NB’s hidden desalination company

Access to fresh water may not be a problem for most of New Brunswick, but the province does house a company that could help desert-dry countries around the world deal with their water issues.

CANDESAL is based in Fredericton and for years has quietly worked to desalinate the brackish waters produced by the Alberta oilsands. Using reverse osmosis, they’ve taken the salty brine and made 90 per cent of it good for reintegration into the environment or ready for reuse.

The company is an operating division of Atlantic Nuclear Services Inc. It was established in 2004 when ANS Technologies licensed the CANDESAL technology for sea water desalination.

The technology uses the leftover waste heat from a nuclear plant to increase the temperature of water waiting to be desalinated.

This quickens the desalination process, since warm water goes through reverse osmosis faster than cold water, CANDESAL president Keith Scott said. The radioactive energy itself is not used.

It’s this idea that has CANDESAL in the running for an international project contract. Jordan, an up-and-coming country in the world of nuclear power, put out a request for nuclear plant submissions about two years ago, with a request that desalination play a part in the system. CANDESAL partnered with one of the bidders, playing a relatively small part in the big picture, but contributing its technology of nuclear desalination.

Jordan is now evaluating the tenders, Scott said. A decision is expected next year, however, if the proposal is chosen, it would still be another six or seven years before the idea becomes a reality.

Scott said that while there are many places around the world turning to desalinated water to quench their national thirst, he said that it would not be realistic to imagine that New Brunswick could reap a profit by marketing desalinated Fundy water. The exorbitant transportation expense makes it cost prohibitive and Scott said the company is better suited to sell its technology.

In the past, the company has also worked with Egypt to evaluate its desalination setup and look for ways to improve its reverse osmosis process.

But the company also deals with water purification and has filtration units selling at Sears. There are even some plastic water bottles containing their product, Scott said.

The technology is designed to be able to handle ocean water and thus desalination could potentially be used in coastal communities dealing with wells that have been infiltrated with sea water.

However, while the company theoretically has the technology to supply potable water, Scott said there is not really a pressing need in Eastern Canada. Instead, the company’s future seems rooted in industrial remediation, such as their long-standing employment in Alberta, Scott said.

The World Congress on Desalination and Water Reuse will be held in Australia Sunday through Sept. 9, and the theme centres on sustainability. Since the last world congress in Dubai in 2009, the International Desalination Association estimates that more than a thousand desalination plants have sprung up around the world. For many, the next step beyond finding out how to do it, is making the system cost-efficient, which is perhaps why this year’s congress theme focuses on sustainability.

Previously published in the Telegraph-Journal; Sept 1, 2011

Major layoffs at AECL

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. is bracing for a mass layoff that would cut 900 employees, according to a memo obtained by the Telegraph-Journal.

This would eliminate about 40 per cent of the company’s workforce, says a union official.

Michael Ivanco is the vice-president of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, which represents many employees for AECL. A couple hundred of those employees are New Brunswickers, he said.

However, he didn’t yet know how many of the proposed layoffs would affect New Brunswick employees.

“That’s all to be determined … There are a lot of negotiations that will have to happen,” he said.

He said the union will be sitting down with management to discuss ways to decrease the impact. One method, Ivanco said, is to offer older employees termination packages.

Ivanco visited New Brunswick a couple weeks ago and said the majority of AECL’s workforce in the province is made up of young people, mostly in their 20s and early 30s.

But he said even if a lot of younger people keep their jobs, problems remain. The company would lose a lot of experience and years in the field.

“It’s a very narrow line to walk,” he said.

For the younger employees who will be set adrift, post-AECL options might be few and far between, he said.

A lot of projects are just wrapping up, Ivanco said. The Bruce Power Restart project and a project in South Korea are coming to an end, and the Point Lepreau project will be done in about a year, he said.

After that, there are a few projects on the horizon, but they won’t be hiring for a few years.

“There’s a lot of work five years down the road, but when you look one year down, maybe not so much.”

The layoffs are set to happen between July and September. Ivanco said within a month there will be a little more clarity for the non-unionized staff and the managers. Uncertainty will last longer for the unionized staff, which will be negotiating more with the new owners.

“It’s been quite an embarrassment to be so over budgeted and so behind schedule,” Ivanco said.

The memo revealed about 310 scientists and engineers, 155 technologists, 240 non-unionized support staff, 45 draftspersons and 150 people in management will be let go. The layoff announcement comes in the wake of the federal government’s recent $15 million deal with SNC-Lavalin, a Canadian engineering firm.

Previously published July 1, 2011; Telegraph-Journal, Daily Gleaner