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It sounds more like a reference to a new-age healing trend, but a novel approach to mining that will focus on holistic practices is poised to put Sudbury’s Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) on course to change the face of the industry.
In July, CEMI received $823,000 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. (NOHFC) to instate a Research Chair for Holistic Mining Practices, vice-president Douglas Morrison, whose scope of work will include the expansion of research opportunities and attraction of innovation in mining.
It’s holistic because the research and innovation opportunities will encompass a greater spectrum of considerations than the technical aspect of mining, explained CEMI president and CEO Peter Kaiser.
“You can’t think anymore just technical, little gadgets. You can’t just think of cost reduction. You need to think safety, environmental, permits, Native issues,” Kaiser said. “If you want to succeed, it’s no more just a technical problem and ‘How do I bring a ton of ore out of the ground.’ You need a more holistic approach.”
Innovation can encompass anything from how a company treats its employees and how to run a business to technical problem solving, he said.
An obvious area for future research could be finding a smarter way to deal with the waste generated through mining, and possibly even making money from it, Kaiser said. Instead of lifting waste to the surface and storing it in a tailings pond, innovators could find a way to sort out the high value material from the low, or even preconcentrate it, before it’s hoisted to the surface, boosting efficiency and saving on energy costs.
The chair position also allows CEMI to start making succession plans. In Morrison, CEMI has found an experienced, well-regarded industry stalwart who brings less academic experience and more practical, international and consulting experience. Kaiser believes it will strengthen the CEMI team and help to see it through its current growth phase.
Morrison has worked with Falconbridge and Inco, and spent 16 years as the global mining leader at Golder Associates, working in both Brazil and Australia.
While research chairs are typically installed at universities, Kaiser believes it’s more useful to the mining industry to have someone at CEMI, since the work won’t be university-centric and the organization can instead seek out expertise from a wide variety of contacts.
“What we need in the mining industry in the North is not necessarily someone that wins a Nobel Prize,” he said. “We need somebody that can help to innovate, and that means research, but also how to develop, how to get to the implementation phase, and how to work with small businesses.”
The organization will additionally be moving forward with its Smart Underground Monitoring and Integrated Technologies (SUMIT) for Deep Mining program, after receiving $2.24 million in funding from the Ministry of Research and Innovation. Working with colleagues at the University of Toronto and Queen’s University, the project will seek to improve safety and efficiency in deep mining. With contributions from industry and institutional partners, the project is worth $6,706,110.
CEMI will bring together industry players to guide innovations in sustainable mining, including safety, efficiency and better management of energy, materials and mine waste, all elements that will benefit mining companies both in Sudbury and in other parts of the world.
“It means emerging technology has to get integrated into the research plan, needs to be developed and then has to be implemented at the mines,” Kaiser said. “So the SUMIT program is aimed at getting these researchers form the universities to work directly with and at the mines to test out technology and develop better ways to interpret results and measurements.”
The idea is to use Sudbury area mines as “living” labs, so that the research, development and implementation is taking place in the field. By bringing international expertise to Sudbury to experiment with new ideas or technologies on site, the focus is on problems in local mines. And, hopefully, Kaiser said, that will translate into solutions that will benefit Sudbury operations more quickly than its global competitors.
“While some of the money goes outside the province, the benefit is to occur for our mines and for increasing the life of our mines,” Kaiser said. “It’s kind of an indirect circle: you don’t need to spend the money at home. You can spend somewhere else to get the benefit for the community.