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Strengthening Alberta’s bee and honey industry

Canada’s Bee Industry by the Numbers:

Annual honey production exceeds $100 million nationally.

Approximately 475,000 colonies are located in the prairie provinces and they produce 80% of Canada's crop.

Bees, through their pollination of fruit, vegetables and canola, increase agricultural production by two to eight times, with an estimated value of $2 billion dollars annually across Canada.

There are approximately 7,000 beekeepers in Canada, operating a total of 600,000 colonies of honeybees.

Bees are pollinators of countless crops around the world. Few species rival their importance to food production and the agriculture industry. WD is helping improve our understanding of what bees need to stay healthy with an investment in the new National Bee Diagnostic Centre.

Located at the Beaverlodge Research Farm, the Centre will make Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) and the province of Alberta a leader in beekeeping diagnostic technology. The funding covers capital expenses, including the assembly of a three-piece modular and mobile laboratory – the only one of its kind in Canada.

"This is the ideal location for us," said the Centre’s Director, Bruce Rutley. "The College already has the only commercial beekeeping training program in the country and the leading bee researchers."


Photo of Peace River Member of Parliament, Chris Warkentin, announcing funding towards Grande Prairie Regional College to establish the National Bee Diagnostic Centre.
Peace River MP, Chris Warkentin, announces funding towards Grande Prairie Regional College to establish the National Bee Diagnostic Centre.

The need for comprehensive diagnostic services for bees recently assumed an unprecedented level of urgency with the advent of "colony collapse disorder," a poorly understood and sometimes dramatic decline in bee populations across North America and Europe.

Addressing this problem is crucial to keeping Western Canada’s beekeeping industry healthy and competitive, which is exactly what this project is helping to do.

The Centre will focus on the detection and diagnosis of diseases, provide valuable data to bee researchers, and help ensure beekeepers meet government regulations. By performing hundreds of tests each year for Canada’s 6,700 commercial beekeepers, the Centre will also help ensure the health of bee populations across the country.

Ensuring economic growth and safety of resource extraction

Photo of Left to right: Dr. Francisco Alhanati, Acting Managing Director of C-FER Technologies; Brian Wagg, Manager of New Technology Initiatives for C-FER Technologies; MP Mike Lake; and Mel Johnson, TransCanada Pipelines.
Left to right: Dr. Francisco Alhanati, Acting Managing Director of C-FER Technologies; Brian Wagg, Manager of New Technology Initiatives for C-FER Technologies; MP Mike Lake; and Mel Johnson, TransCanada Pipelines.

There aren’t many places where industry can test a natural gas pipeline, but the Centre for Frontier Engineering Research (C-FER) Technology’s operation at the Edmonton Research Park can do just that. Now, thanks to support from WD, the list of tests the Park can accommodate is getting longer.

"The funds from WD have increased our capacity to match the growing need for tests in extreme environments in the Arctic and undersea," said Brian Wagg, Manager of New Technology Initiatives at C-FER. "This is giving Canadian industry the chance to get at the gas that people know is there, but has been trapped because of a lack of transport infrastructure."

Arctic and subsea environments impose great stress on pipelines. C-FER’s labs allow engineers to bend and pull lengths of pipe to find out how cracks will behave under the most trying conditions on land, and test whether they can tolerate the high pressures of the seabed. Without that knowledge, assuring regulators that pipelines are safe in the far north could be difficult.

"Our government’s investment in this initiative will support C-FER Technologies in continuing to meet the growing demand for innovative technologies, materials and processes," said MP Mike Lake.

C-FER is a not-for-profit applied research organization that helps manufacturers and service companies carry out full-scale testing of large components used in undersea, arctic and oil sands operations before taking them to the field. Its testing facility is unique in Canada and is one of only a handful of such facilities in the world.

The WD support is also expected to help generate spin-off business and enable companies to more efficiently develop oil and gas resources across Canada.

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Enhancing competitiveness in the cranberry industry

Photo of workers harvesting a crop of cranberries in Delta, BC
Workers harvest a crop of cranberries in Delta, BC.

The vast majority of the cranberries grown in Canada – and about 12 per cent of North America’s entire supply – come from the lower Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island. Protecting and expanding that industry is the mission of a new research centre funded in part by a contribution from WD.

The Cranberry Research Centre, located in Delta, B.C., will be the first of its kind in Canada, and just the fourth on the continent. Once complete, researchers will experiment with both established and new varieties of cranberries in hopes of increasing yields.

"We’ll be trying to determine which varieties have the best characteristics to grow in our climate and environment," said Todd May, President of the BC Cranberry Research Society, which manages the new facility. "What we’re building should be able to test just about everything that could affect a cranberry farm."

"Cranberry farmers play a vital role in keeping the region’s economy strong and creating jobs," said Parliamentary Secretary Kerry-Lynne Findlay,. "Our Government recognizes the importance of safeguarding and strengthening this industry, which in turn will bring the potential for job creation and economic growth."

The creation of the research centre will bring both short- and long-term economic benefits to the region: the construction of the facility will create immediate local jobs and, further down the road, the B.C. Cranberry Growers Association estimates that for every 80,000 pounds of berries grown annually in BC, one full time job is created or maintained.

Helping the environment by burning waste

Helping the environment by burning waste

Through an innovative, groundbreaking technology, wood and agricultural waste material can now be burned to create a form of charcoal called biochar, which can be used to store carbon in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

With an investment from WD, a team at Lakeland College in Alberta is preparing to apply the technique on a wider scale. Biochar is the end product of pyrolysis and a soil additive that can help soil retain water and nutrients and increase crop productivity. It can even enhance revegetation rates on reclaimed land. Though the chemistry of pyrolysis is well understood, the industrial application of what is essentially a form of charcoal is still a relatively new concept to most farmers.

What is pyrolysis?

The burning of wood and other organic materials without oxygen is known as pyrolysis. Like combustion, it is a high-temperature chemical process. Unlike combustion, it takes place in the absence of oxygen and so does not produce carbon dioxide. The main end product of pyrolysis is charcoal, or biochar, which when buried, stores carbon in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

"People have played with this for a while. Our goal is to get some hard numbers on what’s feasible," said Melvin Mathison, Dean of Environmental Sciences at Lakeland College. "It’s got a lot of potential."

Mathison said that several companies have wood-based by-products that don’t have a lot of economic uses, but his team is working hard to turn that waste into a revenue stream.

The funding is being used to purchase a pair of mobile pyrolysis units, which will convert wood and other agricultural wastes into biochar at a rate of one tonne a day. The goal is to help landowners convert their agricultural waste into biochar and apply it to their fields.

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Composites: The way of the future in manufacturing

Composites are found everywhere, from bathtubs and shower stalls to gas stations and amusement park water slides. And composite technology is behind many fascinating advances; for example, research involving reinforced carbon and glass fibres is producing significant innovations that are revolutionizing aerospace, shipbuilding, sports equipment and industrial products.

And with both of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers-  Boeing and Airbus- shifting away from traditional materials in aircraft manufacturing in favour of carbon fibre reinforced composites, it’s clear that composites are the way of the future. In fact, composite materials make up over 50% of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

WD recognizes that Western Canada’s composite industry, researchers and service providers could use a little of that kind of synergy themselves. To help with this, the department has contributed more than $9.8 million to the creation of a Pan-Western Composites Research Network.

"Investments like this are key in furthering our goal of creating jobs and growth," said Minister Yelich. "It will go a long way toward creating the conditions that will help western Canadian aerospace, automotive, and marine manufacturing sectors succeed. Businesses in those sectors are increasingly using composite materials because they represent a durable, light-weight, lower cost alternative to use in their manufacturing processes."

The new network, led by Professor Anoush Poursartip, a composites expert who has received global recognition for his work on process design software and the aerospace industry, will be based at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Network nodes will be set up at the University of Victoria, the University of the Fraser Valley, and at the Composites Innovation Centre in Winnipeg. Additional nodes are expected to come online very soon in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Staff will work with businesses at each node, distributing important information, training, and networking.

What are Composites?

The guiding principle of composite material is creating strength through diversity. Composites, which are also called reinforced plastics, can be used to create a vast array of high quality products with significant market demand. They are the combination of two or more substances to create something that does the job better than either part can do on its own.

Poursartip said composites present both opportunities and challenges.

"When you get it right, you are a hero, and the benefits are huge," he said. "Simply, you can make lighter structures more cheaply. Lighter means less fuel consumption, less environmental impact."

"Other countries are investing significant amounts in the field," added Poursartip. "But we believe the Pan-Western Composites Research Network is different. We’re creating something that bridges the gap between academic research and commercial development."

Poursartip said that already, the network has had "huge buy-in" from the western Canadian industry, and international firms have also expressed strong interest. But the arrival of the new funding marked a critical turning point for the network. "WD is really being visionary in understanding the need of the composite industry," he said.

Sean McKay, Executive Director of Winnipeg’s Composites Innovation Centre, said the network will help the West prepare for the challenges of industry competition as it will further industry’s understanding of composite manufacturing processes.

McKay emphasized the importance of assimilating the necessary science and fundamental understanding of manufacturing issues into everyday operations to reduce defects and improve efficiencies. These measures are "essential to remain competitive in today’s global market place," said McKay.

The network complements other ongoing initiatives aimed at developing and demonstrating composite manufacturing technologies in Canada, said McKay. One example is the Canadian Composites Manufacturing R&D consortium, which was created to promote national collaboration on composite manufacturing and is proving how partnerships can create greater opportunities for success.