Science Horizons intern: Edouard Ronveaux

Initially, Edouard Ronveaux was nervous about community outreach. But he is grateful that his internship as an analyst with Calgary’s Borealis GeoPower Inc. included talking to groups and individual home-owners about how his research could identify sources for geothermal energy. After all, the message was important. Born in Vernon, BC, the bilingual geologist was hired as a geospatial analyst by the renewable energy company through a Colleges and Institutes Canada Clean Energy internship funded by Environment Canada’s Science Horizons program.

Edouard Ronveaux at the “Ring of Fire”

Borealis GeoPower was able to hire Edouard because of the funding, says Craig Dunn, the company’s chief geologist and Edouard’s mentor. “In many cases funding dictates whether we can hire someone or not,” he says. “Just a little bit of help allows us to move projects ahead more quickly.” The company’s work focuses on the development of high-temperature geothermal projects in western Canada. Geothermal power, which uses heat from below the Earth’s surface, is a clean form of energy that produces few, if any, greenhouse gases. It can be used as a reliable energy source to heat homes and businesses or to feed power into an electrical grid. It has one of the smallest environmental footprints of any power supply.

Canada is the only Pacific “Ring of Fire” country that has not developed geothermal energy as a significant power source, says Edouard. Known for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the Ring of Fire is the most seismically active part of the world. Shaped more like a horseshoe than an actual ring, it encompasses the west coasts of South, Central and North America and the east coasts of Asia, including Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia and south to New Zealand.

Borealis GeoPower currently has two provincial geothermal exploration permits and is moving forward with their drilling program. One of geothermal hotspots near Valemount, BC, lies near the Earth’s surface in the Rocky Mountain Trench, a 1,400 km long valley running from Montana to close to the Yukon border. The trench, which separates the Columbia Mountains from the Rocky Mountains, was created by underlying faults caused by age-old tectonic collisions. The other, near Terrace, BC, is in an area known for hot springs, that lies in a sedimentary basin above deeply faulted volcanic rock.

Now a full-time employee with the company, Edouard became interested in green energy when studying for his BSc at the University of British Columbia. He went on to complete a degree in Geology & Environmental Sciences followed by a Master’s of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from the University of Calgary.

Edouard’s GIS and 3-D imaging skills were just what Borealis GeoPower needed for cutting-edge mapping of geothermal exploration sites, says Dunn.  Edouard is able to pull together a wide variety of data sets and make it into a “bankable map,” says Dunn, who supervises Edouard’s work. “In one example, our thermal imaging data is produced like shredded FBI files that Edouard was able to stitch together,” he adds.

In many cases funding dictates whether we can hire someone or not. Just a little bit of help allows us to move projects ahead more quickly.

-          Craig Dunn, chief geologist and co-founder, Borealis GeoPower Inc., Calgary.

Although born in the stunning Okanagan Valley, Edouard spent most of his early years outside Canada. In the early 1990s, his family moved to Nassau, Bahamas because of his Belgian-born father’s work there in aircraft engine distribution. However, the family returned to Vernon for winter skiing and summer vacations. He was pleased to return to western Canada for university and work. He particularly enjoyed fieldwork near Valemount, BC, a community on the Fraser River. The research focused on the area close to Canoe Reach Hot Springs, one of the hottest hot springs in Canada. Working 12-hour days, Edouard was a key member of the exploration team that collected samples of bark, soil and water, looking for evidence that geothermal activity was close to the Earth’s surface.

When the samples were analyzed, they were consistent with those collected in previous years. “We are very confident that there is a significant geothermal source there,” he says. His other work included mapping for wind and solar projects for a renewable energy consultancy in Calgary. “The skills I gained as an intern provided me with a solid foundation to work as a geospatial analyst or environmental scientist in a wide range of industries,” says Edouard. “And by working for such an innovative company, I was able to gain knowledge of unique techniques.”

Borealis GeoPower is working on another project near Terrace, BC, a former forestry town on the picturesque Skeena River. Partnered with the Kitselas First Nation, the majority owner of the project, the goal is to bring energy security to the local community of more than 12,000 people and to develop a power source that can sell energy to the provincial electrical grid. If developed, geothermal power will be a huge boon to remote parts of British Columbia, says Edouard. Because it can be used to heat greenhouses, it can also bring food security to isolated communities. Dunn is delighted that Edouard is working for the company. “He’s a very bright dude,” he says. “Eddie is the next generation of scientists. He’s the type of person we want to help advance innovation in Canada.”

Exploration for geothermal power sources involves taking samples from water wells and soil as well as trees. It also employs thermal imaging that uses aerial information collected by drones and low-altitude planes. The information is analyzed and used to model potential sites before drilling. Good mapping pinpoints the optimal locations for drilling and reduces the risk of drilling in the wrong locations.

Chemical elements in bark can be indicators that geothermal activity is occurring close to the Earth’s surface. Trees have huge rooting systems that absorb minerals caused by geothermal activity. Some of these elements, such as arsenic, mercury and zinc, are concentrated in the tree bark and can help map geological fault zones. Taking samples of tree bark is an inexpensive and noninvasive method of exploration.

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