Bringing the classroom to the farm
Profile of Kenny Corscadden
Afton Aikens - September 25, 2012
For a small place, Dal’s Agricultural Campus houses a lot of infrastructure. That makes it an ideal choice for students in the engineering department’s Integrated Environmental Management (IEM) and Engineering programs, says Kenny Corscadden.
The facilities aren’t the only strength. As the department's farm energy conservation industry research chair, Dr. Corscadden works closely with the local energy industry and takes his students to farms in the area to put theory into practice.
“We have a number of projects on farmers’ sites,” he says. “We’ve got six wind towers up at the moment on different farms. We have an ultrasonic wind sensor that’s on a trailer…that gets deployed to measure wind speed.”
Students also have access to trucks, tractors and heavy machinery at the Bio-Environmental Engineering Centre on campus — one of Canada’s leading research and development facilities.
“We’ve got large conveyors there with real operating systems that can move two or three tonnes of material,” Dr. Corscadden says. “Being able to visualize things helps (students) grasp the concepts.”
Strong connections with energy industry
Although he’s been a professor for the past three years, Dr. Corscadden says his industry background in pulp and paper and heavy instrumentation gives him a strong connection to the energy industry, where a lot of important research is generated.
However, he says he always considered a career in academia. He enjoys teaching and helping students understand how they’ll use basic engineering principles in their future careers.
“The energy side of my work has a primary focus on…understanding how energy is used in agriculture, how we can perform research that will help industry, communicating that information to industry and ensuring that we can implement things,” he explains.
His teaching and research also focuses on ways to produce renewable energy and integrate those methods onto farms. Understanding sustainability and renewable energy will be important for future IEM and Engineering graduates, he adds.
“I think in the next five years, there will be very few jobs that won’t consider sustainability. I think there are great opportunities for students. Most of my courses are electives…and I’m seeing more and more people taking an interest in those courses.”
Building a TREEhouse
Outside the classroom, Dr. Corscadden and his students are involved in a project called the TREEhouse, which stands for Technology for the Responsible use of Energy and the Environment. The project was born from a small residential home the campus acquired two years ago.
“We basically gutted the house and rebuilt it using renewable and recycled materials and it’s now become an office space,” he says.
The TREEhouse has a recycled roof made from tires formed into shingles, large south facing windows to take advantage of passive solar heating and different types of insulation, some of which is made from recycled pop bottles.
“There are different zones for different lighting types. It’s all instrumented, so we can measure how much energy is used, how much light is in each zone, what the temperature is and what the humidity is,” says Dr. Corscadden.
The project is currently in its second phase, which involves building a green roof and a water management system to control rainwater run-off. Students from the Environmental Horticulture Landscape program will eventually populate the roof with plants.
“This was a real opportunity for them to knock a wall down, build a new structure, help put windows in and see how a house is insulated and wired and things like that,” says Dr. Corscadden.
Time outside the classroom allows him to engage students and identify their strengths and weaknesses, he adds.