July • August | juillet • août 2011
Canadian Chemical News | L’Actualité chimique canadienne A Magazine of the Chemical Institute of Canada and its Constituent Societies | Une magazine de l’Institut de chimie du Canada et ses sociétés constituantes
RIDING HERD ON CO2 CAPTURE IN ALBERTA E-WASTE NOT, WANT NOT MERCURY’S FINAL VERDICT
TABLE OF CONTENTS
July • August | juillet • août Vol.63, No./No 7
Susan Cole of Enhance Energy is behind the world’s largest pipeline system for capturing, transporting and storing industrial CO2. By Brian Bergman
Give a Toss
Cindy Coutts of SIMS Recycling Solutions helps keep valuable aluminum, copper and zinc out of landfills. By Tyler Irving Pour obtenir la version française de cet article, écrivez-nous à firstname.lastname@example.org
Mercury, historically endowed with healing - even magical - properties, gets its comeuppance. By Tyler Irving
From the Editor
uest Column G By David Mosey
hemical News C By Tyler Irving
Chemfusion By Joe Schwarcz
JULY • AUGUST 2011 CANADIAN CHEMICAL NEWS 3
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FROM THE EDITOR
Roland Andersson, MCIC
arq De Villiers, critically acclaimed author and Governor General’s Award winner, recently penned a timely essay for the Ottawa Citizen about the illusory perception that citizens can help fight climate change by making a few small life-style changes. Whether this is hanging laundry out to dry or unplugging cellular phone chargers, the consensus in the media is “every little bit helps.” Such “comforting illusion” — such “codswallop,” De Villiers writes. De Villiers argues that the problem of climate change is so vast — compounded by enormous inefficiencies and rapacious consumption — it cannot be alleviated except by massive and expensive technological investment. The one bright light, De Villiers acknowledges, is government support of a process called carbon capture and sequestration. Here at ACCN, carbon capture and sequestration takes centre stage in a profile of Susan Cole, founding president of Calgary-based Enhance Energy. Cole is the penultimate individual in ACCN’s series featuring outstanding Canadian women in the chemical sciences and engineering to honour the International Year of Chemistry and the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Cole’s company is building the world’s largest pipeline system for capturing, transporting and storing industrial CO2, which is expected to come on stream in 2013. Critics and skeptics may question the long-term viability of this taxpayer-supported initiative, but there is little doubt it is a concrete step in the battle against climate change. Certainly the undertaking is Cole’s crowning achievement in a venerable career in the energy industry. The rest of the magazine offers a wide-range of stories and news — from methylmercury contamination to muskeg mop-ups — for you to peruse, whether you are chilling at the cottage or beach or taking a break from your laboratory labours. Have a great summer.
EDITOR (on leave)
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Tyler Irving, MCIC
ART DIRECTION & GRAPHIC DESIGN
Krista Leroux Kelly Turner
Bobbijo Sawchyn, MCIC Gale Thirlwall
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Joe Schwarcz, MCIC, chair Milena Sejnoha, MCIC Bernard West, MCIC
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Lessons for Canada in Fukushima nuclear failure By David Mosey
bout a month ago, Fukushima reactor Units 1, 2 and 3 at the disabled nuclear plant in Japan were sub-critical and their seriously damaged cores were being cooled by fresh water injection. The next steps will include establishing closed circuit cooling for these units, closing any leakage paths for radioactive material and collecting and decontaminating the very large amounts of highly radioactive water discharged from the damaged rectors. This done, work can begin on the long job of decontamination and dismantling the remains of the reactor cores and safely disposing of the radioactive debris. The Fukushima accident, in fact, was four nuclear accidents at once: three degraded core cooling accidents at Units 1, 2 and 3 and loss of cooling to the stored fuel from Unit 4. There are cogent economic reasons for constructing a number of reactors at one site, however, it is now very clear that all owner/operators of multi-unit nuclear installations will want to review their capability for handling multiple serious concurrent events induced by extreme off-site hazards. In Canada, with the exception of single reactors in New Brunswick (Point Lepreau) and Quebec (Gentilly-2), our nuclear plants are concentrated in Ontario at three multi-unit sites: Bruce, on the eastern shores of Lake Huron; Darlington, in Clarington, Ont.; and Pickering, east of Toronto. A significant feature of these installations is that the reactors share the same, single containment system; four (or in the case of Pickering, six) operational reactors are linked to a single containment vacuum building. This arrangement means that in the event of an accident in one reactor that triggers the containment system, all the other operating reactors must shut down promptly and remain shut down until the accident unit can be isolated from the containment system and the pressure suppression capability of the vacuum building can be restored. Until this happens, the remaining reactors do not have access to a containment system. It is not clear how effective the containment provisions at Ontario’s nuclear generating stations might be
following multiple reactor failures. However, it is a matter to which Bruce Energy and Ontario Power Generation should give urgent attention. For the long-term development of nuclear energy, the Fukushima accident might well stimulate a rethink of our approach towards this essential element in the world’s energy mix. The conventional wisdom of economy of scale dictates that large reactors (typically over 1000 MWe capacity) are grouped together. These reactors have physically large cores and require complex control and safety systems with dauntingly high reliability requirements. The Fukushima accident might encourage us to consider possible alternatives. One approach worth consideration is the use of large numbers of smaller reactors (of the order of 100 MWe capacity) of a standardized design with passive safety features for control and cooling. Core design could be optimized for a specific core life. Such reactors would be factory produced, readily transported to site and, at the end of the core life, returned to the manufacturer for core replacement. Small reactors would be much easier to site and would provide a welldistributed, resilient system. Drawbacks to this approach include the increased demand for fissile material (higher levels of enrichment would be required for their fuel), which might dictate future construction of reactors specifically for fissile isotope production and associated isotope separation plants. However, isotope production reactors can be operated at modest temperatures and pressures and do not pose the same engineering challenges as large power generating reactors. Isotope separation would require stringent environmental controls. The Fukushima accident is leading to re-evaluation of nuclear programs worldwide. Let’s hope that re-evaluation is based on rational thought and sound technical principles rather than political expediency. David Mosey of Nova Scotia is an independent consultant with a special interest in the influence of organizational and managerial factors on safety. He is the author of Reactor Accidents: Institutional Failure in the Nuclear Industry.
JULY • AUGUST 2011 CANADIAN CHEMICAL NEWS 7
BREAKTHROUGH IN CO2 GAS SEPARATION The field of carbon capture and storage (CCS) has taken a big step forward. Researchers at the National Research Council (NRC) have created a polymer membrane that shows unprecedented performance in separating CO2 from various gas mixtures. Microporous polymer membranes for gas separation have been around for decades but have always been subject to a trade-off between permeability and selectivity. As the pore size is increased to let gases through at a higher rate, the ability to select which molecules go through and which stay behind is decreased. In order to do CCS from real industrial flue gas, membranes must be able to maintain their selectivity at extremely high throughput rates — up to 500 cubic metres per second. Another problem is that many polymer molecules change their shape on exposure to CO2, which degrades their performance. At the NRC, Michael Guiver, Naiying Du, Mauro Dal-Cin and their team have been working on a substance known as a polymer of intrinsic microporosity (PIM). Unlike most polymers that have flexible chains, PIMs are made from molecules that are rigid, planar and at right angles, which prevents them from contorting. The team further modified this polymer by substituting tetrazole groups on to the monomer. These nitrogen-based ring structures attract CO2 and allow it to diffuse through the polymer faster than other gases by acting like molecular channels. Importantly, this works even better when CO2 is mixed with other gases; it appears that the same process that speeds up CO2 can slow down other gases like N2 when both are present. “The unexpected surprise was seeing the mixed gas selectivity higher than the pure gas,” says Dal-Cin. Guiver agrees. “It’s got a very high novelty, and I think the results are really groundbreaking,” he says. The researchers believe that if these films can be made thin enough, they could reduce the cost of carbon capture to below $20 per ton, which the United States Department of Energy has targeted as critical for the future of CCS technology. The research was published in the April 2011 issue of Nature Materials.
In this model of the tetrazolefunctionalized polymer of intrinsic microporosity (TZPIM), the dotted line indicates possible hydrogen bonding between the tetrazole ring (blue) and the oxygen atoms on the ether linkages of the polymer chains. This bonding acts to tighten the molecular structure, increasing the selectivity of CO2 over N2.
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STUDY REVEALS SOURCE OF METHYLMERCURY IN ARCTIC SEAWATER The effects of monomethylmercury (MMHg, often called just methylmercury) in Canada’s Arctic have been known for decades: it accumulates in muscle and fatty tissues and people who eat whale and seal meat tend to have increased exposure to this dangerous neurotoxin. A recent study has shed new light on how this molecule gets into the food chain. Monomethylmercury arrives in Arctic waters in several ways. It leaches out of sediments, washes in from rivers or is airborne in the form of volatile dimethylmercury (DMHg), which is degraded to MMHg by ultraviolet light. However, there are also microorganisms in the ocean that can convert inorganic mercury, which is not absorbed by the body, into MMHg. To find out which source is most significant, Igor Lehnherr in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta took samples of Arctic seawater and fed them with isotope-labelled forms of mercury. By analyzing the fate of these isotopes, Lehnherr deduced the rates at which the various forms of mercury were interconverted in the water. He then used a computer model to calculate how much of the MMHg concentration measured in the original water could be accounted for by these processes and arrived at an answer of about 50 per cent. “It has to be the single largest source, because all the other sources together are about equivalent to this one,” says Lehnherr. This has implications for industrial activities. “Because we’ve established a mechanism by which inorganic mercury can be methylated, we know that the more inorganic mercury is released, the more MMHg will be produced,” says Lehnherr. “If we can limit our emissions of inorganic mercury to the environment, we can also slow down this production of MMHg.” A major source of inorganic mercury is the burning of coal, which generates more than 40 per cent of the world’s electricity. The work was published this past May in Nature Geoscience.
Canada's top stories in the chemical sciences and engineering BIOCHEMISTRY
CHEMIST DEVELOPS POSSIBLE VACCINE FOR H. PYLORI Using some clever polysaccharide chemistry, researchers at the University of Guelph have created a conjugate that could lead to the world’s first vaccine against the notorious bacterium Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori infects the stomach lining and is estimated to be carried by half the world’s population. While the majority of infections have no symptoms, some can cause gastritis, ulcers and even stomach cancer. Antibiotics control the bug but are expensive to use, particularly in the developing world where most infections occur. Mario Monteiro and his team specialize in the creation of vaccines based on polysaccharides, rather than the cell surface proteins that are often used for vaccine targets. The surface of H. pylori was found to exhibit a lipopolysaccharide (LPS) that varies in structure from strain to strain; some can even mimic human blood group antigens. The breakthrough came when the team was able to find an LPS region that was conserved between most H. pylori strains, extract it and couple it to a simple protein.
When this construct was injected into mice, their immune system was able to raise antibodies that recognized all forms of the H. pylori LPS, including those from strains that disguise themselves as mammalian cells. Monteiro cautions that the existence of antibodies doesn’t necessarily imply protection and that work is ongoing. However, he believes that this is an important advance in the fight against a major world health problem. “H. pylori is the most prevalent bacterium in the world and gastric cancer is at the top of the list for cancers that cause death. For global health, a vaccine is the way to go, ” says Monteiro, whose research was published in Vaccine.
MIXING MEDICATIONS CAN IMPROVE EFFICACY OF ANTIBIOTIC Pharmacists are constantly warning us to avoid mixing medications because of the risk of harmful interactions. But a team at McMaster University recently demonstrated that when it comes to antibiotics, interactions with other medications can sometimes be beneficial. Until now, rational drug design has largely focused on disrupting the genetic pathways of pathogens that are known to be essential for life. For example, in the case of E. coli, only about 300 of the approximately 4,500 genes are essential. “All the drug companies, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, went after those hammer and tongs and the net result has been no new drugs,” says Gerry Wright, scientific director
of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University. That’s because many of those pathways are hard to disrupt with drugs and those that aren’t often have analogues in human cells. Wright and the research team suspected that they might get better results by targeting multiple non-essential pathways rather than a single essential one. To do this, the team drew up a list of 1,057 off-patent drugs that are known to be bioactive but not necessarily against pathogens. They tested each of these drugs, combining them with the antibiotic minocycline and determining the effect on the diseasecausing organisms E. coli, S. aureus
and P. aeruginosa. To their surprise, 69 of these combinations showed a synergistic effect. One of these was loperamide, which is marketed as Imodium. The team selected this for an in vivo validation using a mouse model of Salmonella infection. Sure enough, the loperamide-minocycline combination performed better than either drug by itself. Wright is encouraged by this finding. “We’re looking at other antibiotics and other compound libraries and we’re identifying a whole bunch of new, completely unexpected partners.” The work was published in last month’s issue of Nature Chemical Biology.
JULY • AUGUST 2011 CANADIAN CHEMICAL NEWS 9
SUGAR COATING HEART TRANSPLANTS TODD LOWARY
A multidisciplinary team at the University of Alberta and the National Institute for Nanotechnology is developing new materials that could one day allow for safe organ transplants between patients of different ABO blood types. Lori West, a paediatric transplant cardiologist and director of the Heart Transplant Research Program at the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry in Edmonton, has shown that infants up to about age two are able to accept heart transplants from donors outside their own blood type. This is possible because the infant immune system is not yet able to recognize and react to the blood group antigens on the tissues of the donor heart. Patients who have had these types of transplants appear to maintain the tolerance of the new blood type past the age when their immune system becomes mature. This raises the possibility of inducing blood group tolerance through artificial means, which could expand the number of organs available to patients who need transplants. One way of doing this could be to coat cardiac stents for infants with saccharides that resemble blood group antigens. “If successful, this would theoretically prolong the window during which it would be safe to transplant a blood group-mismatched donor heart beyond the age of infancy,” says West. Since stainless steel is relatively nonreactive, Jillian Buriak, professor of chemistry at U of A, and her team used a technique called atomic layer deposition (ALD) to put a five-nanometre-thick coating of silica on the surface of the steel. The next step was to get the sugar molecules to attach to the silica. This involved expertise from a group led by Todd Lowary, another chemistry professor from the U of A and an expert in carbohydrate chemistry. The researchers added a chemical tether to one end of a sugar-based molecule such as D-galactose. The tether ends in a trialkoxysilane group, which is able to bond to the silica. Importantly, the tether allows the biologically active part of the sugar to be accessed by antibodies in the blood. “We were happy that it worked as well as it did,” says Lowary. “It’s the first time that we’ve been able to put sugars down on the steel.” However, he cautions that this is just a first step. “What we’re doing now is developing more sophisticated forms where we have more complex saccharides or sugars on the surface, including the blood group antigens.”
Researchers at the University of Alberta coated stainless steel with a thin layer of silica. They then constructed silane-terminated “tether” molecules which can bond to the silica, and which terminate in either polyethylene glycol (PEG, in blue) to act as spacers, or various monosaccharides (red with yellow globe). The technique could one day allow steel implants to be functionalized with blood group antigens.
CHEMIST’S DEATH LEADS TO RECOMMENDATIONS Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and Safety Division has called for new warnings about trimethylsilyldiazomethane (TMSD) after a chemist died following exposure to fumes. Roland Daigle, a chemist at pharmaceutical company Sepracor Canada in Windsor, N.S., died in October 2008 after working with TMSD in a fumehood that had been shut down due to a renovation on the roof of the facility. Daigle, 46, developed breathing problems and died 18 hours later in a Halifax hospital. This past May, Sepracor Canada pleaded guilty to failing to provide proper ventilation and was fined $45,000 under Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and
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Safety Act. The plea bargain resulted in the dropping of four other charges relating to providing personal protection equipment, training, and ensuring that the scene of the accident was secure. TMSD is used as a methylating agent in organic synthesis and is often used in place of diazomethane, which is known to be harmful to lungs. “I think there was a false sense of security about using TMSD,” says Nancy Murphy, medical director of the IWK Regional Poison Centre in Halifax. “You read in the literature that it’s a safe alternative to diazomethane because it’s less explosive,” Murphy says. “But that says nothing about whether it’s safe for humans to use. It wasn’t really made clear in the material safety data sheets (MSDS) prior to this case that it was potentially fatal,” she adds. That has now changed, according to Jim LeBlanc, director of the Occupational Health and Safety Division of Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour. LeBlanc says that recommendations have been made to the global company Sigma-Aldrich, which produces the chemical in Ontario, to ensure its product carries the appropriate warning about “pulmonary edema [being] an effect of excessive exposure” in its MSDS.
Canada's top stories in the chemical sciences and engineering BUSINESS
G2 BIOCHEM TO OPEN CELLULOSIC ETHANOL PLANT IN ONTARIO This summer, Canada’s largest corn ethanol producer will break ground on a new demonstration plant in Chatham, Ont. that will produce economically viable ethanol from such feedstocks as corn cobs, maize and switchgrass. GreenField Ethanol, which produces 600 million litres of ethanol per year at its plants in Ontario and Quebec, has teamed with Danish biotech company Novozymes and global equipment producer Andritz to create a new partnership, called G2 BioChem. The facility will use a patented enzymatic pre-treatment process to break down biomass from a variety of vegetation, including agricultural residues, sorghum, switchgrass (miscanthus) and even poplar trees. The result is pure streams of cellulose and hemicelluloses, which are then hydrolysed into
single sugars that can be fermented into ethanol by yeast. The company reports it can produce 316 litres of ethanol per dry tonne of corn cobs in less than five days. The plant will have an initial capacity of five tonnes, but can be scaled up to 2,000 tonnes using a modular system. Crucially, the production will be competitive with existing ethanol production, says G2 BioChem president Barry Wortzman. “Our process technology results in a low cost per litre, which is essential to the viable commercialization of next generation ethanol,” Wortzman says.
OIL MOP-UP OF MUSKEG CONTINUES A massive cleanup operation continues in northern Alberta following the largest oil spill to occur in the province in decades. The spill resulted from a leak in the Rainbow pipeline, operated by Calgary-based Plains Midstream Canada. It was first detected April 29 in a section of the 45-year-old pipe about 100 kilometres northeast of Peace River, Alta. About 28,000 barrels, or 4.5 million litres of crude oil, spilled onto 18 hectares of muskeg on Lubicon Lake Cree nation traditional territory. The same day, students at Little Buffalo School 12 kilometres away complained of a nauseous smell, burning eyes and headaches, prompting officials to close the facility for a week. Air quality detection equipment from both the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) and Plains Midstream were dispatched to Little Buffalo, but failed to find any increase in hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulphide, or sulphur dioxide. Still, community leader Steve Noskey says he has concerns about the underlying safety of the line itself. “When was the line last pressure tested?” Noskey asked. “How do they test it, what is used? Can any First Nations in the area be involved in the testing?” More than 300 personnel have been involved with the on-site cleanup. Floating oil is being recovered using drum skimmers and vacuum trucks while oil-soaked vegetation and soil are being removed and transported to a nearby oilfield waste facility. A perimeter fence and other deterrent measures have been set up to prevent wildlife from entering the area, although beaver
and birds have died as a result of the spill. The faulty section of the pipe had also been excavated and examined. According to the ERCB, the leak was caused by a combination of factors, including excessive stress on the pipe. The ERCB has directed Plains Midstream to undertake further investigations before considering a re-start of the pipeline. As of deadline, the company had recovered about 42 per cent of the original oil and was optimistic that cleanup would be finished in a matter of months, says Paul Kelly, managing director of Environmental Health and Safety, Land & Regulatory Affairs with Plains Midstream. “We’ve had remarkable success thus far, but the most important thing is that we’re going to stay here as long as it takes to fully remediate the site,” Kelly says. Chemical News is reported and written by Tyler Irving.
JULY • AUGUST 2011 CANADIAN CHEMICAL NEWS 11
NEW Canadian Society for Chemistry
AWARD FOR RESEARCH EXCELLENCE IN MATERIALS CHEMISTRY The Materials Chemistry Division announces its new Research Excellence Award that will be presented for the first time d uring the 95th C anadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition in Calgary, Alta. Sponsored by the Materials Chemistry Division of the CSC Nominations for this award are being accepted now. Deadline: September 15, 2011 for the 2012 selection. Visit www.chemistry.ca/awards for more details. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
OILMAN Enhance Energy president Susan Cole’s quest to clean up the oil industry by creating the world’s largest CO2 capture, transport and storage pipeline makes her a rose among the roughnecks. By Brian Bergman
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Special Report for the International Year of Chemistry
decade ago, Susan Cole was named co-winner of Saskatchewan’s “Oilman of the Year” award in recognition of her role managing the world’s largest carbon dioxide (CO2) injection and storage project near Weyburn, Sask. But if the British-born chemical engineer and entrepreneur sees anything amiss in that gender-specific honorific, she isn’t letting on. “I find when audiences hear that, you do get a lot of laughter,” she acknowledges. “People see the irony in it, but I don’t really think about it too much. I’ve been working in the energy industry for 25 years and I haven’t really had any issues when it comes to my gender.” Cole’s impressive career would appear to attest to that. A graduate of the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering (she later returned to earn an MBA from the same institution), Cole spent six years overseeing — from conception to startup — the showcase Weyburn project initiated by PanCanadian Energy Corporation (later part of EnCana, now Cenovus Energy). The Weyburn facility remains the most significant test case to date of using CO 2 to generate
CHEMICAL ENGINEERING | CO 2 CAPTURE
enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in depleted oil fields and then storing that CO2 underground indefinitely to avoid greenhouse gas emissions. Cole has also held various roles with Norcen Energy Resources and PanCanadian — including reservoir engineering, oil and gas marketing and corporate planning — and served as Team Lead of EnCana Corp.’s Athabasca Oil Business Unit, where she managed EOR operations at the Pelican Lake heavy oil fields in northern Alberta. After two decades of working for large energy companies, Cole struck out on her own in 2005 to become the founding president of Enhance Energy Inc., a Calgary-based company that is currently building the world’s largest pipeline system for capturing, transporting and storing industrial CO2. The 240-kilometre Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL), expected to come on stream in 2013, will gather and compress CO2 from central Alberta oil sands refineries, natural gas processing facilities, chemical manufacturers and coal-fired power generation plants. The CO2 will be pipelined to aging conventional oil fields where, using proven and safe technology, it will be injected into reservoirs to make the remaining tough-to-extract oil flow more freely. The CO2 will then be permanently sequestered in the same reservoirs. At full capacity, the ACTL will handle up to 40,000 tonnes of CO2 per day, or up to 14.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year. That’s the equivalent of eliminating CO2 emissions from 2.6 million cars — or about a third of all registered vehicles in Alberta. Moreover, Enhance Energy is projecting that, over a 30-year timeframe, the injected CO2 will result in the recovery of an additional one billion barrels of oil and generate an estimated $15 billion in royalties for the Alberta government. Dressed in blue jeans and a plain black shirt for a “casual Fridays” interview in the modest boardroom of Enhance Energy’s 9th floor downtown Calgary office, Cole explains why she decided to take the plunge as an entrepreneur. “It was all about timing,” she says. “Six years ago, we started to see a big jump in oil prices. At the same time, there was an increasing awareness globally that we need to do something to reduce CO2 emissions. Those two factors together allowed us to kick-start this project.”
Enhance Energy president Susan Cole
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The Alberta government also committed $2 billion to support the advancement and implementation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The government projects CCS technology will be responsible for 70 per cent of the province’s CO2 emissions reductions by 2050. 16 L’ACTUALITÉ CHIMIQUE CANADIENNE
Cole notes there is a long track record of successful CO2/EOR projects in the United States. But companies there have access to naturally occurring CO2, which is pumped from the ground like natural gas — a much less expensive proposition than capturing the CO2 that is a waste byproduct of industrial development. And while the Weyburn project demonstrated the efficacy of using industrial CO2 emissions to revive declining oil reservoirs, that facility is dependent on CO2 supply from a coal gasification facility in North Dakota. “We knew from the start we could do what we were doing in Weyburn on a much larger scale in Alberta,” says Cole. “That’s because this province has the unique combination of a ready supply of industrial CO2 in close proximity to a number of potential EOR customers. For example, the central Alberta region where our pipeline is being built generates 52 per cent of the province’s total CO2 emissions, most of it from the coal-fired power sector. In the same area, there are a number of declining conventional oil fields that can benefit from CO2 injection and are ideal for long-term storage of CO2.” As it turned out, Cole’s timing was indeed fortuitous. In 2007, Alberta became the first jurisdiction in North America to effectively put a price on carbon. Facilities that emit more than
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100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions were henceforth required to meet targeted reductions in their emissions intensity. If they did not, they had the option of contributing $15 a tonne for emissions over the target into a fund supporting the development of emissions-reducing technologies. The Alberta government also committed $2 billion to support the advancement and implementation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The government projects CCS technology will be responsible for 70 per cent of the province’s CO2 emissions reductions by 2050. Given that backdrop, it was perhaps only a matter of time before Cole and the Alberta government forged a symbiotic partnership. Earlier this year, Enhance Energy and Northwest Upgrading (a key initial CO2 supplier for the ACTL) reached a formal agreement to receive $495 million from Alberta’s CCS fund for the planning, development and construction of the proposed pipeline. The project has also received $63 million in federal government support. Cole makes no apologies for seeking out government funding for what is, in the end, a private sector initiative that hopes to generate profits for its investors. Her marketing experience is evident in the way she has pitched the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line as a 21st century version of the Alberta Gas
Trunk Line (AGTL). In a 2009 open letter on the Enhance Energy website, Cole explained the decision to christen the CO2 pipeline the ACTL as follows: “Cast your mind way back to 1954, when the Alberta Government was under pressure to allow the export of natural gas via federally incorporated pipelines. To ensure Albertans would have control over their resources, legislation was enacted to create [the AGTL]. This orderly, unified pipeline system proved to be a boon to the province’s natural gas industry and played a crucial role in establishing the petrochemical industry here. Fast forward to today and we Albertans face a similar challenge: ensure that we once again have control over our own resources while developing a solution to permit the sustainable production of bitumen.” In an interview with ACCN, Cole offers another analogy. “I also like to describe it as akin to building the TransCanada Highway,” she says. “It’s building the linkages that allow someone in Nova Scotia to sell goods to Vancouver. No one company could afford to build that highway, but by the government doing so, you make this kind of commerce possible. We’re trying to do a similar thing — build the linkages so people can access and use CO2 and, collectively, reduce CO2 emissions.” Warming to her subject, Cole adds that government funding has allowed
Enhance Energy to expand the scope of the project and to begin planning work on lateral extensions to the original pipeline that will help maximize its long-term viability and impact. “Going back to those analogies, you know, we could start really small, just like when we started in-house with one project,” she says. “But if we are really going to get hold of our emissions problem in Alberta and in Canada, governments are going to have to pave the way for multiple projects, not just one. Because we can’t solve our problems with just one project — we need a lot more.” As for Enhance Energy’s other investors, Cole declines to name them; “we are a private equity company, so we don’t disclose.” But there is one exception. In November 2007, the venerable British-based commodity bank, Barclays Capital, publicly announced “a significant investment” in Enhance Energy. In a news release, Barclays cited Alberta’s recently enacted climate change regulations and the bank’s desire to invest in market solutions to environmental challenges. “People really are interested in investing in our project because of its dual nature,” observes Cole. “It has that ‘green’ aspect, but it’s also an economic proposition. At the same time, this is a very long-term project, so we need investors who are patient and not looking for a quick payoff.”
Earlier this year, Enhance Energy and Northwest Upgrading reached a formal agreement to receive $495 million from Alberta’s CCS fund for the planning, development and construction of the proposed pipeline. Cole credits her training as a c hemical engineer with setting her on the right path. “Rather than using your thermodynamics or fluid mechanics equations directly, I find engineering degrees are a way of teaching people how to solve problems, which is really what we do in the oil and gas industry.” Similarly, the MBA helped prepare Cole for being her own boss. “When you work for a large company, they set the budgets for you, and you execute. When you have your own small company, you have to know where the money is coming from, not just how to spend it.” This last statement is delivered with a broad smile. After a quarter century, Cole clearly remains fascinated by her chosen profession. “I think the oil and gas industry is very creative,” she says. “From the outside, it probably looks somewhat boring. But we’re always trying to improve the way we do things and we are always challenged; that’s what keeps us going. There’s never a dull moment.”
JULY • AUGUST 2011 CANADIAN CHEMICAL NEWS 17
Give a Toss
SIMS Recycling Solutions Canada president Cindy Coutts is leading the rapidly growing e-recycling sector, helping orchestrate the regulatory and policy changes needed to integrate metal and plastic salvage into the Canadian economy.
By Tyler Irving
IMS Recycling Solutions Canada is an above-ground mining company that recovers valuable metals like aluminum, copper and zinc from e lectronic waste such as computers and televisions. Electronics recyclers have evolved in a challenging r egulatory environment that is determining the best way to deal with the growing amount of e lectronic waste. Cindy Coutts, president of SIMS Recycling Solutions Canada, has been involved in waste and recycling issues from both a commercial and a regulatory perspective at both the international and domestic levels. ACCN spoke with Coutts to get an insider’s perspective on how e-waste laws and regulations are shaping the future of her business, which o perates 14 sites in North America and another 40 worldwide. ACCN How did the idea of an ‘above-
ground mine’ come about?
Noranda, which later became Falconbridge and eventually Xstrata. In the 1980s, the focus on long-term sustainability was something that was bantered about quite a bit. Since we sold a significant portion of some of our metals into a variety of different industries that made products, we were looking to try to prevent the metals from being lost into landfill, so that we wouldn’t have to go out and build quite so many virgin mines to meet society’s insatiable need for metals. We started looking at the variety of products that consumed our metals and targeted electronics. Even though e-waste only makes up about one per cent of the current waste stream, it is the fastest-growing addition and electronics consume quite a variety of different metals. Originally we had three similar sites: one in California, one in Tennessee and a third site that opened in Brampton in 2003. ACCN What metals can you extract from e-waste? CC As a non-ferrous company, we were interested in all the non-ferrous metals:
lead, tin, aluminum, copper, cadmium, mercury, nickel and zinc. But the industry has evolved quite a bit in the past 25 years and we’re now looking at recovering all of the resources in electronics, including steel and a variety of different plastic chemistries. We have a recycling rate well into the 90 per cent range. Obviously there’s a significant difference in the chemical makeup of a laptop, a floor model photocopier or a cell phone, but if you take the group as a whole, you’re looking at about 40 per cent steel and 30 per cent plastic. The remaining 30 per cent is a variety of other materials. So it’s predominantly plastic and steel, but there are probably 25 different output streams that we create as a result of our above-ground mining process. ACCN How do you separate all these different streams from each other?
CC Metals are the ultimate recyclable
CC The first thing we do is a triage to remove anything that is hazardous, which we
material. You can recycle them over and over again and they never lose any of their inherent properties unlike a paper fibre, which you can only recycle two or three times on average. The first Canadian facility for SIMS Recycling Solutions was originally built as part of the mining company
don’t want going through our mechanical shredders. This includes things like small mercury light bulbs that are in laptops and televisions. We send that to a dedicated mercury bulb recycler. We also remove batteries as some, like a lead-acid battery, are hazardous. You send that to an appropriate recycler. Unfortunately all these hazards must be removed by hand because each electronic product has a different hazard in it. On top of that, the battery may be in the top left corner from a unit made in 1998 and in the bottom left corner of the same unit made in 1999. We’ve invested quite heavily in dust collection equipment, to make sure
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BUSINESS | E-WASTE RECYCLING that none of that ambient dust is being inhaled by workers or is discharged to the environment. So then you’re left with the electronics without the hazards, and those go through a series of mechanical shredders. We then have several different mechanical separation technologies. For example, we’ll pull off steel using its magnetic properties and we get a nice clean steel chip that we sell to a steel mill. It can be formed into any product that you typically would make from steel such as rebar for the construction industry. Then we pull off aluminum, which goes to an aluminum smelter to be re-consumed. Copper goes to make new wiring, new copper tubing, or new electronics. The capacity of our combined plants is about 100,000 tonnes per year and we employ about 200 people.
Cindy Coutts, president of SIMS Recycling olutions Canada. S
ACCN How do you get your e-waste? CC In Canada, until about four years ago — and only two
years ago in Ontario — e-waste was recycled on an entirely voluntary basis. A company, government or school with old electronics had a few options. Firstly, you could just put it in a landfill. You can still do this; it’s not illegal in most jurisdictions in Canada. Secondly, you could look up recycling on the Internet, but what you’d most likely find are companies I’ll call “sham recyclers.” They would pick up the e-waste and ship it to the developing world. When it arrives, they use cheap manual labour to pick out the bits that have value: the copper, steel and aluminum. Anything difficult or costly to recycle, like the CRT leaded glass, would get dumped in the rivers and ditches and lakes. Finally, if you wanted to do the right thing, you could work with a company like SIMS, and there’s a charge for environmentally sound recycling. It’s fairly nominal, but there’s still a charge. In the past few decades, we’ve seen the concept of extended producer responsibility, or EPR. This is a global concept that sprang out of jurisdictions in Europe and Japan, where waste is a much more urgent problem because there’s far less land space. EPR is a concept that puts the onus back on the producer to manage the full life cycle of their products and this led to the concept of product stewardship. In product stewardship, regulations are put in place mandating manufacturers to manage their products at the end of their life. They typically do that by levying a fee at the point of sale of a new product; if you purchase a new television in Ontario right now, you’ll notice that there’s a fee on your invoice, called a recycling fee. That fee goes into a pool
that is managed by a not-for-profit corporation set up by the manufacturers. The corporation effectively doles this money out to recyclers that meet the standards to conduct proper recycling on their behalf. ACCN Why charge a fee for r ecycling waste? CC The economics are such that the resources we produce give
us a positive revenue, but some of them cost us to produce. For example, steel gives us a positive revenue, but something like mercury will cost money to recycle properly. So depending on resource prices, these can net close to nothing. You need to charge a fee for the recycling process to liberate all those resources and to encourage investment into the technology that can do this. This can come from the stewardship programs I mentioned earlier. For example, Ontario currently offers an incentive of $650 per tonne for personal computers and $850 per tonne for display devices.
JULY • AUGUST 2011 CANADIAN CHEMICAL NEWS 21
CIC Fellowships Do you know a deserving member? The CIC Fellowship is a senior class of membership that recognizes the merits of CIC members who have made outstanding contributions. Nominations for 2012 CIC Fellowship are due October 3, 2011. For more information, visit www.cheminst.ca/fellowship. Chemical Institute of Canada
Education for Chemical Professionals
LABORATORY SAFETY COURSE September 19–20, 2011 Vancouver, BC October 24–25, 2011 London, ON
For → Chemists and chemical technologists whose responsibilities include managing, conducting safety audits or improving the operational safety of chemical laboratories, chemical plants and research facilities.
Registration Fees* CIC Members $550 Non-members $750 Student Members $150
*includes Laboratory Health and Safety Guidelines 4th ed.
For more information, visit www.cheminst.ca/profdev
In other jurisdictions where no stewardship legislation exists, there is still a fee for recycling electronics. It ranges significantly, given the value of the resources, the costs of dealing with any contained hazards and the energy required to separate and recover the resources. We don’t receive any government funding. ACCN In terms of recycled
aterials, what are your biggest m money-makers?
sold in our markets frequently go back empty, so the back-haul freight is very cheap. Once the e-waste gets there, labour to pick it apart by hand is also cheap and environmental laws — if they exist at all — are often not enforced. ACCN How can this be prevented? CC There are a number of things. Environment Canada is responsible for patrol-
ling our export borders, but we have very few resources for inspecting containers. Secondly, there is a recycling standard that is evolving in Canada; the four provinces that have regulated stewardship programs all use this standard. It’s a very good start, but it needs to be audited much more rigorously. There are recyclers who are approved as environmentally sound under the standard who probably shouldn’t be. ACCN What is the future of above-ground mining?
CC By unit, gold is most valuable at
CC I believe that we have to have individual producer responsibility, versus extended
nearly $1,500 per ounce, however, there is very little gold in electronics. Steel, on average, makes up 40 per cent of a mixed electronic stream so by volume it has the highest positive revenue. We recover 25 different resources, all with positive value, however the cost to recover varies by resource.
producer responsibility, so that manufacturers actually compete on managing the life cycle of their products. We don’t have a separate item on the bill for a TV that outlines the cost to meet all the labour laws, or all the transport regulations. So why on earth do we have a separate fee that talks about recycling? You force creativity and efficiencies through competition.
ACCN You mentioned unscrupulous
operators who ship e-waste overseas; is that legal? CC It’s illegal in Canada to ship e-waste
to many countries. However, it happens because transportation is very cheap. Containers of goods from Asia that are
ACCN Why do you stay in this business? CC I firmly believe that private industry has no bounds on its creativity, and if we can
become more sustainable as a society through companies offering environmentally sound services, we’re going to get there a whole lot faster than through strictly regulatory means. We’re a for-profit organization and I think that’s terrific, because we can transcend international boundaries and push higher and higher standards. When I can go home at the end of the day and know that as a result of the work we’re doing at SIMS, we’re diverting waste from landfill, we’re conserving resources, we’re managing hazards well — how much more could you want in your job? You’ve got a career and you’re doing something good for society.
The materials in obsolete electronics get a chance at a second life.
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VERDICT A ban on the import or use of mercury in manufacturing goes into effect in Canada next year. Mercury mounts a defence in the court of scientific inquiry. By Tyler Irving
he prisoner stood, head bowed, in the witness box, as the judge read the verdict. “Mercury, alias Quicksilver, alias Hydrargyrum, as a known neurotoxin, you are convicted of posing a danger to humanity,” the judge declared. “I sentence you to be banned in all practical forms from the manufacture, import and sale of all products in Canada, beginning in 2012. “Do you have any final words?” the judge asked, peering over his spectacles at the thin, silver-haired defendant. The prisoner raised his head to meet the judge’s gaze. “Thank you, your honour. I know that nothing I can say will change the decision of the court, however, I appreciate the opportunity to defend my name. The charges against me are based on a biased misreading of the facts. The many benefits that I have brought to humanity over the past millenniums have been ignored. I reiterate my defence that I have aided humanity more than I have harmed it.” Mercury cleared his throat and turned his gaze to the packed courtroom: “I was born in humble circumstances, in
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a block of cinnabar, thousands of years ago. For most of my life I was a simple pigment, adorning buildings, pottery and occasionally human bodies with a characteristic red hue. But it was in the ovens of the ancient alchemists that I was liberated by heat, assuming my familiar, dazzling form: shiny like metal, flowing like liquid and able to combine with a seemingly infinite variety of other metals in amalgams. I became known as Prima Materia, the ideal form of metal. Along with sulphur and salt, I was considered one of the fundamental materials of the universe. Some considered me a bridge between the known and the unknown, transcending solid and liquid, earth and heaven, life and death.” Mercury paused and scanned the riveted crush of onlookers. “But anyone who took the alchemists seriously did so at their peril. The Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang was one. In the months leading up to his death in 210 B.C.E., he ingested great quantities of mercury-containing pills, which his doctors believed would make him immortal. The emperor is believed to have died of mercury poisoning. However, I respectfully
CHEMISTRY | MERCURY BAN
submit that it is the physicians’ malpractice, not I, that is responsible for Qin Shi Huang’s demise. “Around the same time,” Mercury continued, “I became involved in the mining industry. My knack for combining easily with gold allowed me to absorb small particles of this metal from the ore — particles too small to be panned. As part of my amalgam, however, they easily sunk to the bottom of the miner’s pans and we could be separated once more. If it weren’t for this, huge quantities of gold would remain unrecovered to this day.” Mercury paused to take a deep breath, then resumed his oration. “Through mining, I gained an appreciation for the finer things in life. One of my crowning achievements was in the European and British haberdasheries of the 17th to 19th centuries. In my orange nitrate salt form, I broke down the stiff outer hairs of beaver pelts, allowing them to be more easily matted together into the felt hats that fine gentlemen wore. Of course, some of the hat makers failed to take precautions and inhaled the mercury vapours, leading to sensory impairment, numbness, loss of vision, shaking, clumsiness and anti-social behaviour. I assert once again that I cannot be blamed for these effects. “If there is a villain here, it is the unlearned medical practices of the times. Before the 20th century, doctors believed I could cure the sick and extend life. I was prescribed for many ailments, from teething pain to syphilis. Recall the poetic but bitter aphorism: ‘a night with Venus is followed by a lifetime with Mercury.’ “Pure white calomel, my chloride, is one of my more attractive salts and is supremely useful for measuring electric potentials, as scientists would later discover. But 200 years ago, the best use that scientific minds could conceive of for calomel was as a laxative. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence, is doubtless responsible for the deaths of hundreds of patients with yellow fever, to whom he fed calomel until they foamed at the mouth and their teeth fell out. His laxatives, called ‘Thunderclappers,’ were used by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition on their famous trek from Illinois to the Pacific Coast. To this day, the 19th-century excursion can be traced by deposits of mercury in the soil. “Yet, I have much to contribute to human health,” Mercury continued. “In my liquid elemental form, I’m practically
JULY • AUGUST 2011 CANADIAN CHEMICAL NEWS 25
harmless, for I am hardly absorbed by the digestive tract at all. In this form, I can do plenty of good, most notably in dental fillings. For more than 100 years, I have repaired the broken teeth of humankind, and many people still carry me in their mouths. Without my help, they would still be suffering from pain, infection and nutritional problems. “I am a boon to medicine in other ways. Mercury thermometers made it possible to measure miniscule rises in temperature while mercury sphygmomanometers allowed blood pressure measurements. Without these tools, health care would still be in the dark ages. For more than a century, my bright orange-coloured organic salt merbromin — known as Mercurochrome, Asceptichrome or Supercrome — kept wounds clean from bacterial infections. Another of my organic forms, Thimersol, also fights bacteria, keeping vaccines, medicines and cosmetics from spoiling.” Mercury directed his comments to the judge. “You’ll find my handiwork in places where you least expect it. The very paper you are reading from was prepared and bleached with chemicals that for decades were produced using the Castner-Kellner process. This system employs a mercurybased electrolytic cell to break apart salt water into sodium hydroxide and chlorine gas, both of which are useful in the pulp and paper industry. And my salts can be used as catalysts in the production of acetaldehyde, a fantastically useful chemical used in the manufacture of perfumes, plastics, synthetic rubber, drugs, and explosives. “Regretfully, my work in these important areas has been curtailed due to my negative reputation. It’s true that residues from industrial processes — if improperly designed — can leak into water sources. Here, microorganisms change me into methylated organic forms that, unlike my native metal, are easy for organisms to absorb. I am thus consumed by plankton, which are eaten by shellfish. I accumulate and concentrate as I move up the food chain into seals, whales and humans. This is the cause of Minamata disease, first noted near an industrial plant in Japan almost 60 years ago. The symptoms are similar to the mad hatters of past centuries: numbness in the hands and feet, trouble balancing, difficulties seeing,
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hearing, swallowing and even death. Some of the same symptoms appeared among aboriginal Canadians living near paper mills in Northern Ontario in the 1970s. Even today, northern peoples who consume whale and seal meat have elevated levels of mercury in their hair, blood and breast milk. “But such things are the result of human shortcomings: poor regulations, inadequate waste management and ill-conceived plant designs. Because of them, I have been usurped by other molecules in antiseptics, by polymer composites in dental fillings and by electronic devices in blood pressure machines. My work in industry has been taken over by nickel and titanium and alcohol now fills thermometers. “But I contend that I am no more a threat to humanity than any of my metallic brethren and still have an important role to play. I light up cities all over the world as a component of compact fluorescent light bulbs, the one application for which no substitute has yet been found. The energy saved by these bulbs cuts down on the use of coal-fired power plants, the same plants from which my vapours can’t help but be expelled into the air by the scalding temperatures in the furnaces. I will continue to have a place in laboratories, where my unique abilities have always been appreciated. And I hold out hope that the chemists of the future will find new uses for my talents that will enable me to take my rightful place once again.” Mercury paused. “Your honour, I am finished now. Thank you for allowing me to restate and elucidate my defence, although I realize that it has no impact upon the decision of this court.” The judge looked down at the defendant in the dock. “Mercury, your contributions to the intellectual progress and betterment of humankind are indisputable. However, the evidence: that you have poisoned the environment and been responsible for countless cases of disease, suffering and death are equally indisputable. In the opinion of this court, your usefulness is outweighed by your disadvantages and for this you are banned. Your life sentence commences in 2012.” The judge picked up the gavel and brought it down. “Court is dismissed.”
October 14, 2011.
Canadian Society for Chemistry
The CCUCC Chemistry Doctoral Award Sponsored by the Canadian Council of University Chemistry Chairs (CCUCC)
The CCUCC Chemistry Doctoral Award is presented for outstanding achievement and Âpotential in research by a graduate student whose PhD thesis in chemistry was formally accepted by a Canadian university in the 12-month period preceding the nomination deadline. Award: A framed scroll and cash prize. Nominations are open for the 2012 award. Submit your nomination to: Awards Manager | Canadian Society for Chemistry | email@example.com
Deadline: September 15, 2011 The full Terms of Reference for this award are available at www.chemistry.ca/awards CSC
SOCIETY NEWS CONFERENCES
Chemistry conference draws Nobel Prize winners The best and brightest in the chemical sciences descended upon the Palais des congrès de Montréal June 5–9 for the 94th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition. Hosted by the Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC), the conference, with its theme “Chemistry and Health,” drew academics, including three Nobel Prize winners, members of industry and business as well as students to celebrate achievement and to present the latest in innovation and research. The record number of attendees — 2,967— included 1,340 graduate students and post-doctoral researchers whose work was showcased in evening poster presentations. About 2,400 abstracts were also presented in the Palais plenary lecture rooms. Many of these were so popular, spectators spilled out into the hallway to catch the talks, which encompassed chemistry in all its forms: inorganic, organic, industrial, analytical, materials and biological and medicinal, among other disciplines. Several Nobel Laureates attended the conference, including the University of Toronto’s John Polyani, HFCIC, who spoke about surface patterning on the molecular scale, and Roger Tsien of the University of California who lectured on building molecules to image electric fields and disease processes, a significant advancement within the field of neurobiology. Barry Sharpless, professor at California’s Scripps Research Institute, who shared a Nobel for chemistry in 2001, discussed green chemistry and catalysis in a session honouring Tak-Hang (Bill) Chan. Other notable talks included the CIC Medal Lecture by Adi Eisenberg, FCIC, of McGill University, who was feted for his work on the development of block copolymer vesicles. Montréal Medal Lecture winner Jan Kwak, FCIC, of Dalhousie and Qatar universities discussed his work in colloid science. Mel Usselman, MCIC, of the University of Western Ontario won the CIC Award for Chemical Education while X. Chris Le, FCIC, of the University of Alberta
received the Environment Division Research and Development Award. A keynote lecture by Stephen Hanessian, FCIC, of the Université de Montréal on the design and synthesis of drug prototypes inspired by natural products was warmly received by conference-goers. Another highlight was the CIC and Canadian Society for Chemistry Awards Reception and Banquet, held June 8 at the glass-walled Montréal Science Centre on the King Edward Pier in the Old Port of Montreal. With a spectacular summer electrical storm as backdrop, 20 researchers and professors were lauded for their contributions to Canadian chemistry while a smartly dressed crowd dined on a three-course dinner with wine. Next year’s conference, themed “Energizing Chemistry,” will be held in Calgary at the Telus Convention Centre May 26–30.
Canadian Chemistry Olympiad participants were recognized.
CIC chair Hadi Mahabadi, FCIC (left) with the 2011 CIC Medal winner Adi Eisenberg, FCIC.
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Grad students and post-doctoral researchers competed for best poster.
SOCIETY NEWS INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF CHEMISTRY
GEIR SIMENSEN, SCANWAY CATERING
Let Them Eat Cake Dalhousie University proved that there is no sweeter science than chemistry when faculty and students served up slices of periodic table cake on May 7 in support of Science Rendezvous and the International Year of Chemistry (IYC). The Chemistry Rendezvous BBQ, organized by Dalhousie’s Department of Chemistry, not only served cake but batches of edible liquid nitrogen ice cream. Carleton University’s Department of Chemistry and Institute of Biochemistry also showed its support for Science Rendezvous by organizing a Chemistry Magic Show festival. Jeff Smith, Bob Burk, MCIC, and Jeff Manthorpe, MCIC, wowed a crowd with demonstrations involving liquid nitrogen, flash paper, spoons made of gallium that melted in warm water, ice cubes that sank and spontaneous combustion of an M&M. Visitors turned pennies into miniature Olympic medals by plating them with zinc
IYC in Jeopardy! Jeopardy!, one of North America’s leading syndicated game shows, featured questions related to the 2011 International Year of Chemistry during its June 21 episode. With nine million daily viewers, Jeopardy! was the perfect venue for publicizing the IYC’s message of celebrating chemistry and the contributions that it makes to society. STUDENTS
then heating them, made ice cream from chocolate milk and liquid nitrogen and tried to identify foodstuffs like cinnamon, vanilla and grape by the smell of the major constituents of their aroma. Science Rendezvous, launched in Toronto four years ago, was celebrated at more than 20 venues across Canada. The annual event was created to enhance the public’s understanding of chemistry and promote science awareness.
Top chemistry students and faculty members from the Atlantic region flocked to the University of Prince Edward Island for ChemCon 2011, held May 20–22 in Charlottetown. The conference opened with a career fair, three plenary lectures, a mixer, social event and ended with an awards banquet. Undergraduate and graduate students competed for best oral and poster presentations. CORRECTION
$1 Million for Budding Scientists
© MIKE TWOHY/THE NEW YORKER COLLECTION
P.E.I. draws top chemists
More than 500 elementary and high school students from across Canada descended upon Toronto’s Seneca College Newnham Campus to compete for more than $1 million in prizes at the 50th annual Canada-Wide Science Fair May 16–17. Best Project honours went to 17-year-old Grade 12 students Danny Huang and Jaclynn Wong of Harry Ainley High School in Edmonton. The pair probed the ability of the drug PUGNAc to slow the growth of cancer cells. The research may have implications for the early detection and treatment of cancer. In addition to the $10,000 Best Project Award, Huang and Wong won the $5,000 Platinum Award for Best Senior Project, a $1,500 senior gold medal, the $1,000 senior Health Challenge Award and $22,000 in scholarships from five Canadian universities. Annapolis Valley, N.S. student Ellen Song’s winning entry secured her a spot with Team Canada in Expo Sciences International, a noncompetitive science fair organized by the International Movement for Leisure Activities in Science and Technology (MILSET) held in Bratislava, Slovakia this July. Song, 16, used a mixture of volatile aldehydes to fumigate apples that had been in storage for six months. These aldehydes are known to be the precursors of the aroma of apples. Song showed that natural enzymes in apples use such compounds to renew and enhance the natural aroma, netting her the UNESCO International Year of Chemistry Award.
May’s ACCN reported that NSERC president Suzanne Fortier first met Thompson Rivers University chancellor Nancy Greene in an airport lounge. In fact, the initial meeting between Fortier and Green took place at a dinner for honorary degree recipients at Thompson Rivers University. IN MEMORIAM
The CIC wishes to extend its condolences to the family of Dr. Leo Breitman, FCIC.
JULY • AUGUST 2011 CANADIAN CHEMICAL NEWS 29
The enduring genius of Robert Woodward By Joe Schwarcz
hat’s a bet!” exclaimed Linus Pauling, as he accepted a proposed wager from Robert Burns Woodward, Harvard University’s up-and-coming young chemistry professor. I suspect most of you have heard of Pauling, who was already world famous in the 1940s and on his way to the 1954 Nobel Prize in chemistry, but Woodward remains largely unknown to the general public. Yet in the field of organic chemistry, he is a colossus. The era of antibiotics was just beginning to unfold in the mid-20th century and the tetracyclines had just been isolated from a soil bacterium. Oxytetracycline (trade name Terramycin) was of special interest because of its effectiveness against a broad variety of bacteria, but its molecular structure was unknown. This was just the kind of challenge Woodward loved. Solving the mystery of Terramycin’s structure might lead to a laboratory synthesis, or perhaps even to a more effective version of the drug. Pauling wasn’t particularly interested in Terramycin, but he was very interested in x-ray crystallography, an emerging instrumental technique that was capable of determining molecular structure by studying how x-rays bounced off atoms in a sample. He was confident that the new x-ray technique would yield results before Terramycin’s structure could be solved using classic chemical methods. But Pauling didn’t reckon with the brilliance of Woodward. By age 20, Woodward
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had achieved a doctorate, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship and a professorship at Harvard. The man eventually regarded as the Mozart of organic synthesis could now pursue his passion. Woodward would make molecules like quinine — derived from the cinchona tree — that had never before been synthesized. After about 50 years of meticulous experiments by numerous chemists, the puzzle of quinine’s structure was finally solved in 1908. Given its complexity, synthesis seemed almost impossible. By 1944 however, with associate William von Doering, Woodward had worked out the elaborate synthetic method that catapulted him to fame. Woodward’s breakthrough was especially timely due to a quinine shortage in the United States, caused by the Japanese occupation of Java where cinchona trees grew. In truth, the impact of Woodward’s synthesis did not lie in the commercial production of quinine. It was too complicated and impractical for that. But he had demonstrated that extremely intricate organic molecules could be constructed through ingenious reaction sequences. This was thanks to Woodward’s encyclopedic knowledge of chemical reactions and his uncanny ability to examine the structural diagram of a molecule and deduce the simple compounds that could serve as starting materials for its synthesis. With his legions of students, Woodward went on to synthesize a host of other compounds including
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cholesterol, cortisone, strychnine and chlorophyll as well as his crowning achievement, the incredibly complex vitamin B12. The latter synthesis, carried out in conjunction with Swiss chemist Albert Eschenmoser, required the collaborative effort of more than 100 students and post-doctoral fellows, an achievement that took 12 years. Ironically, none of these syntheses had commercial application. Woodward carried them out simply to show that they could be done. But the schemes turned out to be invaluable. The reactions developed and the sequences of ingenious steps would prove to be useful in a myriad of practical chemical syntheses. The Woodward era changed the face of organic chemistry. Woodward was also famous for his clever turns of phrase and amazing blackboard technique with coloured chalk. I was lucky enough to see him deliver a talk in the 1970s where he described the solution to the thorny puzzle of Terramycin. He had determined its structure before crystallography confirmed it, winning the bet with Pauling. But Woodward also stated that he knew that such a bet could never be made again because the future of molecular structure determination lay in instrumentation. He was right about that, too. As might be expected, Woodward was a workaholic. When asked once if he took vacations, he replied that he tried to take Christmas day off. Woodward was the recipient of the 1965 Nobel Prize in chemistry. The consensus is that he would have won another had he not died in 1979 of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 62. Joe Schwarcz is the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. Read his blog at chemicallyspeaking.com.
Chemical Institute of Canada
The Catalysis Award Call for Nominations
The Catalysis Award, sponsored by the Canadian Catalysis Foundation, is awarded biannually to an individual who, while resident in Canada, has made a distinguished contribution to the field of catalysis. The recipient of the Award receives a rhodiumplated silver medal and travel expenses to present the Award Lecture at the Canadian Symposium on Catalysis or the annual conference of the Canadian Society for Chemistry or the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering. Nominations for the 2012 Award must be submitted in writing to the Awards Manager by October 3, 2011, using the CIC n omination form found at w ww.cheminst.ca/awards. Previous winners of the Catalysis Award are R.J. Cvetanovic and Y. Amenomiya (1977), R.B. Anderson (1979), C.H. Amberg (1982), H. Alper (1984), H.W. Habgood (1986), J.B. Moffat (1988), B.R. James (1990), B. Wojciechowski (1992), I. Dalla Lana (1994), M. Ternan (1996), S. Kaliaguine (1998), G.L. Rempel (2000), M.C. Baird (2002), C.A. Fyfe (2004), S. Brown (2006), Flora T.T. Ng (2008) and R.Stanley Brown (2010). For more information, please contact the Division Vice-Chair, William Epling, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1; Tel: (519) 888-4567, ext. 37048, Fax: (519) 888-4347, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Gale Thirlwall, Awards Manager, Chemical Institute of C anada, 130 Slater Street, Suite 550, Ottawa, ON K1P 6E2; Tel: (613) 232-6252, ext 223; Fax: (613) 232-5862, E-mail: email@example.com.
Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering
Société canadienne de génie chimique
Innovation, Industry and Internationalization
Innovation, industrie et internationalisation
61st Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference
61e Congrès canadien de génie chimique
London, Ontario, Canada
London, Ontario, Canada
October 23—26, 2011
Du 23 au 26 octobre 2011
Canada’s leading magazine for the chemical sciences and engineering.