at the Frontiers of Science and Technology
Producing Designer Feeds from Biofuel By-products
The burgeoning biofuels industry is poised to make a major contribution to greenhouse gas emission reductions—if scientists can come up with a way to add value to the by-products.
Agriculture and bioresources professor Bernard Laarveld is working to boost the economic return of biofuels by developing designer feeds.
Laarveld leads the U of S Feed Technology Research Facility, a $12.6-million initiative to explore the challenges and opportunities in bioresources, such as making high-value animal feed from low-value crops or biofuel by-products. With support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, the facility will catalyze collaboration and enhance the international profile of U of S research in bioresources.
The amount of by-product from one billion litres of ethanol – well within the capacity of Saskatchewan alone – is 850,000 tonnes of distillers’ dried grains and solubles. Increased canola crushing capacity for biodiesel will generate more than one million tonnes of high protein canola meal for animal feed use per year.
The Canadian livestock feed industry is worth more than $5 billion a year. Pet food sales are worth another $5 billion. By developing animal feed from by-products, Laarveld and colleagues are helping to increase the feasibility and profitability of biodiesel and ethanol industries—and creating new market opportunities in the process.
Improving Feed Safety, Animal Health and the Environment
Feed safety and wholesome nutrition for livestock and pets are increasingly important to livestock producers, consumers and pet owners. Laarveld and colleagues are working to improve feed safety and to minimize the risks from infectious diseases, feed toxicity, and diseases transmitted from animals to humans.
Laarveld studies how food products can be better metabolized, and is working to develop feeds with optimum nutritional value as well as nutraceutical benefits, which strengthen animals’ immune systems and benefit human health.
Nutraceuticals in food products include omega 3 in eggs and milk, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—a known cancer fighter—in dairy products and beef.
Breeding Crops to Benefit the Environment
U of S researchers are also breeding new varieties of crops with improved feed qualities, such as higher starch content and low phytate levels in grains to reduce the environmental impact of phosphorous excretion in livestock manure. Since the addition of flax or canola oils can reduce methane production (animal flatulence) in ruminants, feed research can also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Laarveld, his colleagues and students are motivated by the incredible potential of feed technology research—and by the prospect of improving the health of animals, humans and our environment.
A Nano-Coating of Protection
Qiaoqin Yang is developing nanostructure carbon coatings to dramatically improve wear resistance of surgical implants such as artificial joints.
Each year, more than 50,000 joint replacement surgeries are performed in Canada, and with an aging population, the number is on the rise. Increasing wear resistance is key to improving the durability and performance of artificial joints.
Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Nanoengineering Coating Technologies, Yang is one of several U of S scientists working at the forefront of nanotechnology. She is working with Akira Hirose, CRC in Plasma Science, and other colleagues at the U of S and the Canadian Light Source synchrotron to structure new carbon-based composites on materials surfaces at a molecular level.
These new nano-structured surfaces are extremely hard and durable, and promise superior wear resistance. For patients, this means fewer surgeries, improved quality of life, and reduced exposure to the toxic effects of wear.
X-Ray Visionaries Biophysicist
Dean Chapman is using synchrotron light to develop X-ray technology that will provide unprecedented image quality and lead to better diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer and arthritis.
Images in conventional X-rays are produced when dense tissues such as bone absorb radiation as it passes through the body. Soft tissues such as lungs and cartilage are more difficult to image because they do not absorb radiation as readily. Instead, the X-rays are diffracted, or scattered.
This scattering is exactly what Chapman, Canada Research Chair in X-ray Imaging, is harnessing with diffraction-enhanced imaging (DEI). Chapman worked with Bill Thomlinson, now executive director of the Canadian Light Source (CLS), and colleagues in the U.S. and Europe to develop DEI.
Sharper Image Brings Tiny Tumours to Light
With DEI, scientists measure how synchrotrongenerated X-rays diffract when they pass through various tissues, creating highresolution images of muscles and organs that clearly reveal details such as the extent of cancer tumours in breast tissue.
DEI can provide 33 times greater image contrast and dramatically less radiation exposure than regular X-rays. The technique promises better cancer detection, particularly in mammography.
Chapman is the project leader of the $17- million BioMedical Imaging and Therapy (BMIT) beamline at the CLS. Once complete, BMIT will be unique in North America, one of only three such facilities in the world, and the only biomedical imaging beamline located on a university campus.
BMIT research will involve U of S researchers in human medicine, veterinary medicine and pharmaceuticals, and more than 60 of their colleagues across Canada.
Revealing the Properties of Complex Materials
Understanding the electronic structure of matter and molecular systems is fundamental to the design of new materials for a wide range of applications—from biosensor devices and improved nano-electric circuits to longerlasting coatings for human implants.
As Canada Research Chair in Materials Science with Synchrotron Radiation, physicist Alexander Moewes uses synchrotron light to illuminate the properties of new and exotic materials.
His goal: design materials with novel electronic, optical, magnetic, photochemical, and catalytic properties.
Moewes and his “beam team” use an array of techniques to reveal intriguing properties of materials. For example, they have shown that gamma silicon nitride, an exotic material that rivals diamonds in hardness, is a semiconductor. Though difficult to manufacture, the material could someday be used in ultra-durable electronics.
The beam team collaborates with scientists in Japan, Russia and the U.S., combining information on electronic structure, chemical states and advanced synthesis methods to custom-design materials with specific properties.
With Canada Foundation for Innovation funding, Moewes is supervising construction of an endstation at the new REIXS beamline at the Canadian Light Source.
When complete, this state-of-the-art facility will offer scientists around the world another powerful tool for probing the properties of matter.
The beam team from left to right: David Muir, Adrian Hunt, Mikhail Yablonskikh, Regan Wilks, Alexander Moewes, Mark Boots