water don’t usually mix but they did at the Co-Op Refinery Complex (CRC) in Regina as Co-Op officials announced the completion of CRC’s Wastewater Improvement Project (WIP).
WIP is aimed at making CRC’s operations more environmentally sustainable by reducing the amount of fresh water used in its operations and limiting the amount of outgoing wastewater.
Construction of the facility began in the fall of 2014. With a price tag exceeding $300 million, WIP is one of the largest private sector megaprojects in the province’s history. WIP uses state-of-the-art biological technology to recycle 65 per cent of the refinery’s wastewater, allowing it to reduce its use of fresh water by nearly 30 per cent.
Following CRC’s Section V expansion, the refinery’s water use rose to 2,125 US gallons per minute (GPM). Now, with WIP fully operational, water use is expected to decline to 1,600 GPM. The reduction is the equivalent of the water use of 3,100 households.
In addition, WIP will reduce strain on the city’s wastewater treatment facilities.BACK TO TOP
Sinkhole woes in Saskatoon
Saskatoon StarPhoenix and CTV - Oil and water don’t usually mix but they did at the Co-Op Refinery Complex (CRC) in Regina as Co-Op Potholes aren’t often a topic of academic debate but the massive sinkhole on Saskatchewan Crescent in Saskatoon has everyone talking.
Ian Fleming, P.Eng., a Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the U of S, said the banks of the South Saskatchewan River are littered with similar slides, adding the Saskatchewan Crescent slope failure is no different than any occurring outside of the city.
“Landslides are very, very common in the deposits of this part of the world,” he said. Fleming said the geotechnical professionals in Saskatoon are “second to none,” worldwide and are very capable of assessing what — if anything — can be done.
“While geotechnical engineers can’t always make everything perfect for those who have built property in places that are prone to sliding, certainly a rigorous evaluation can help us to understand what we can and can’t do to avoid making things worse.
But University of Saskatchewan Geology Professor Brian Pratt, P.Geo., disagrees. He says rebuilding the road on Saskatchewan Crescent, which has collapsed 2 more metres since last week, would be an ongoing task for years to come.
Mayor Don Atchison said last week engineers would be brought in to evaluate the slump and come up with a solution to fix the collapse. He said rebuilding work will likely begin in the late summer or early fall. Pratt says attempting to fix the road would be a waste of money. “Probably no amount of engineering is going to save this street,” Pratt said.
500 jobs lost in Sask as Cameco shuts uranium mine
The Canadian Press - An oversupply of uranium around the world, caused in part by the shutdown of nuclear facilities in Japan, has resulted in Cameco suspending its Rabbit Lake uranium operation in northern Saskatchewan.
The company announced that 500 jobs will be lost at the non-union mine and about 85 at its US operations, including employees and long-term contractors.
Company CEO Tim Gitzel said the mine was old and small compared to the company’s two large mines in the province, which each produce as much as 9.7 million kilograms of uranium a year. Rabbit Lake only produced about 1.8 million pounds.
In addition, he said the market has been soft for about five years since a 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown at three reactors in Fukushima, Japan, with uranium selling for about two-thirds less than it did before the accident.
Cameco said it will offer employees exit packages and will consider relocating workers to other Cameco facilities and job-sharing options. About 150 people will be kept on at Rabbit Lake to maintain the facilities and do environmental monitoring and reclamation.
Small reactors could be “game-changer” for Saskatchewan: SaskPower VP
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - SaskPower has no plans to build a nuclear power plant within the next decade, but small modular reactors (SMRs) could be a “game-changer” for the province in the long term, according to the Crown corporation’s Vice President of Transmission.
“(It is) something we’re looking at,” Tim Eckel said in an address to the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting, held in Saskatoon.
Traditional nuclear power plants have a generating capacity of at least 600 megawatts (MW), which makes them unsuitable for Saskatchewan’s comparatively small electric grid, which currently has a maximum capacity of 4,400 MW, Eckel said.
If a nuclear plant responsible for producing a sizable portion of the province’s power went off-line, the demand for electricity could suddenly outstrip supply, leading to problems, he said.
However, SMRs with a generating capacity of between 300 and 400 MW — slightly smaller than SaskPower’s big coal- and natural gas-fired plants — would likely make sense in Saskatchewan, Eckel added.
In a 2008 feasibility study, Bruce Power Limited Partnership, which operates a nuclear plant northwest of Toronto, said Saskatchewan will likely require at least 1 000 MW of nuclear generation capacity by 2020. A plant north of Saskatoon would likely cost between $8 and $10 billion, but contribute $240 million annually to the provincial economy and create 1,000 permanent jobs over its 60-year lifespan, the study said.
A 2014 study conducted at the University of Saskatchewan found that 50.3 per cent of Saskatchewan residents had a positive impression of nuclear power generation, while 22.9 per cent had a negative impression and 18.5 per cent reported no opinion on the subject.
Several companies in the United States, China and other countries are developing SMRs.