Perspectives Newsletter Winter 2020
Vol. 42, no.4 / Posted on March 19, 2020

Chyngyz ErkinbaevNew Faculty Member

I am pleased to introduce the newest professor who joined the Department of Biosystems Engineering at the University of Manitoba in July 2019. Dr. Chyngyz Erkinbaev, Assistant Professor in Smart Technologies in Agriculture and Food Systems at the Department of Biosystems Engineering, University of Manitoba. He pursued education in food process engineering, which led to a globe-spanning career in food processing before landing at the University of Manitoba. He has a number of years of experience from a variety of organizations starting with the food processing company, analytical laboratory, international universities, and research centers around the globe, including Kyrgyz Republic, Thailand, Israel, Switzerland, Japan, Belgium, and Canada.

After completing his Ph.D. studies at the Division of Mechatronics, Biostatistics and Sensors from KU Leuven in Belgium, he moved to Canada and joined the Department of Biosystems Engineering of University of Manitoba as a post-doctoral researcher, where he has utilized his training to develop smart sorting and grading systems based on spectroscopic and imaging techniques for various cereal grains and pulses. His current research interest is developing smart sensing techniques and mathematical models for real-time monitoring quality monitoring of various food products. He believes that smart sensing technologies and associated computational tools will help us to improve efficiency of the entire food cycle and make our agri-food systems more productive, efficient, and sustainable.


Establishment of a “Sustainability-in-Action Facility”

The Department of Biosystems Engineering is pleased to announce the establishment of a Sustainability-in-Action Facility (SIAF) at the University of Manitoba that will provide experiential learning and demonstration opportunities in the areas of sustainability (including northern/urban food production, renewable energy, building practices, and utilization of waste biomass fibre). The goals of the SIAF are to:

  • Enhance sustainability content in undergraduate and graduate courses, both in Biosystems Engineering and potentially across the entire campus, through access to experiential learning activities in the areas of renewable energy (solar, biomass, wind), innovative food production systems within controlled environments, sustainable building practices, and utilization of waste biomass fibre. This goal would be partially achieved by providing space and facilities for undergraduate design projects, undergraduate thesis projects, and extra-curricular design teams working in relevant areas.
  • Enable the University of Manitoba to engage in public education and outreach in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, northern/urban food production, and utilization of waste biomass fibre through open houses, workshops, and media events.
  • Initiate short-term demonstration projects with industry to showcase emerging sustainability technologies.
  • Support innovative research activities in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, northern/urban food production, and utilization of waste biomass fibre.

 At this point, our efforts are focussed on clearing the site of remnants from old research projects and preparing for future opportunities. We are optimistic that the site will be available by the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year (September 2020). Stay tuned as we have more information to share on this exciting new initiative.

Sustainability in Action Facility


UM-agBOT Team

Beginning in the 2018-2019 academic year, the Department of Biosystems Engineering has been home to a student group participating in an annual agBOT competition (held in Purdue University in June 2019). The UM-agBOT team had a successful year at competition, finishing in 3rd place. This year agBOT has been working on two initiatives related to the 2019-2020 competition.

  • GreenVision: The overall goal of the GreenVision project is to develop a fully automated greenhouse system that will allow for the collection of a robust dataset of plant images, which will serve the development of computational models that will support decision-making on the farm.
    • Phase 1:  Computerized Climate Control of the Greenhouse; controlling heaters and A/C for temperature, exhaust fan for moisture/humidity of room/soil, using a smart thermostat, a Raspberry Pi, and some other electronics.
    • Phase 2: Development of Plant Image Data Acquisition System; The system includes a rolling plant bed which moves under a camera. This camera takes pictures automatically every hour storing the plant image data locally for further analysis. This plant image data acquisition system supports the collection of plant images at various heights, angles, and lighting conditions.


  • AgBOT: The student team is modifying the autonomous farm vehicle to make the following improvements over last year’s model. 
    • Safety: improved kill switch that has 1km + radius of transmission
    • Machine Vision Model: Improved trained data set, being gathered from the GreenVision project
    • Mechatronics: Improved speed control, improved steering speed and accuracy, redesigned and manufactured wire harness 
    • Navigation: integration of RTK-GPS and correction data for cm accuracy, as well as navigation packages that control mechatronics systems
    • Camera: Improved machine vision camera systems, and the actual camera mount as to prevent vibrations 

UM agBOT 2

For more information about the UM-agBOT team, please contact this year’s Team Captain, George Dyck, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Waste Biomass Fibres (WBFs) Extraction and their Applications

Textile fibre can be defined as a thin and flexible material whose aspect ratio is >100 using classer’s staple length of 30 mm that can be used to make spun yarn between 15 to 100 tex. These two characteristics alongside strength and ease of extension of a textile fibre are required to be used in apparel and industrial applications (composites, medical, sports, and so forth).

Among the traditional natural fibre sources, cotton is the most commonly used and has the most globally significant demand accounting for 35.7% of the textile market worldwide. However, production of cotton fibre has a significant negative impact on the environment as cotton is considered the most pesticide intensive crop in the world. Also, to produce one kilogram of cotton, about 10,000 litres of water is required. In other words, it takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton t-shirt. Further, cotton crops are responsible for rapid consumption of natural resources and damage to the fertility of the soil.

The share of biomass fibres in global clothing industries is very low (hemp: 0.09%, flax: 1.01%, ramie: 0.28%) due to their insufficient spinning properties for preparation of quality yarn using cotton machineries, lack of suitable large-scale fibre extraction equipment, and costly methods of degumming. Unlike polyester, which is cottonized to make it compatible with the cotton machineries, however, the same research has not been conducted for biomass fibres due to their lack of supply. Only 10% fibre can be extracted from these biomass plants. 

In order to solve the above problems with the currently used fibres, Dr. Mashiur Rahman, a research faculty member, in the Department of Biosystems Engineering at the University of Manitoba and collaborators (Professor Gustaaf Sevenhuysen, Professor Ying Chen, Professor Danny Mann, Professor Nazim Cicek and Professor Robert Duncan) have been investigating the extraction of fibres from waste biomass plants – mainly canola and cattail. Dr. Rahman has discovered the first WBF from the canola stem (shown in Figure 1) in 2015 that resulted in a patent and second WBF from cattail plants using a controlled extraction bath environment (Figure 2). The extraction of canola fibre is carried out manually which is a labour intensive process, however, cattail fibre can be extracted in an alkaline bath and whole cattail leaf is transformed into fibre without any manual operation with a fibre yield of between 40 to 60%.

Figure 1: (a) Virgin canola fibres; (b) Enzyme treated canola fibres

Figure 2: Fibres from cattail plant

Thus far, Dr. Rahman’s research group has identified the optimum extraction parameters for both WBFs and characterized their properties for textile and industrial applications. In this regard, currently one of Drs. Rahman and Mann’s graduate student has successfully manufactured ‘cattail fibre+resin composites’ using existing composite making methods (Figure 3). Further, considering the properties of WBFs, it is possible to use them for many other industrial applications such as slope stabilization (erosion control blanket) and oil spill clean up. Future research on WBFs should concentrate on mechanical extraction of canola fibre and supply of cattail fibre through large-scale harvesting. 

Figure 3: Cattail fibre composite