ACCENT: Clean AER in works for Sudbury – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – March 31, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

Dave Stefanuto tells the story of taking his two young sons to Science North, where they love the space exhibits on the top floor.  One time, he pointed the boys to a photograph of Apollo astronauts walking on the rocky landscape that was Sudbury in the 1970s.

“How come they’re wearing shorts on the moon?” one of his sons asked him, to which Stefanuto replied: “That’s not the moon, that’s Sudbury.” It’s a sobering reminder that Sudbury wasn’t always as green as it is today.

Sudbury was the butt of jokes four decades ago and for years after those astronauts visited a city whose landscape was a dead-ringer for the moon. Anyone who has visited the Nickel City in the last 25 years has had no reason to laugh at us. In three years’ time, they will have even less.

Stefanuto, 39, has come back to Sudbury after seven or eight years spent working for Vale in Newfoundland and Labrador. He came back home to head up Vale’s $2-billion Clean AER (Atmospheric Emissions Reduction) Project.

An alumnus of St. Charles College and civil structural engineering graduate from the University of Waterloo, Stefanuto began working as a co-op student at the general engineering building for what was then Inco more than 16 years ago.

Right away, he loved the job and the company.

“That was the beautiful thing about working for the engineering group,” said Stefanuto last week in the boardroom of Vale’s Sudbury headquarters in Copper Cliff.
In the morning, he could be underground examining a crushing station and inspecting steel in cages in mining shafts. By afternoon, he could be at the Copper Cliff smelter or visiting one of Vale’s hydro-electric dam sites at High Falls near Fairbanks Lake.

The experience and the exposure was “fantastic,” says Stefanuto.

Clearly, Inco officials saw something in the young Sudbury man because, by 2003, he was transferred to St. John’s to oversee development of what was essentially a small village in Voisey’s Bay, Labrador, to accommodate hundreds of workers at the fly-in operation.

Three years later, the first load of nickel concentrate was shipped from Voisey’s Bay to what locals call “the mainland.”

Under the terms of Inco’s agreement with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Inco had to develop a processing plant to treat a pound of nickel for every pound it shipped out of the province.

That led Stefanuto to Argentia, about 90 minutes from St. John’s, where a demonstration hydrometallurgy plant was built and operated for two years before a permanent plant was built at Long Harbour, 20 minutes from Argentia.

Stefanuto managed the conceptual, pre-feasibility and feasibility studies for the hydromet plant, then managed engineering for the plant that uses water, oxygen and other substances to dissolve metal from ore, concentrate or matte.

“That finished off that assignment,” said Stefanuto.

Before long, Vale officials were talking to Stefanuto about returning to Sudbury to head up “this great project called CORe.”

The Challenging Ore Recovery flotation project is a $200- million upgrade and expansion of Clarabelle Mill that will increase recovery of nickel from ore by about 4% when the project is completed in July.

In October 2011, Stefanuto moved over to head up the Clean AER Project, the largest single environmental investment ever made in Sudbury.

Supervising a project of this magnitude is a dream job for an engineer like Stefanuto.

That his dream job is in the city where he and wife, Paula, grew up, and where their families live, is a bonus.

Clean AER is a complex project that has been on the drawing board for nearly a decade.

Essentially a retrofit of the Copper Cliff Smelter Complex, it will reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 70% of current standards, and particulate nickel and metals emissions by 35-40% when it is complete in 2015.

“This isn’t anything new,” says Stefanuto. “We’ve been doing this as a company since the ’70s where we used to emit about two million tonnes a year of sulphur dioxide. Today, that’s down to 150,000 tonnes, which is below the current regulatory level.”

When the Clean AER project is complete mid-2015, the 150,000 tonnage will fall to about 45 kilotonnes, well below the 66 kilotonne regulated level.

Compare that with 1970 when Inco emitted 2 million tons of noxious sulphur dioxide.

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