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Ripley’s aquarium embraces art to shine a light on plastic bottle pollution

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Twelve-thousand bottles strung together, surrounding a canoe, now hangs above all those that walk through Ripley’s aquarium in downtown Toronto.

“I hope that they see the canoe being overwhelmed by the plastic, and recognize the sheer volume of the challenge. And that every bottle we buy contributes to that challenge,” says Rebecca Jane Houston.

Houston is the Toronto artist behind the sculpture unveiled Wednesday night at Ripley’s, though it isn’t the first time the work is being seen by the public. It was was displayed outdoors during Pride week this past summer. Environmental Defence Canada, the organization that commissioned the project, thought the aquarium would be a fitting next stop.

“Ripley’s is very concerned about pollution in aquatic ecosystems, and we are very concerned about the problem with plastic bottles because there are over a billion bottles going into the environment in Ontario every year,” says executive director Tim Gray.

Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, says Ontario needs the same kind of deposit return program that’s in place for beer and liquor bottles. (Garry Asselstine/CBC)

To break it down further, that’s about 12,000 bottles thrown out every four minutes, the same number that make up the sculpture. It’s a statistic Gray thinks we should all be concerned about.

“They get into the water and they break down into little tiny bits of plastic. They end up in the fish, they end up in the mammals, and eventually they end up in our bodies, bringing with them many toxic chemicals,” he says.

To complete the sculpture, the organization collected empty bottles from people across the GTA, giving them 10 cents for each one. Gray said they collected enough bottles to construct the sculpture in just three days.

Ontario and Manitoba are the only two provinces that have not yet adopted this kind of deposit return program for plastic bottles.

“The plastic bottle recycling rate in Ontario is very low. It’s only at about 50 per cent. That contrasts with provinces that have a depot return program where it’s always [above 80 per cent],” Gray says.

He thinks a money-back guarantee will drastically improve the Ontario’s plastic bottle recycle rate, which is the lowest in the country.

Environmental Defence Canada is currently pushing for the province to adopt a deposit system. It has launched the campaign “Cash it! Don’t Trash it!” to encourage others to join in their fight, which includes signing a petition to pressure  Rod Phillips, minister of the environment, and Premier Doug Ford to take action.

Artist Rebecca Jane Houston says the abundance of plastic in the Great Lakes is often ignored because the problem is not highlighted in the same way as pollution in our oceans. (Garry Asselstine/CBC)

Houston believes putting pressure on all levels of government is the most important thing we can do, even more than taking individual responsibility.

“We need to really consider the greater political action that we can take, to encourage our autonomous political bodies not to be swayed by industry, and to have a really strong backbone to speak up against industries that are forcing us into this dependance on plastic because it’s economically important to them,” she said.

“What we have to do is speak politically as citizens and not as consumers. And to say, as citizens, we don’t want this pollution in our water anymore.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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