Beyond the harbour of Lord's Cove in Newfoundland, the waves rolling in from the ocean have been known to rise up to three storeys high. For a group of researchers at the College of the North Atlantic, these powerful forces of nature hold the possibility of a better way to build fish farms and perhaps revive the fish industry in the small coastal village of Lord Cove on the Burin Peninsula.
The college, which has 17 campuses throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, has launched a $3.5-million project to explore the feasibility of an on-shore aquaculture farm that uses wave power to pump ocean water into fish tanks. The college is building a Wave Energy Research Centre on Lord's Cove to house this and other wave power projects.
Michael Graham, the centre's research project administrator, says wave-powered aquaculture projects typically use the energy from waves to generate electricity for water pumps. What makes CNA's project unique is that, instead of turning wave power into electricity, the direct force of incoming waves will be used to move pistons up and down to drive the pump and bring the water to a series of tanks onshore.
CNA's groundbreaking project may come as a surprise to many Canadians, who often don't think of cutting-edge research when they think of colleges. Yet CNA's wave power project is just one example of the hundreds of innovative research projects led by Canadian colleges and polytechnic schools.
According to the Canadian Association of Community Colleges, about 13,600 students and 1,600 faculty and staff engaged in applied research last year – an increase from the previous year of 63 per cent more students and 34 per cent more faculty and staff researchers.
The association also counted 56 per cent more college-run research facilities, for a total of 305 research centres and labs. Innovation in the country's colleges and polytechnic runs the gamut, covering almost 450 areas of research specialization in natural resources, energy, environment, health, information and communication technologies, manufacturing and social innovation.
Innovative thinking is certainly driving CNA's aquaculture project. In addition to its wave-activated pistons, the Lord Cove fish farm will feature an "integrated multi-trophic" design intended to create an artificial and highly efficient ecosystem. To build this ecosystem, Mr. Graham and his team will put different marine species in a specific order of tanks. The idea is that any uneaten feed and wastes in the first tank will be consumed by species in the next tank – a pattern that continues as the pumped-in water moves through the series of tanks before going back to the ocean.
"So out of one bag of feed, you've grown several species and increased the profitability of the farm," says Mr. Graham.
Other college innovations:
British Columbia Institute of Technology, Burnaby
At the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Burnaby near Vancouver, researchers have developed an infant harness called the Hug that can be used to manage intravenous lines and other medical tubing.
The wearable device –which straps around a baby's chest and goes over one shoulder – keeps all tubes and lines together and away from the neck to minimize the risk of strangulation and tangled lines.
"It's safer and much more comfortable for the child," says Thom Bellaire, a BCIT research analyst who led the Hug project. "It also reduces the amount of time the nurse has to spend managing the lines and it drastically reduces the stress on parents."
In designing the Hug, Mr. Bellaire and his team had to meet several criteria, including allowing healthcare providers to place it on the left or right side of a child's body, minimal material to allow for freedom of movement and ease of changing clothing and diapers, and enough stretch to fit different sizes. The material also had to be disposable yet strong enough to last several days of wear.
Mr. Bellaire and his team continue to tweak the Hug. In the meantime, BCIT is looking for a business partner who can help advance the Hug to commercial production so it can be placed in hospitals and on babies.
Yukon College, Whitehorse
Sift through a bag of compost and chances are, you'll find bits of plastic mixed in with the good stuff. But thanks to the Plastovac – a machine developed with the help of the Yukon Research Centre at Yukon College – gardeners and commercial users could soon be laying down organic-waste-turned-fertilizer with barely a trace of plastic.
"It's amazing how much plastic is in compost," says Stephen Mooney, a director at the Yukon Research Centre. "There are machines out there that are made to separate the plastic from compost, but they're very expensive and they remove only a small percentage of the plastic."
Plastics come in different shapes and sizes, making them hard to remove using conventional "air classification" methods – essentially using air to winnow plastic from organic matter. The Plastovac, designed and built by Garret Gillespie, owner of Boreal Compost Enterprise in Whitehorse, uses vibration to push plastic to the top of the compost heap for easy removal.
Yukon College provided funding, product development expertise, and a few students from its welding program to help Mr. Gillespie refine the original Plastovac prototype, which he built from scrap yard material at a cost of about $12,000. The latest Plastovac model can now remove up to 95 per cent of plastic, says Mr. Gillespie.
"The implications of this machine are quite large," he says. "We have a major global problem with plastic in the environment and the (Plastovac) presents a highly effective solution for cleaning it up."
Seneca College, Toronto
ARM chips may not be a household name in Canada. Yet these super-performing but highly energy-efficient semiconductor chips are inside many electronic products people use everyday, from smart phones and tablets to cameras and flat-screen TVs.
The world's leading chip makers are now starting to produce the next generation of ARM chip technology – powerful microprocessors designed for use in servers that typically store and process large amounts of data, including data on the Internet. But ensuring this emerging technology does what it's supposed to do requires the right software. That's what a group of researchers at Seneca College have been working on over the last several months.
"What we are doing is taking existing (server) software that runs on Intel chips and making that run well on ARM chips," says Chris Tyler, industrial research chair at Seneca College. "We now have it working well with the current generation of ARM chips and anticipate having it running on the next generation of chips by the middle of 2013."
According to a recent article in Scientific American magazine, there are an estimated 500,000 data centres worldwide today hosting more than 32 million individual servers – numbers that add up to hundreds of millions of kilowatt hours in energy consumption and thousands of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Putting ARM microprocessors in servers would drastically reduce this immense carbon footprint.
"You're looking at a 90 per cent reduction in energy usage, cooling and physical space for the equipment," says Mr. Tyler. "When you look at large data centres such as those run by Amazon, Google and Facebook, those kinds of reductions are worth millions."