Thursday, July 6th – Freshwater Ecology Restoration Centre (FREC)
Today we ventured out to the Freshwater Ecology Restoration Centre in Lasalle, part of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER). It was a long trip for some, but it was definitely worth it! Our day commenced with a brief presentation by Dr. Trevor Pitcher. He discussed some of the problems facing the Great Lakes and the impact our activities can have on our lake ecosystem. We then explored the experimental part of FREC. It was incredible to see the huge tanks containing different species of fish and marine life!
We also saw some of the spectacular technology being used at FREC. One of the machines in the centre, sourced from Denmark, is the only machine of its kind in Canada! It is able to simulate different currents and wave conditions in order to test the health of fish and their swimming capabilities. We also saw sea lampreys in their tank – it is safe to say that they disgusted everyone present, maybe with the exception of Dr. Pitcher. We viewed fish eggs from different species that were previously collected and preserved to determine the fish’s reproductive capabilities. The lab overall was extremely impressive – one of its coolest features was its abilities to replace half the tanks with lake water to compare the healthiness of fish in the different levels of water cleanliness.
In addition to its efforts in helping our region’s wildlife, the centre is also very ecologically sustainable. Unlike many “open-loop” systems, the centre uses a “closed-loop” system which means that the water that goes to fill the tanks continues to be recycled and reused, saving considerable amounts of water. The only water that is put into the system is approximately 20 litres a day, simply to compensate for evaporation, which is remarkable considering the size of the centre!
In order to prevent the water from becoming highly contaminated and affecting the effectiveness of experiments, the water goes through a systematic cleaning process. Firstly, a degassing mechanism is used to remove waste gases from the water, which are piped outside the building. Afterwards, a commercial drum filter is used to remove the solid waste.
A University of Windsor engineering student came up with a design addition that allows the drum filter to operate autonomously – whenever the tank water is detected as being dirty, the filter automatically runs. Finally, the water runs through a tank that contains helpful bacteria, living on plastic pellets. These bacteria remove the remaining tiny organic material from the water and allow clean water to be pumped around the system.
One of the other extremely interesting innovations at the centre was its automated fish feeding system. Feeding all of the different fish in the many tanks would be difficult given their different feeding requirements and times. However, commercial systems cost over $50, 000! Instead, GLIER collaborated with University of Windsor engineering and computer science students to develop their own, innovative system! Each tank has a hopper on top containing the fish feed, attached to a motor and sensors. Each hopper feeds back to a central computer that displays all of the data on one screen. The hoppers can be automated to distribute the food at certain times, so that the system can run independently.
Even better, the entire system cost less than $5000! The collaboration between different departments of the university allowed for significant cost reductions while also giving many different students hands-on experience. This kind of innovation demonstrates the advanced technology that is being used at GLIER and at FREC to advance our scientific knowledge and protect our ecosystem!
We also heard from Workforce Windsor-Essex about CleanTech careers in the region. It was surprising to hear how many careers were available in the sector and how rapidly the sector had developed. We heard thoroughly about different elements of the sector and also specific companies. Hearing all of the opportunities that are available to us was really informative. The presentation definitely changed some of our plans for the future and what we want to work as!
Find out what else made the Deans List in Marcus’ daily CleanTech Academy recaps:
Marcus Deans currently attends Académie Ste Cécile International School in Windsor and is looking forward to learning more about the technology and business world as part of WEtech Alliance. Outside of school, Marcus volunteers with the Canadian Cancer Society, the WindsorEssex Community Foundation, and the City of Windsor. He has also served in several leadership positions at youth-run companies as part of Junior Achievement. Marcus also enjoys science and has ranked internationally in youth science competitions as part of Team Canada.