An Okotokian is in the running for a significant accolade.

Kaevin Heffernan and two former SAIT classmates are among seven teams who are finalists in this year's Capstone Project of the Year Award from the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET).

Heffernan, a former Holy Trinity Academy student who graduated from SAIT this year, currently works as a chemical technologist with Evergreen Solutions.

For their Capstone project, he and his team developed a new method of extracting cobalt from other minerals.

A look at the solvent extraction method (Photo courtesy of Calico Communications)

"Cobalt's a pretty key component of lithium-ion batteries, and so finding improved methods for extracting that cobalt is important because high-performance energy storage solutions are going to be very critical in the fight against climate change in the future," says Heffernan.

He and his team devised a way to dissolve the raw mineral with acid before using a 'chelating agent' with the acid solution to separate the components within. From there, they extract the cobalt by straining the solution with a funnel.

The most common method, pyrometallurgy, is much more dangerous and primarily utilizes heat to extract materials.

"We're trying to make a more people and environmentally-friendly solution in order to extract a good efficient amount of it, as well as trying to make it better for everybody involved," says Heffernan.

ASET established the award in 2017 in order to shine a light on end-of-program capstone projects undertaken by engineering technology students at NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer College, and Lethbridge College.

CEO Barry Cavanaugh says finalists represent the best of the best.

"We have a committee of subject matter experts and an awards committee to take a look at it to determine, from the finalists, who will be the annual winner of the award. The attitude we take, though, is if you make it as a finalist, you've already won."

He recalls a few notable winners from previous years.

"They realized there was a problem with access to tall buildings for fire departments in Calgary, for example. They have equipment that will reach only to the 14th floor. The question comes to mind, 'How do you evacuate people above that, especially if there's a fire burning in the middle floors. Well, they developed a platform that is essentially like a large drone that goes up the side of the building and can carry, I think it was eight people... I'd never seen anything like that before, and apparently, it hadn't been done before. As far as I last heard, they're currently engaged in commercial development of it, building a prototype and working with a financer."

The winner will be announced later this year.


Questions, comments, or story ideas? Email