Is mining innovation an oxymoron? – by Nathan Stubina (Northern Miner – November 17, 2015)

The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry.

Newspapers are replete with articles denouncing the dearth of innovation in the mining sector. While we may argue about the causes – the sector’s capital intensive nature, the people who work in mining, etc. — most people will agree that the mining industry appears to be innovating at a much slower pace than other industries.

I believe that most of us are clear on why we need to innovate. The mining industry is facing many difficult challenges: lower grade ores, smaller deposits, increasing power costs, tighter margins, faltering capital markets, political risks, increased social demands, higher taxes, etc.

An example of the type of complex challenges we face: Mining executives frequently ask their engineers what the “carbon footprint” of a new process will look like – a question unheard of 30 years ago.

Nowadays, questions about water and power requirement don’t start with: ‘how much does it cost?’ In many jurisdictions, there simply isn’t enough water or power to satisfy the needs of both the local population and mining companies. In some areas, we are competing with local farmers for water.

So the reasons we need to innovate are clear, and if you ask senior mining executives, they generally agree that innovation is essential to the survival of their companies. Their actions, however, do not often reflect this imperative. Why not?

Many people use the words “innovation” and “research” interchangeably, but in reality, there is a world of difference between these two concepts. As Will Westgate of 3M has said: “Research is the transformation of money into knowledge, and innovation and imagination are the transformation of knowledge into money.”

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