NEWS FROM THE FIELD
US interest in CCS
Regina Leader-Post - Delegates from the United States were in Saskatchewan in late September to tour the carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility at Boundary Dam 3 in Estevan.
Rachel McCormick, head of the energy and environment section at the Embassy of Canada in Washington, D.C., says there are lots of conversations taking place down south about the technology, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by producing cleaner coal.
“SaskPower is seen as a world leader in the sense that this is the first of its kind and that leadership has been recognized,” she said.
Samantha Gross, a fellow for energy and climate issues at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. said CCS is “situation-specific” with where it will work.
She characterized Saskatchewan as a “particularly good place to start with carbon capture and storage” because there is a local coal supply, a local coal industry and someone purchasing the CO2 resulting from the CCS technology.
“It’s great to see the technology get started,” she said, later adding there are a “suite of solutions to get to where we need to go” when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases.
Hydroelectric project on hold
CBC Saskatchewan - SaskPower is pausing its development of the Tazi Twé hydroelectric project near Black Lake, Sask., due to a decline in the projected demand for power in the region.
Demand for power was projected to grow at a rate of four to five per cent annually in northern Saskatchewan. Those predictions were recently decreased to one to two per cent per year.
In the fall of 2015, nearly two-thirds of the band members who voted said “yes” to going ahead with the project. It was set to add 50 megawatts of power to the provincial grid and would have been the first new hydro project in the province in more than 30 years.
The hydroelectric project could bring $1.3B to the northern First Nation.
About 1,600 people live in the remote community, which is 100 kilometres south of the border between Saskatchewan and the NWT.
SaskPower said it can continue to meet demand in the area with its current infrastructure.
The Crown corporation said it has invested $34 million in the project over the past five years in studies and project development.
The proposed $630-million water diversion project would have been a partnership between the community and SaskPower, the province’s electrical utility. The project had initially been expected to begin construction by late 2016 or 2017.
Gold mine expansion
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - The new owner of Saskatchewan’s only gold mine is planning a seven-year, $90 million expansion it hopes will boost production, cut operating costs and extend the operation’s lifespan into the mid-2020s.
SSR Mining Inc.’s planned investment in the Seabee gold operation, which is about 125 kilometres northeast of La Ronge, is “really exciting,” said the president of the Saskatchewan Mining Association.
“I think the $90 million . . . that they’re looking at really sends a strong signal that they’re looking at reinvesting in that whole area for the long term. It’s really significant,” Pam Schwann said.
SSR Mining acquired the operation — which consists of two underground mines, Seabee and Santoy, and a mill — as part of its $450 million friendly takeover of Saskatoon-based Claude Resources Inc. in May 2016.
The company said in a preliminary economic assessment that the expansion could boost the mine’s annual production by about a third compared to record-setting 2016 levels while cutting operational costs by about nine per cent.
While the company’s expansion plans — which are not expected to create a significant number of new jobs — could be affected by fluctuations in the price of gold, it doesn’t foresee any issues.
Despite never having a long life expectation, the Seabee operation has been “slugging it out” since it entered production in 1992 and is today a “long-term success story” for the province’s mining industry, Schwann said.
“I think it might also signal to some of the other gold producers out there or gold exploration companies that Saskatchewan is a place where you can profitably have a gold mining operation.”
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.
No end in sight for Quill Lakes flood victims
Globe and Mail - For more than 12 years, farmers around east-central Saskatchewan’s Quill Lakes have watched the waters rise and their profits fall from flooding that shows no signs of stopping. And as nature takes its toll on the bottom line, their very way of life is under threat too.
The Quill Lakes – three lakes connected by creeks – have merged and risen by more than seven metres since 2005, engulfing more than 40,000 acres of private farmland and 56,000 acres of Crown land, estimates Kerry Holderness, Chair of the Quill Lakes Watershed Association. At first, the rise was attributed to heavy rainfalls – specifically in 2011 and 2014. But Mr. Holderness said it’s now recognized that the Quill Lakes are in what’s called a “wet cycle” and could remain at this level for between 10 and 25 years. Last year alone, the watershed group reported that farmers lost a combined $10.9-million of profit from crops lost to the flood waters. And the losses will continue to mount. The reality is that many who farmed in that area will never see their land again, and even if they do, they will never get to farm it: The high saline content of the water, caused by high evaporation levels that leave the water concentrated in dissolved salts and minerals, will render the land unusable for long after the water recedes. The rising waters are part of a natural variation where the Quill Lakes “normally just fill up and get bigger and in a normal dry, hot period they become smaller and they’ve cycled like that for centuries,” said Professor John Pomeroy, the director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Hydrology and a Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change. He also said within the past 70 years, the eastern Prairies have had more concentrated rainfall and more winter rains, which create more runoff – both of which Environment Canada connects to climate change – and “farmers have been dramatically draining wetland sloughs in their lands into Quill Lakes.” Prof. Pomeroy approves of regulations that allow the Saskatchewan Water Agency to shut down all unapproved drainage into the Quill Lakes, but said more can be done. Specifically, he sees restoring wetlands in the Quill Lakes basin as a way to reduce inflows into the lakes. A Quill Lakes drainage plan proposed in 2015 could have helped, but was vetoed by the province because of environmental concerns around draining salt water into the Qu’Appelle river system.