Research students test ways to improve water quality

WHITEHORSE – Tony Radford and Jordan Lord have spent the past three weeks testing water treatment technologies at the Yukon Research Centre (YRC) at Yukon College. The two students are seeking to discover which of three methods of removing salts and minerals from water can turn brackish water into potable water most efficiently, while creating the least amount of waste.

The results could significantly reduce the environmental footprint of the mineral resource exploration industry, or any activity that takes place in a remote location and requires a reliable source of clean drinking water. It could also have an impact on Yukon homeowners with brackish well water.

Radford and Lord are students from the Yukon Water and Wastewater Operator Program at the College and are working as paid interns alongside Dr. Amelie Janin, NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Mine Life Cycle at YRC, Catherine Mallet, Instructor/Coordinator of the Yukon Water and Wastewater Operator Program and Michel Duteau, Research Technician.

The first two methods are chemically intensive and mechanical, respectively, making them expensive and challenging to operate in remote areas. The third method is called capacitive de-ionisation, and works by running water through two carbon electrodes. It is recent technology, currently used in Spain to provide drinking water through large-scale de-salination of seawater, and in China to recover drinking water from wastewater. The portable unit being tested by the research team requires a very low voltage and can be powered by a solar panel, making it ideal for remote use in Yukon.

Radford has completed the Basic Small Water System Course last fall at Yukon College and is starting a water treatment position with the City of Whitehorse at the end of the month.

“To set up and run an experiment such as this, tackling a northern problem, is a great opportunity to gain practical experience and skills I can now put to work in my job,” said Radford.

Lord is a camp maintenance worker at the Northern Cross Eagle Plains project camp located 325 km up the Dempster Highway. He is enrolled in the Yukon Wastewater Operator Program Course next fall and is hoping the tests will lead to an improvement in how the camp provides drinking water for the 60-70 workers based there.

“Right now a truck brings in water every three days from about 50 km away. There is a well at the camp, but the water is undrinkable. A capacitive de-ionisation system would make a big difference to how the camp operates,” said Lord.

The research project is funded through a $25,000 Level One Applied Research and Development grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which supports initial partnerships between research units and private companies, as well as the Yukon Water and Wastewater Operator Program, which encourages students to gain relevant working experiences in their fields. Northern Cross (Yukon) Ltd. has partnered with the College for this project.

“This project is an example of how Yukon College is employing students and partnering with industry, to discover and test solutions to northern problems. The results of these tests will be shared with Yukon water treatment consultants to be applied to practical situations,” said Dr. Chris Hawkins, Acting President, Yukon College. “There is little need for companies working in Yukon to look to the south for solutions to northern challenges. The Yukon Research Centre is expanding the culture and capacity to conduct research within the College and throughout Yukon.”

“Being able to provide clean, safe drinking water efficiently and without generating waste chemicals, and waste water, would make the camp more secure and cost effective. It would also significantly reduce the environmental footprint of the camp, and reduce truck traffic on the Dempster highway, helping us to meet the goal of minimizing our overall environmental impact,” said David Thompson, CEO, Northern Cross (Yukon) Ltd.
The research team will complete their tests by June 30. Northern Cross (Yukon) Ltd. hopes to use the results to apply the best technology by mid-August.

Note: Brackish water has a salinity level between fresh water and seawater, containing between 0.5 and 30 grams of salt per litre.