The Pulse: July 12, 2023

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  • 23°C: A mix of sun and cloud. 60% chance of showers in the afternoon with risk of a thunderstorm. Local smoke. Wind becoming northwest 20 km/h gusting to 40 near noon. High 23. Humidex 26. UV index 6 or high. (forecast)
  • 26: Edmonton has had 26 days so far this year with temperatures of 25°C or higher, the most on record. (details)

A colourful and circular array of information about the genetic structure of a mathanotroph called Gammaproteobacteria

SynBioBlox seeks $1.5M to turn methane into sustainable jet fuel

By Karen Unland and Shayne Giles

An Edmonton-based company is seeking a $1.5 million investment to commercialize its process to engineer bacteria to transform waste methane into greener jet fuel.

SynBioBlox, the most recent endeavour from the team at the Bio-Conversion Databank Foundation (BioDF), applies information derived from the foundation's AI-powered Maximizer platform to figure out what bacteria to use and how best to modify them genetically to turn greenhouse gases into useful products.

"It's a big, slow, ponderous process," SynBioBlox and BioDF CEO John McDougall said of typical bio-conversion. "We want to speed it up, and to do that we want to take the best elements out of organisms and put them together to do what you want, and do it really efficiently and with high productivity."

SynBioBlox genetically engineers organisms called methanotrophs, which occur in nature, to make them more efficient at recycling methane back into the environment. Gene-editing technology like CRISPR allows for the "grafting" of desirable traits onto the organisms.

Turning methane into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is an attractive application because methane drives climate change even more than carbon dioxide and a lot of it is currently going to waste.

"If you're going for methane, for example, you go to things like sewage treatment plants, to landfills to places like that, where essentially, nothing gets produced, and they typically burn it or just exhausted," McDougall told Taproot. "So if we can take that over, then essentially, you've got a relatively cheap source of supply, and that gives you a great advantage."

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Headlines: July 12, 2023

By Mack Male

  • The federal government will contribute $30.8 million in new funding for the 50 Street Widening and Railway Grade Separation project, on top of the $39.8 million it committed in 2018. Construction on the project, which was originally projected to cost $145.3 million but will now cost $179.6 million, began last spring and is expected to wrap up by fall 2027. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he has personally been affected by the train crossing. "It's so unpredictable. You might be there for five minutes, you might be there 15 minutes, or you might be 45 minutes," Sohi said. "I think the grade separation will reduce that unpredictability, will improve efficiency, will improve the movement of goods and services."
  • The mosquitoes have been bad recently, but not that bad. City of Edmonton traps counted 7,000 mosquitoes last week, which is more than the 2,500 that were counted at the same time last year but significantly fewer than in previous years. "Those numbers are very low compared to historically in 2001 and 2011 when we could see sometimes (10,000) to 15,000 mosquitoes in one trap," said spokesperson Sarah McPike.
  • Edmonton has been ranked second in Canada and 38th in the world in the 2023 BCW Sports City Ranking, which lists the top 100 cities that are most closely associated with sports. Janelle Janis, executive director of events and business development at Explore Edmonton, cited "a remarkable roster of international sporting events" that contributed to Edmonton's success, including the PTO Canadian Open, FIFA Qualifier games, and the FIS Big Air World Cup.
  • The city is welcoming 12 new community peace officers, nine of which will join the transit safety team. The new officers completed eight weeks of training, which includes "Indigenous awareness, mental health awareness, de-escalation techniques, and how best to work with youth and Edmontonians experiencing homelessness."
  • GFM Environmental Services has until Dec. 1 to properly dispose of biomedical and hazardous waste that was discovered in 17 sea cans in March 2022, eight of which remain full. Alberta Environment said the company, which has received a series of 90-day extensions to comply with the enforcement order, may face further action if it fails to meet the new deadline. Owner James Humen told CBC News that limited access to the government-run incinerator at Swan Hills, which is slated to be fully closed by 2025, has hampered his ability to dispose of the waste.
  • Starting on July 15, construction on the Capital Line South LRT extension will result in traffic lane adjustments near the intersection of 23 Avenue and 11 Street, and the relocation of the "Kiss and Ride" area at the Century Park transit centre. The changes will be in place until mid-August.
  • The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation invested more than $17 million into 72 community organizations during the 2022-23 NHL season. "This money will help grow the game of hockey and make it accessible for all kids in Oil Country, help deliver programs aimed at those most vulnerable in our communities, and allow us to step up with timely support when families across Oil Country need us most," said foundation board chair Corey Smith.
  • In a mandate letter to Devin Dreeshen, Alberta's minister of transportation and economic corridors, Premier Danielle Smith has asked for an exploration of "a province-led Metrolinx-like model for commuter rail service using heavy rail" that would initially connect the Edmonton International Airport with downtown, but could eventually be expanded to Calgary. The feasibility study will include the use of hydrogen-powered trains, which Canadian Pacific has been testing in Calgary and Edmonton. "We want to make sure … that the economics work out on it," Dreeshen told 630 CHED.
A newspaper clipping with the headline "Plan to save relic: Historic Pioneer Chimney Torn Down By City Workmen" beside a photo a man on top of a mud and straw fireplace, looking down at three other men.

A moment in history: July 12, 1949

By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1949, city workers carefully dismantled an old relic left behind by English Charlie, one of the most colourful figures from Edmonton's short-lived gold rush.

It might look like just a stack of sticks and mud in a photo of the dismantling. But it was actually the remains of a fireplace that stood near the banks of the river for 75 years. As his nickname might suggest, English Charlie (aka Charlie Stevenson) was born in the United Kingdom. He worked as a newsboy in London until he stowed away on a ship bound for North America. He would stop in New York for a few years before hearing news of a gold rush in California. Eager to find fortune, he headed west. The long journey would take him to Sacramento, up the coast to British Columbia, and eventually through the Rocky Mountains into southern Alberta sometime around 1876.

Stevenson ended up in Fort Kipp (near current-day Lethbridge). There, he heard tantalizing rumours of large amounts of gold found along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Although it was late in the year, he began to trek north on foot. It would be a journey he would barely survive; former city alderman S.H. Smith wrote that Stevenson claimed to have shot a bison and climbed inside it to prevent freezing to death during a blizzard.

Stevenson eventually made it to Fort Edmonton, where he built a small cabin (and its long-lasting fireplace) near present-day Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park. He was one of the first residents of what would become known as "Miner's Flats." (Another early gold seeker to set up in the flats was Thomas Clover, who now lends his name to many parts of the city, including Clover Bar and Cloverdale.)

Edmonton is well-known for its role in several gold rushes. The fort was a vital stop for fortune-seekers looking to resupply on their way west, whether it be to the Fraser or Caribou goldfields in the 1850s or the Klondike decades later. But what is less known was the local rush, which saw people collecting gold and platinum from the North Saskatchewan.

This gold wasn't found in nuggets or lodes, however. The vast majority of it was in the form of "gold flour," tiny flakes that travel along the water and can collect in gravel or sand. While gold flour can be found sprinkled all along North Saskatchewan, Edmonton was particularly rich in it due to how bends in the river cause water to slow down and deposit its precious cargo. Platinum flakes can be found on the banks, too.

Early gold hunters would use gold pans or special sluicing boxes to separate the gold from the water and muck. It wasn't enough to make anyone fabulously wealthy, but enough for some to survive. Stevenson said he would find $12 to $15 daily while panning.

As technology improved, some would build skeletal dredging boats on the river, sifting through the river floor for gold flakes much more efficiently than an individual could do with a pan. The local gold industry peaked in the 1890s; by that time, there were a dozen dredging rigs on the river and some 300 miners working the banks of the river.

Edmonton's golden years ended quickly with the discovery of much larger gold yields in the Klondike. Many packed up to seek fortune in the Yukon, while others like English Charlie lived out their later years in Edmonton. Stevenson would retire from gold panning and sell off his land. Local gold would be later be given a chance to shine — when the Alberta legislature opened in 1912, the doors were ceremonially unlocked with a key made from Saskatchewan River gold. (The presumably valuable key almost immediately went missing and was never found.)

Once that old fireplace was cleared, the land was used for what would become another Edmonton historical site: Yorath House, which hosts artists-in-residence and is available for rent. And while Edmonton's small, local gold boom is now largely forgotten, the Klondike gave us the K in K-Days, which opens on July 21.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.