Sustainable Engineering in Remote Areas

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Trainee Profiles


Haven Moses is a recent graduate of the Queen's Civil Engineering program. He is continuing to work with Dr. Mark Green at Queen's University to investigate natural fibres and resins to create sustainable composite building materials for applications such as wind turbine towers and blades.  Potential fibres include glass, switchgrass, jute and hemp, with soy-based epoxies used for the resin matrix.  The material properties of these renewable materials will be evaluated through experimental testing and will incorporate advanced sensing technology such as digital image correlation techniques and scanning electron microscopy.  Haven comes from the community of Six Nations.

Oke Maracle​, originally from Tyendinaga First Nation, is working with Dr. Colin MacDougall at Queen's University to investigate the strength and failure modes of compressed earth blocks subjected to temperature gradients and compressive loads.  This research will provide data for future development and designs of compressed earth block structures for northern communities.

Rene O’laney ​comes from Sagkeeng First Nation located one hour north of Winnipeg, Manitoba at the mouth of Lake Winnipeg. Rene is a self-employed residential home builder, working towards a civil engineering degree through the University of Manitoba. Rene plans to graduate in December of 2014.  

"My primary interest in the SERA research comes from my heritage as a First Nation member. One of the goals in my life is to use my education to help First Nation people and our communities to overcome the boundaries we face and find our place in this highly technological society we live in today. My second area of interest deals with the sustainable homes section of the program. Having been raised in a First Nation community I have seen firsthand the effects mold within the homes have on the residence and the inability for them to obtain new lodging or means to remedy the problem."

The main focus of Rene's summer project with Dr. Dimos Polyzois is to gather information on the primary and secondary uses of fossil fuels in northern community buildings, and to look into ways in which renewable energy can be implemented as a replacement to these fossil fuels. Not only will this curb the contribution to climate change but it will better fit with the First Nations people and their connections to the land.

Robert St-Onge​ is a Metis student at Queen's University working with Dr. Mark Green and Dr. Colin MacDougall to investigate sustainable building materials for northern conditions.  Specifically, he will be investigating the use of compressed earth blocks for building applications which have potential for northern Aboriginal communities.  In areas with clay soils, compressed earth blocks can be made simply by compressing soil in a hydraulic press on site.  When clay soils are not available, cement or other binders may be needed to make the blocks.  This study will investigate earth blocks made from soils typical of northern regions including durability testing at low temperatures and freeze-thaw cycles.

Madison Wheeler-Smith is a third year business student working with Dr. Dimos Polyzois at the University of Manitoba,  Her interests are related to the development of sustainable buildings and building methods for Northern communities.

Thomas Besaw is a third year undergraduate student working with Dr. Mark Green at Queen's University.  His research interests are in the field of renewable energy and he is investigating the use of fibre-reinforced polymer composite materials made with bio-resins for wind turbine tower applications.


Luke CoDyre is a working on a Masters project with Dr. Amir Fam at Queen's University.  His proposed research project aims at developing a new generation of green fibre reinforced polymer composites used for structural engineering applications for rapid and sustainable construction.  His work will focus on using bio-resins extracted from undervalued agricultural residue to replace conventional epoxies which are not environmentally friendly.  Corn cobs are ideal due to their high content of hemicelluloses/pentosans in their biomass.  The bio-resins are combined with traditional glass and carbon fibres or natural flax fibres to make sustainable composite reinforcement.  In particular, the project will investigate the use of light weight insulated sandwich panels with bio-composite skins which are suitable for construction in the North and in remote regions.

Manoah Gutknecht is a MASc student working with Drs. Mark Green and Colin MacDougall at Queen's University.  His research focuses on the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels for building solutions in remote areas.  CLT panels are a durable and sustainable building material provided that the wood is harvested from a sustainably managed forest.  CLT construction is also much more light weight than conventional building materials such as steel and reinforced concrete which reduces the embodied energy involved in transporting prefabricated panels to the construction site.  In particular, he plans to investigate the performance of these panels in elevated temperatures and fire conditions.

Hamid Gerami is working on at Masters project with Dr. Dimos Polyzois at the University of Manitoba.  Hamid is investigating the structural performance of lightweight composite towers for wind turbines in remote areas.  In particular, Hamid is interested in bringing affordable wind-generated energy to remote communities to meet local needs and foster economic development.  The advanced composite towers can be manufactured on site to minimize transportation costs.

Luba Goyaniuk is a MASc student working with Drs. Dominique Poirel and Azemi Benaissa at the Royal Military College of Canada.  Luba is interested in improving small horizontal axis wind turbine design using a biologically-inspired approach.  The main goal is to increase the efficiency of small-scale wind turbines by extracting the kinetic energy from vortical structures in unsteady flow.  New designs will be developed by studying the movement of animals in non-uniform and unsteady flow, such as a Rainbow Trout or dragonflies.

Najiba Hussain is a MASc student working with Dr. David Rival at Queen’s University. She is investigating the unsteady aerodynamics of small wind turbines. Such wind turbines can be implemented into wind-diesel hybrid systems in remote areas of northern Canada to provide a long-term sustainable energy supply and economical alternative to fossil fuels.  Small wind turbines often generate transient power owing to fluctuating wind, as they have lower rotational inertia than that of larger turbines. The unsteadiness is often caused by a vertical or horizontal gust, which is a sudden increase in the oncoming air speed. If the intensity and duration of the second-to-second fluctuations can be predicted ahead of time via an aerodynamic model, these parameters can be fed to a real-time control system, which can in turn prepare the diesel system for changes in load. Therefore, the goal of this research project is to develop a low-order model for the unsteady events on a wind-turbine blade to account for the rapid fluctuations in wind power. This involves detailed analysis of the vortical wake and validation of the model through experiments conducted in the newly-built towing tank at Queen’s University. 

Kyle Beaudry is a structural engineering enthusiast working towards obtaining his MASc. degree while collaborating with Dr. Colin MacDougall and his energetic research team. They will be investigating certain mechanical properties of various straw bale panels, including their thermal capacities & shear resistance with the objective to encourage the industry to consider this green material into mainstream construction. Originating from a small town in Northern Ontario, he was exposed to the various challenges that arise between the Aboriginal communities and engineering projects. Kyle’s goals relating to the SERA program is to acquire the skills and knowledge that would ease the cooperation of both parties during these projects.


Sarah Seitz is a PhD student at Queen's University working with Dr. Colin MacDougall and Dr. Darko Matovic.  Sarah's research focuses on alternative renewable building materials for sustainable housing solutions.  In particular, she is investigating the thermal properties of biofibre stressed-skin panels made from straw bales and plaster.  The results of her research will lead to an improved understanding of the durability of straw bale construction including resistance to vapour accumulation and freeze-thaw stresses in northern climates.  In addition to her laboratory tests, thermal modelling and field investigations, Sarah is also using systems modelling to evaluate the logistics of fabricating, transporting and installing biofibre panels to remote communities considering the availability of agricultural materials and rail transport networks.  This approach will provide a useful tool for assessing the viability of using biofibre panels by comparing their cost and embodied energy with other manufactured housing or green building technologies.

Patrick Gloux is a Consulting Engineer at KGS Group Consulting Engineers in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  He received his B.Eng. from Lakehead University in 2003 and his M.Eng. from the University of Manitoba in 2013.  His work experience includes the structural design and project management of multi-disciplinary teams for commercial, institutional and industrial projects throughout Canada including the high Arctic.

"Healthy, affordable, and adequate housing is a primary human right that should be available to every community including those in Canada’s Far North (UN, 2009; AFN, 2005). In reality, however, the north is facing a significant housing problem. Extreme weather and social conditions create many challenges that affect the conditions of homes and the health of their inhabitants. Major problems arise from overcrowding and structural deterioration, which result in poor indoor air quality and weak thermal performance. According to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), there is a broad consensus that the condition of much of the housing stock in First Nations communities threatens the health and safety of community members, directly contributing to social justice issues including child poverty, suicide, educational attainment, alcoholism, and family breakdown (AFN, 2003). The demand for engineered solutions for northern housing is of high priority."

Three major interrelated concerns provide the motivation for Patrick's proposed research project: (a) the lack of “best practice” standards for Aboriginal housing; (b) the lack of adequate research activity in Canada to address unique environmental conditions that affect the structural performance of aboriginal housing; and, (c) the slow pace of technology development based on rapidly emerging materials, products and processes, and the inadequate transfer of this technology into practice. The main objective of his proposed PhD studies is to develop healthy and sustainable housing standards for First Nations.  Developing proper housing standards for sustainable and energy efficient housing will lead to improvement of the health and well-being of the First Nations people. 

Farnaz M.Raeisi is a PhD student at the University of Manitoba and is working under the supervision of Professor Aftab Mufti and Professor Douglas Thomson. She has received her B.Sc and M.Sc from B.I.H.E in Iran. Her current project is to develop a cost effective sensor for monitoring crack widths in steel girders.  The sensor is comprised of a thin metal material which can conduct electricity and an adhesive which installs the metal on the girder. In order to detect cracks less than 0.2 mm wide, the adhesive and wire should be selected carefully. Different types of material will be tested in the lab and their mechanical properties will be investigated. The sensor will be modeled using finite element software to reconcile laboratory results with theory. The sensitivity of the sensor system to temperature will also be investigated by performing load tests on the instrumented beam in an environmental chamber at various temperatures.  This sensor can also be used in other structure types, such as residential buildings, community structures, transportation infrastructure, mining, oil and gas structures and also many other infrastructures. The low cost and ease of installation will also make this sensor more applicable for northern and remote applications. One of the main objectives of this research is to make the sensor system more useable in the Northern parts of Canada.

Mehdi Mirzazadeh is a PhD candidate working with Dr. Mark Green at Queen`s University.  His research focuses on the use of novel structural health monitoring and evaluation systems for concrete bridges such as fibre optic strain measurements and digital image correlation techniques.  In particular, Mehdi is investigating the performance of these systems at low temperatures such as those encountered in northern parts of Canada.  Temperature-related sensor errors will be isolated and a correlation between temperature and sensor readings will be developed to assess the real effect of temperature on reinforced concrete members.  The static and fatigue performance of concrete structures at freezing temperatures will also be investigated.

Meiqi Ren is a PhD candidate working under the supervision of Dr. Xiaoyi Bao at the University of Ottawa. Her research interests focus on distributed optical fiber vibration sensors, especially based on the Phase-sensitive OTDR system. This sensor has a promising application in structure health monitoring. Her research project within the SERA program is the structural health monitoring of wind turbine systems. Due to recent energy crises and the urge to get clean energy, wind turbine technology attracts more attention because of its technological maturity, good infrastructure and relative cost competitiveness. However, reliability is always the most important issue in wind turbine applications. Therefore, structural health monitoring for wind turbine components is essential to identify flaws early, minimize the time needed for inspection of components, prevent unnecessary replacement of components and prevent failures. One of the largest indicators of the potential problem is vibration. Undesirable vibrations can cause damage to wind turbines but it can be avoided by doing vibration analysis at an earlier stage. The proposed approach use a phase OTDR system and is able to measure the vibration of several components of wind turbines. The advantage of this sensor is its high precision and distributed sensing.

Abdul Watfa is a PhD candidate working with Dr. Mark Green and Dr. Amir Fam at Queen's University. He is researching composite materials of fibre glass with a bio-resin matrix in addition to a prestressing system for innovative wind turbine towers for use in northern remote areas because the need for sustainable energy production is high in these areas.  This research work will study the behaviour of GFRP composites with two different bio-resins under normal/harsh environments. The proposed research consists of experimental work (material and structural tests) and numerical modelling in addition to sensing systems for monitoring of wind turbines. Two bio-resin GFRP types along with epoxy GFRP will be considered in material tests. Several coupons will be tested in tension to failure under normal and harsh environments. Additional coupons will be tested to investigate fatigue and bond behaviour.  Structural testing of Concrete Filled FRP Tubes (CFFT) members will be implemented to evaluate the structural performance of the proposed system.  Specimens of composite glass fibres with a bio-resin matrix will be tested under structural forces similar to those expected on a wind turbine tower. Because of high lateral deflection of the tower, there is a need to investigate a prestressing system that would enhance the stiffness of the tower. This testing will consist of structural tests for fatigue, bending, and vibration loading. Moreover, finite element analysis will be conducted to validate the experimental results.  The development of monitoring systems is needed because wind turbines are exposed to extreme events. These systems can provide strain data and temperature at critical points of the structure. The potential application of fibre optic/wireless sensors for monitoring the deformation response of wind turbines will be investigated, and the experimental work will focus on the potential problems of field installation of sensors.

Yanping Xu is a PhD candidate working under the supervision of Dr. Xiaoyi Bao at University of Ottawa and Dr. Ping Lu at National Research Council. He has received his B.Sc from Jilin University in China and M.Sc from University of Ottawa in Canada. Yanping’s research interests focus on the micro-structured optical fiber sensors, distributed Brillouin fiber sensors as well as Brillouin random fiber lasers. His research project pertaining to the CREATE program is the distributed Brillouin fiber sensors based on BOTDR/BOTDA system. The main goal is to design a coded-pulse Brillouin optical time domain reflectometry (CP-BOTDR) system combined with Differential Pulse Pair (DPP) technique to realize distributed temperature and strain measurements for long ranges (up to tens of kilometers) and high spatial resolution (sub-10cm). This system is capable of obtaining the sensing and monitoring information by accessing only one end of the fiber, which provides more practical and convenient ways to be applied during the LCA of green buildings. Meanwhile, the capability of one-end access makes the current system easily available to be integrated with another powerful distributed optical fiber sensing system, the Phase Optical Time Domain Reflectometry (Phase OTDR), which adds new measurable parameters such as dynamic strain. The remarkable distributed sensing characteristics of the combined system is able to provide both holistic and detailed local information of green buildings including walls, roofs, foundation ground and so on.

Kenneth Mak is a PhD candidate at Queen’s University under the supervision of Dr. Amir Fam. During his Master’s program, he studied the short- and long-term performance of natural building systems as an alternative to conventional building systems, notably flax fibre-reinforced polymer skinned sandwich panels with foam cores. In a series of monotonic flexural tests, it was demonstrated that flax is a suitable replacement to glass as the reinforcing fibre in the structural skin of sandwich panels. However, an understanding of both short- and long-term mechanical performance of these materials is essential to its acceptance and effective application in industry.  Kenneth’s research will expand on the previous discoveries from his Master’s research, and will develop the understanding of short-term and long-term performance of natural fibre and resin systems for sandwich panel construction. In particular, natural-skinned sandwich panel systems and their constituents will be studied to determine their long-term performance, notably cyclic loading to determine fatigue performance and environmental conditioning to determine deterioration due to environmental exposure. This will enable designers to choose suitable sustainable alternatives for conventional building materials. Furthermore, the use of natural fibre and resin systems will extend to concrete-skinned sandwich panels for heavier construction systems. A novel shear configuration utilizing natural fibre and resin systems will be designed and analyzed for structural and thermal performance.


Katherine Michaud (MASc) worked with Dr. Neil Hoult at Queen’s University. She completed her undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the University of New Brunswick. Her research focused on green concrete design using recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) and Portland limestone cement (PLC). Since the concrete industry is one of the top contributors to global carbon dioxide emissions, Katherine’s research involved evaluating the durability and structural performance of concrete mixes containing Lafarge’s recycled concrete aggregate (Aggneo) and Portland limestone cement (Contempra). The results of her research will hopefully provide new equivalent performance concrete mixes to conventional concrete mixes with reduced carbon footprints and construction waste thus reducing the environmental impact of concrete construction. There is a potential for large savings in emissions in remote areas such as regions in northern Ontario and Atlantic Canada where access to natural quarries are limited. Case studies of these remote areas were analyzed to quantify these environmental benefits using life cycle costing analysis. Also, one of the most important requirements for acceptance of new construction techniques is demonstrated performance and understanding of behaviour. As such, Katherine’s structural experiments employed cutting edge sensor technologies, such as distributed fibre optic strain sensors, so that the performance of the RCA and PLC mixes can be better understood. Katherine is now working at an engineering company in Portland, Oregon.

Dao Xiang, (MSc) at the University of Ottawa, worked with Dr. Xiaoyi Bao to design a low cost and lightweight monitoring system for excess carbon dioxide using a tapered fibre interferometric refractometer.  This research is essential in the development of energy-efficient buildings, particularly given the fact that most modern buildings have reduced ventilation to limit energy consumption.  Increased carbon dioxide levels can lead to adverse effects in the work efficiency of humans as well as potential health problems.  The new sensor technology will also be able to simultaneously detect the location of cracks with a high level of precision, leading to improved evaluation and maintenance practices for buildings. Dao is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Victoria.

Md Anamul Hasan (MSc) earned his degree in Structural Engineering at the University of Manitoba.  He worked with Dr. Douglas Thomson and Dr. Fariborz Hashemian in the area of dielectric sensing technology to monitor the hydration criteria (strength gain) of cement-based materials especially for cold weather. His research focused on monitoring hydration criteria (strength gain process) of newly built cement-based structures at different environmental conditions by embedding dielectric capacitance sensors in the structures. Md Anamul also tested masonry prisms in compression to compare the strength gain with dielectric sensing data and to determine if different curing conditions would affect their overall strength. The results of this research are expected to lead to an improved understanding on monitoring the strength gain process of newly built cement-based structures by using dielectric sensing technology in different environmental conditions. This sensing technology will help to expand the construction season in Northern climates and thus reduce the building costs and make buildings more sustainable.