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How a hole drilled by Canadians may have led to a baby boom in rural Iceland

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Forty years after researchers from Halifax helped drill a hole nearly two kilometres into the ground in rural Iceland, locals still remember the project, not so much for its geological findings, but for the spout of hot water it unexpectedly unleashed — and the midnight hot tub parties it brought to their isolated fishing village.

In 1978, a group of students and researchers from Dalhousie, led by now-retired professor James Hall, travelled to Reydarfjordur in eastern Iceland to spearhead an international mission to understand the geology of the ocean’s crust.

Marcos Zentilli was a young professor at Dal when the megaproject, funded by institutions in Canada, Germany, Denmark and Iceland, got underway.

Zentilli said back then, the idea that the ocean floor is spreading and that continents move around — in other words, the theory of plate tectonics — was still gaining acceptance, and “not everybody believed it. It was a little bit like global warming today.”

The hole was drilled to a depth of about 1.9 kilometres. (Submitted by Johann Helgason)

Researchers had tried to drill into the ocean floor from ships, but that proved expensive and there were lots of failures. Drilling from islands was seen as a cheaper alternative.

After erecting a huge tower, the team managed to drill the hole 15 to 20 metres deeper every day. Amid June snow flurries, researchers like Zentilli were tasked with describing, measuring and boxing all the cylinders of rock extracted from the hole.

“It was a lot of work,” Zentilli recalled in a recent interview.

Then, something went wrong. At 1919.73 metres, the drill would go no further.

“We got stuck,” Zentilli said. “They decided that we were not getting the results we had expected … and then they decided to stop.”

But something also went right. Warm water started spurting out of the hole.

If there’s one thing to know about Icelanders, it’s that they love their warm water.

Dalhousie University professor emeritus Marcos Zentilli travelled to Iceland in 1978 to work on the project, which unexpectedly brought hot water to the Earth’s surface. (Submitted by Johann Helgason)

Samuel Sigurdsson runs the Olis gas station in Reydarfjordur, and while he didn’t live there in 1978, he said tales of the hot spring abound to this day.

Locals in the village of just a few hundred hauled a large, stainless steel tub from a nearby cheese factory and placed it under the spout.

“It was very popular,” said Sigurdsson. “It was just like a small swimming pool. You can imagine how nice it was, from the dark winter cold night after a beer in the pub, to go there.”

The communal hot tub was big enough to fit 10 or 15 people, he said. But two people was all it took to produce at least one unanticipated byproduct of the drilling project.

“As the story says, there was a few babies made there,” Sigurdsson said. “I was not there myself, but the story tells that that is the reason for many kids who was made there.”

After the project’s discovery of geothermal energy in the area, holes were drilled in the nearby town of Eskifjordur, Iceland. Buildings in that community are now heated with geothermal energy. (Submitted by Johann Helgason)

Johann Helgason was involved in the drilling project and now works for the National Land Survey of Iceland.

He said the discovery of the hot spring in Reydarfjordur was significant because the area wasn’t previously believed to have much geothermal potential.

But after the project wound up, drilling in nearby Eskifjordur revealed enough geothermal energy to heat the entire village.

“For us in Iceland, the finding had economic value,” Helgason said. “Having hot water is equivalent to finding an oil well in a sense except it’s much purer.”

This pool in Eskifjordur is heated with geothermal energy. (Submitted by Johann Helgason)

As for the original hole, Zentilli made a trip back to Iceland last year for the first time since the 1970s and went on a pilgrimage of sorts to find that epic fountain.

“I was walking around and suddenly a farmer was fixing a fence and found it very strange having this tourist looking around his farm and he came and he says, ‘Can I help you?'” Zentilli said.

Once Zentilli explained what he was looking for, the farmer was determined to show him the hole, buried beneath a metre and a half of gravel and now connected to pipes that heat all the farm’s buildings.

“I said, ‘But that’s crazy, you have things to do.’ And he said, ‘No, no no, it’s important, you came here all this way. I’ll show you it.'” Zentilli said.

Farmer Asmundur Svavarsson digs out the wellhead to show retired Dalhousie University professor Marcos Zentilli. (Icelandic Institute of Natural History website)

The man spent about an hour and a half digging and eventually uncovered the legendary hole in the ground.

It’s unlikely the Icelandic farmer would be willing to shovel all that gravel away for just anyone, but tourists interested in the drill project can go and see for themselves the cylinders of rock that were extracted 40 years ago.

Initially shipped to Halifax, they were later returned to Iceland and are now stored in a museum in Breiddalsvik.

A geologist with the Icelandic Institute of Natural History said while the rocks have generated a lot of interest among geologists, in general, “drill cores are not something people seek to see.”

Rock extracted from the end of the drill hole, at 1919.73 metres deep. (Hrafnkell Hannesson)

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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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