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Tuesday, 15 December 2015 09:46

Meet Ontario engineers Mark, Micheal, and Doug

Mark Armstrong, P.Eng. (20 year member) received his Agricultural Engineering degree at the University of Guelph. He founded Armco Solutions Inc. that specializes mainly in two areas; energy savings ideas for new and more efficient technologies in agricultural, commercial and industrial applications; and solutions for indoor air quality in the same sectors. Mark’s advice for younger members is to ‘Find a niche that the industry needs, but not everyone else is doing. Work on expressing your ideas and remember that presentation is very important.

Michael Toombs, MSc., P.Eng. (27 year member) received his Engineering degree at Concordia University and his Masters at the University of Guelph. He works for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs at Guelph. He has held several positions with OMAFRA, but now is Director of Research and Innovation focusing on research priorities for the agricultural, food and rural affairs sectors and on research infrastructure renewal. Two examples; the new $25 m Elora dairy research facility, a joint project between the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph, and the Ontario dairy; and the new $10 m research greenhouse at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Mike’s advice for younger members; ‘Be resourceful, proactive and bring more than the technical to the table’.

Doug Trivers, P.Eng. (29 year member) received his Engineering degree at the University of Guelph. He is the owner/operator of Dayson Agricultural Ventilation Ltd. (daysonav.com). Doug was raised on a small Ontario mixed farm and developed an aptitude for “things mechanical” and agricultural. He decided on Engineering since he was good at math and science. After graduation he worked as an OMAFRA Livestock Energy Specialist; great training to learn the importance of customer service and gain skills in control strategies and energy management. He took a leave after 10 years to test the private sector, and as the ”Remington” story goes “I liked it so much, I bought the Company (20 years ago)”. He provides turn-key ventilation systems to growers for on-farm storage of mainly potatoes, carrots, onions, rutabagas and squash. He specializes in ‘free-cooling’, taking advantage of the cool air available in Canadian evenings and winters. His advice for new members is simple…’READ; a wealth of knowledge is available in trade publications and on association websites to assist learners or entrepreneurs’.

Up until recently, dairy farmers have been hindered in quickly detecting possible reasons for a reduction in milk production among their herd. One such reason is sub-clinical ketosis (SCK) when an affected cow appears to be well but only becomes observably under stress when SCK becomes full ketosis affecting major organs, or it could be other metabolic diseases. The only true method of detecting these abnormalities was by taking vials of the affected cow’s blood and sending samples to a lab for diagnosis. However, Bionanolab of the School of Engineering has advanced this procedure by putting the ability to diagnose a cow’s health in the hands of farmers themselves, thereby saving crucial time in detecting certain bovine metabolic irregularities, and thereby providing earlier treatment.

By detecting certain enzymes in blood, the newly developed device can pick out these biomarkers present in miniscule amounts and help identify diseases. A combination of the device’s unique composition of electrodes, a plant enzyme, and the correct amount of electric current were discovered by the Bionano research team to be the winning formula used collectively in the device known as a “Gryphsens”.

A New Tool on the Farm

Through the implementation of a hand held sensor, a dairy farmer can rapidly detect whether a cow has sub-clinical ketosis or other metabolic diseases through a small amount of blood being taken and having the sample analyzed in real-time through interfacing with the Internet by a smart phone. Such technology not only allows a dairy farmer to rapidly determine a cause for a reduction in milk production, but it also allows early detection of metabolic diseases that can then be treated, facilitating a cow to return to its normal milk volume levels in a shorter period of time. The cost saving of such early detection is substantial for small and larger dairy herds.

In the case of larger dairy herds, this Canadian invention that uses a unique electrochemical measurement of samples can be engineered for use with in-line robotic milking machines to monitor a herd individually, yet collectively, to avoid the repetitive and time-consuming method of testing each cow separately. The sensor, developed at Guelph’s Bionano laboratory of the School of Engineering by a team headed by Dr. Suresh Neethirajan is able to detect minute electrochemical activity in biological fluids that indicate biomarkers for certain irregularities and diseases. These markers flag slightly elevated levels of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA), and a ketone prevalent in cows, β-hydroxybutyrate (BHBA), that at higher levels can both signal the early onset of ketosis and other metabolic diseases.

A Critical Time Line

Historically, the calving period is a stressful time for cows, described as a time of negative energy balance (NEB), when the onset of ketosis or other metabolic diseases are most prominent. Although the levels of NEFA and BHBA are miniscule at the beginning, early detection can reduce complications and a faster recuperation period, otherwise a later detection could lead to fatty liver, ketosis, displaced abomasum (twisted stomach), and inflammation of the uterus or a retained placenta. Dairy farmers are highly cognizant that charting a cow’s NEFA and BHBA levels is the litmus test for the animal’s overall health. One of the great advantages of testing for on-farm dairy cow diseases using our developed biosensor is that it not only significantly reduces the stress on the animals due to relying on a drop of blood instead of vials sent, but also provides instant test results.

The Lab Comes to the Barn

Traditionally, these levels are determined through expensive and lengthy tests performed in laboratories. Through electrochemistry and nanotechnology the University of Guelph’s Bionano team has made it possible for dairy farmers from all scales of operation to ascertain for themselves their herd’s health. Although humans have similar devices for measuring glucose levels for diabetes, the cow’s organism presents a further challenge by having 11 major blood groups versus four. The challenge was developing the sensor’s electrode that could simultaneously detect both NEFA and BHBA in variable metabolic conditions that can include a number of interfering components, which could alter the test results. Ability to detect multiple disease biomarkers from just a droplet of blood sample that could be used by untrained farmers is unique.

A Plant with the Answer

An issue the University of Guelph team had to surmount was the insulating property of GO that hindered the electrochemical function crucial for the biosensor. A particular enzyme from the soybean plant was integral in solving this problem and was incorporated into the dual electrodes. Although lipoxygenase is found in animal and plant species, using soybean lipoxygenase-1 (SLO) was itself a first for catalyzing direct electrochemical oxidation of NEFA in conjunction with graphene oxide nanomaterial. The result is a biosensor that has a dual function of detecting NEFA and BHBA in less than a minute on-site by the dairy farmer using a small sample of whole blood. Dairy cattle are an investment that must be kept in prime condition to maintain optimal production levels, and the Canadian biosensor is the latest tool for dairy farmers and large scale operations to monitor the health of their herds. The dual sensor can be an important part of routine screening used by farmers in the dairy barn. 


Monday, 14 September 2015 14:13

Message from President Sylvio Tessier

sylvioHere we are, and the summer is almost gone...  Did you notice we had a summer this year?  Many odd weather patterns in several regions of the country.  Record heatwave here, flood there, lengthy drought condition...  Speaking of drought, did you know that our colleagues in the South have made headlines through the use of the code of practice ASABE / ICC 802-2014 Landscape Irrigation Sprinkler and Emitter Standard in the context of the exceptional measures put in place by the Government of California about the use of water by residents of communities?  Kudos to our hydrologists whose experience has been used.

Monday, 14 September 2015 14:05

2015 CSBE/SCGAB Awards and Fellows

Congratulations to all the 2015 Awards recipients for their outstanding contributions through work and achievements!

If you arrive in Vancouver by plane, one sight that will probably catch your eye during your short trip from the airport to Downtown Vancouver is collections of timber floating on the Pacific Ocean and the Fraser River. These collections of timbers are known as log booms, used to collect and transport sawlogs and pulp logs (Figure 1). Log booms have been practiced for decades in the coastal region of British Columbia (BC) to move large volumes of timbers from forests to wood manufacturing facilities. Log booms are towed by tugboats hundreds of meters or kilometers to get to their destination. This practice provides forest companies with a cost-efficient mode of transporting and storing harvested timbers before the delivery to wood manufacturing sites.  

Figure 1. Tugboat pushing log boom near Vancouver (Photo by Gordon, Wikimedia Commons)

However, towing log booms in the salt water highway creates a challenge for wood processing facilities. Water transportation exposes wood fibres to chlorine in the water. In addition, soaking sawlogs in the water increases the moisture content in wood fibres. High chlorine and moisture content make these fibres a less attractive feedstock for the residual industry including pulp and paper mills, pellet plants, bioenergy plants (heat and power), animal bedding and landscaping applications. Sawmills in the BC Coast do not usually separate different streams of their byproducts including sawdust, wood shaving and hog fuel as there are no individual markets for their by-products. Mill residues are usually mixed together and the whole mix is regarded as hog fuel. The mix of mill residues results in a large variation in the particle size of fibres in hog fuel (Figure 2). In addition, this hog fuel has a high moisture content (50-70%). The high level of precipitation on the BC Coast also contributes to the high moisture content of hog fuel. In contrast, sawmills in the BC Interior do not mix their mill residues and sell them to various markets based on the quality specifications of their end users. For example, sawdust and wood shavings are the feedstock of choice for pellet production and animal bedding while hog fuel is the raw material for heat and power production as well as landscaping. The separation of residue streams generate more value for forest companies.   

Figure 2. A sample of hog fuel in the Coastal BC (Photo by Paul Adams)

The primary consumer of the coastal hog fuel is the pulp and paper industry. Hog fuel is used as feedstock for power boilers of pulp mills to produce heat and power. However, high moisture content and large portions of fine materials (up to 50% of hog fuel mass) have adversely affected the efficiency of boilers. The efficiency of power boilers usually reaches its lowest level during winter when the moisture content of hog fuel can be as high as 70%. The low efficiency of boilers are usually offset by using natural gas. Reduction in the moisture content and separation of fine materials can provide significant cost savings in the energy profile of the coastal pulp mills.

Altentech™ and SMG Wood Pellet, located in Vancouver with operations in the District of Mission in the Lower Mainland region of BC, have been working for the last seven years to develop technology solutions for the low quality of hog fuel in the BC Coastal region. These solutions include size segregation, grinding/shredding, drying and pelletization. This package of technology solutions would provide the opportunity to maximize the value extracted from large volumes of low quality hog fuel in this region. These solutions would also solve the challenges related to removing mill residues from sawmills sites.

The mission of Altentech™ and SMG Wood Pellet is to create multiple markets for the coastal hog fuel by (1) meeting the quality specifications of the pulp mills by removing the small particle-sized fibres and reducing the moisture content to a range of 30-35% (w.b.), (2) creating a new value stream for small particle-sized hog fuel for applications such as pellet and biofuel production and (3) attracting new businesses and technologies to maximize the residual resource utilization and value in any given geographical area. In addition to hog fuel, these solutions can help to maximize the amount of forest residues extracted from forests and produce a marketable wood fibre from these residues. Most of these forest residues are currently piled at the roadside of harvested forest stands and burned to reduce the fire risk and to avoid the risk of disease and pest infestation.


Figure 3. top photo: pile of hog fuel, bottom photo: Altentech™ dryer (Photos by Mahmood Ebadian, SMG Wood Pellet Plant, Mission, BC)

Altentech™ and SMG Wood Pellet are working closely with interested parties in the region to commercialize these technology solutions including BC Bioenergy Network (BCBN), Mission municipality, local communities, the forest sector and Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group (BBRG) at UBC. Commercialization of these solutions generate social, economic and environmental benefits. Jobs creation for the local communities, new income streams from the coastal hog fuel and forest residues, producing low-carbon solid and liquid biofuels (e.g. pellet, biojet and green diesel) are the values generated by these technology solutions.

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Paul Adams and Larry Taylor of Altentech™ and Dr. Shahab Sokhansanj, the director of BBRG to prepare this news. 

We have extra copies!

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Volume 56 (2014)
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Available at only 60 CAD each (including shipping).

Please contact John Feddes at manager@csbe-scgab.ca  to place your order.

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